Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Overcoming Leadership Bankruptcy

Written by: on November 26, 2022

We are living in a time of “leadership bankruptcy,” therefore, there has never been a greater opportunity for leaders to step up and claim their position.[1] Bankruptcy is an unfortunate reality for many corporations and the responsibility frequently rests in the hands of leadership. Leadership can “make-or-break” an organization and I would argue that it is more important than the product or service itself.  Eve Poole is an expert in the area of analyzing leadership and is well-known for her leadership at Hult International Business School after working for the Deloitte Consulting capital markets practice and Church Commissioners for England.[2]  Poole’s insights from her book Leadersmithing, Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership, reminded me of how important it is to continue to refine my leadership skills so the organizations and people I lead (myself included) never fall victim to any type of bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy is more than the inability to balance debts that are owed. Bankruptcy is the “absence, or completely lacking in the quality or value” of something.[3] This word was circulating in my head while reading Poole’s book although it is nowhere to be found in her text. The phrase “leadership bankruptcy” was extremely impactful for me in Cape Town, and the practical insights Poole offers are crucial to combat this leadership epidemic we are currently living in.  This type of bankruptcy has nothing to do with financial metrics and it is disheartening to witness the lack of people stepping up, or worse, the wrong people leading individuals in vital roles such as a pastor.  In my current role, I have a front-row seat to the worst display of leadership I’ve ever witnessed. I struggle daily to keep my mouth shut, offer support, fill in the gaps behind the scenes, and watch our senior “pastor” swoop in for ninety minutes or less once a month to take the credit for everyone else’s hard work.

In his defense, there are more moving parts in his organization than my department sees. For more than a year I assumed the other areas in our congregation were balanced and content; however, I am now fielding a lot of complaints from individuals and I’m noticing attendance, motivation, and morale dwindling. The common denominator is the lack of leadership in the church organization that rents space from my ministry. I am also a member of this church and serve daily however, I’m struggling with how to handle this awkward situation that I’m not sure our senior pastor even sees.  I have respectfully brought a few topics to his attention (and others) however, I feel like Netflix making an offer to acquire Blockbuster and getting laughed out of the meeting. Perhaps they just don’t see it. Maybe they just don’t care. Either is fine in the right context I suppose but I can’t keep pretending there isn’t an elephant in the room. I also care about them and want them to succeed but how can they if they refuse to put forth the necessary effort?

In the book Leadersmithing, Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership, Eve Poole offers a unique perspective on leadership and provides strategies for improving and refining the necessary skills to be an effective leader. I’m considering recommending this book and a few others to the church leadership however, the problem is not going to be fixed from a book, they have to want it and experience it. This book served as a great reminder to me to lead in the now and refine my skills through the “right experiences.”[4] Leaders must have anticipatory thinking, foresight, expertise, and communication to lead a group into the unknown.[5] Poole claims that developing leadership skills is not limited to age or achievements, although leadership is undoubtedly not for everyone.

In my opinion, the bankruptcy of a willing church leader is the easiest to fix. I’ve noticed through experience, prayer, and discernment that there is a serious lack of education and experience in our church leadership. I believe there is serious room for improvement and a lot of the problems can be resolved with God’s help. According to Poole, a good leader must be grounded in theory, have the confidence to lead into the unknown, and execute with authority. John quotes Jesus on this subject in his gospel, “You did not choose me, but I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you.”[6] All of these skills and examples will improve with practice and effort and I pray that I can be a bridge that leads through example and humble patience instead of harsh discontent and frustration. Poole insists on building one’s confidence to become a better leader which according to her argument, confidence is developed through character.[7] I have witnessed this side of leadership and have dramatically changed my attitude in this category of leadership in recent years. She insists on the importance of having a strengthened character which she relates to the process as mastery act similar to training muscle memory.[8] Character is crucial as it helps in future-proofing one’s craft in the leadership dynamic. Poole explains the meaning of leadersmithing, which she claims to be about craft, mastery, and the willpower of apprenticeship that helps in upgrading one’s skill and ability to perform, which gives people the power to keep rising in control as a quality leader.[9]

[1] Cape Town, Seminary Advance “buzz word.”

[2] www.evepoole.com

[3] Oxford Languages, “bankruptcy.”

[4] Poole, Eve. Leadersmithing, 10

[5] Cultural Leadership Lecture, Dr. Karen Tremper

[6] John 15:16

[7] Poole, Leadersmithing, 39

[8] Ibid, 56

[9] Ibid., 70

About the Author

Michael O'Neill

Director of Operations / Executive Pastor at Kinergy, Inc. Federal 501c3 Non-Profit Organization. An experienced entrepreneur, leader, father, wellness professional, and owner of a multi-location medical practice with my wife, Nicole O'Neill, MD.

3 responses to “Overcoming Leadership Bankruptcy”

  1. Kristy Newport says:

    Praying this for you- you quote…
    “Leaders must have anticipatory thinking, foresight, expertise, and communication to lead a group into the unknown” and relationship with those you wish to influence.
    I’m curious- What “necessary effort are you wishing your pastoral staff would give?
    I know that you are waiting, interceding, and being still before the Lord. Psalm 46:10 “I will be exalted in all the earth.”
    I hear your heart and prayers in your blogs.
    Joining you

  2. Michael O'Neill says:

    Thank you, Kristy. I love your comments and push. You are a true leader and have made me a better leader over the years through your insight and prayers. Please keep pushing me!

    As for our leadership, I was in a negative place for a few days over the Thanksgiving break and a lot of the problems we have were being brought to my attention. I’m not exactly sure what the solution is or what God is asking me to do, however, I personally am praying for more focus on the people. I do not see enough “pastoring” going on. We are a “checkmark church” and I pray we grow up and move into more of a Jesus church. I know a lot of things are easier said than done but I still think more can be accomplished and our church often settles. We get our checkmark. We make it to another week. We wing a lot of it and we leave a lot of new Christians happy on Sundays but there is so much more, and we just ignore it.

    I hope our intermingling of ministries is the answer to some of these problems. We’re launching a ministry that has a serious focus on the people and perhaps that is exactly how God plans to provide the necessary shepherding. I honestly do not know but I do know that we have to keep Christ in the center of everything and walk with him daily. I will continue to pray on this subject and ask for guidance. Thank you for your continued support.

    * I felt bad about writing this post for a few days and I really want to state again that I love my church, love my pastor, and want the best for the people of my congregation. I am trying to practice patience and your scripture was spot-on. I bite my tongue a lot. I am doing my best to be still. Thank you, again.

  3. Kristy Newport says:

    Brother Michael,
    I hear a pastors heart in your response.
    I hope you have an opportunity to “shepherd” in whatever role you play at your church.

    You are generous to say-Keep pushing me! I think I need to be saying that of you! I have been wanting to ask you about your NPO and how you have found resources? Do you have some resources which talk about exercise as worship? I would LOVE to read about this! It would fit into some of my LCP goals. Please feel free to email or text me as you have the opportunity. I would find this material very helpful. I believe it would be helpful for me to learn more about exercise in order to help my clients with this much needed activity!! Please, push me!

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