As I read through Leadership is an Art I became engaged with the undertone of the book—the author’s “voice,” their passion. Max De Pree is presenting the theme of what I’d call other-centered leadership. The employees are his passion: their involvement, gifting, participation, and success. In such a practical, helpful book there are dozens of positive observations that could be made. I’ll reflect on three relationally-focused attributes of leadership: serving, participation, and covenant relationships.
As a pastor, my scope of leadership reaches across the congregation, but that influence seems more conceptual than practical—leadership at 10,000 feet. But when it comes to elders, deacons, ministry leaders, and church staff (especially), then my influence and my passion has an opportunity to really take shape. What shape should it take? Max De Pree offers clear insight.
“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality” according to De Pree. “The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader”.  Why is the first act of a leader to define reality? Because in doing so from a biblical worldview, we leaders understand ourselves as servants, as stewards. We’re not owners, nor are we rulers. We have an organization that needs our care as opposed to our control; and the best way to care for the organizational side of the church is to care for, serve and shepherd its leaders. The disciples were horrified when they saw Jesus wrap the towel around his waist and stoop down to wash their feet; true humility by someone who is in a position of power always catches us by surprise. Other-centered leadership has a heart of humility.
Second, other-centered leadership necessitates a participatory philosophy of management. “Participative management arises out of the heart and out of a personal philosophy about people.” When I worked for AT&T, my co-worker Gary Vogler modeled this. He valued the people he worked with, and that was obvious in how he elicited everyone’s involvement, and how he discovered and encouraged us to use our gifts. Still in my 20s, Gary saw leadership in me, and he encouraged me by having me facilitate many of our team meetings. This participative philosophy is about seeing the potential in people and making sure you clear some obstacles to their participation in the team’s or organization’s success. Gary’s interest in me wasn’t simply a matter of workplace performance; our work included significant travel which means dinner on the road: Gary’s other-centered posture opened the door for deep and often spiritual conversations.
Third, De Pree distinguishes between contractual agreements and covenants. Contractual agreements are fairly straight forward, covering “such things as expectations, objectives, compensation, working conditions, benefits, incentive opportunities…”  However, people don’t thrive based on their contractual agreement. They thrive when they are deeply valued, when the relationship itself is valued. Covenant relationship is a consequence of deeply valuing the person; it allows appropriate intimacy to form. Imagine an elite military unit working together to make it through a firefight. They’ve become brothers-in-arms and, as such, are not motivated by contract but by the relationship they share. While that illustration may be an extreme example, I believe a church’s leadership environment should be one that promotes the accountability and intimacy that covenant relationships need. De Pree surfaces the obstacles to such relationships, also applicable to any church staff or leadership teams; he writes, “In our group activities, intimacy is betrayed by such things as politics, short-term measurements, arrogance, superficiality, and an orientation toward self rather than toward the good of the group.”  All such things (politics, short-term measurements, arrogance) like efficiency itself can violate relationship.
De Pree wrote for business, for profit and non-profit organizations alike. But I think he also wrote for pastors charged with leading their leaders. I’m sure I’ll be going back to “Leadership is an Art” for many more insights, but already I see a solid biblical model for other-centered leadership: service as seen in humility, participative management as seen in promoting the gifts of others, and valuing the person more than the product or ministry they’re charged with.
 Max De Pree, Leadership is an Art (New York: Crown Business, 2004), 11.
 Ibid, 24.
 Ibid, 27.
 Ibid, 56.
5 responses to “Other-centered leadership”
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Others centered leadership is the Spirit of Christ and definitley needed in more church leaders. I have found that many church leaders are in it for other reasons. I find it so difficult to stomach that they dont understand that God wants us to be like Christ who had all power and emptied himself of his divinity to save us. Others centered leadership is something I will be discussing in my essay. Great insight and post Dave!
Isn’t it interesting that “politics, short-term measurements, arrogance, superficiality” are found in many (dare I say most) churches and Christian organizations? We count numbers (people, money, etc.) to measure success. We elect people to positions and campaign behind the scenes for what we want. Whatever success we achieve, we want to be sure people know that it was us. Failures are blamed on others.
I love your focus on other-centered leadership, it is desperately needed in the church today.
Dave, Thanks for highlighting the Covenant relationship. Covenant relationships are rare these days because people like their “freedom” and rarely look out for others. Even church membership take be transferred pretty easy these days. I wonder how we bring the significance of covenant relationships back? Thanks for your great thoughts.
Nick, the way back to covenant relationships would be thinking of others more highly than we think of ourselves… Might be a of a challenge to my self-obsession.
“We’re not owners, nor are we rulers. We have an organization that needs our care as opposed to our control; and the best way to care for the organizational side of the church is to care for, serve and shepherd its leader” – Dave, your shepherd’s heart rings through and through what you’ve written. Holding your responsibility and calling as a servant-leader creates space for the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of those you are serving.