DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Envisioning, Empowering, Energizing – The Mystique of Leadership

Written by: on October 24, 2014

We recently experienced a mission conference that was a great success. I am analyzing this event in retrospect; in fact, I have been asked to write a news release recounting for what happened, the back story, and the membership’s reaction to the event. Our outcomes were more than double our set goals. What happened? Did we set our sights to low? Not according to past efforts; the goals were a significant challenge over past achievements. So, what went right?

Leader, leading, and leadership concepts and practices are constantly being studied, analyzed, and articulated in a myriad of ways through voluminous writings, to seminars to “hands-on” participatory conferences, to academic courses of study. Every business and organization wants good leaders and successful leadership practices; but how does one fight their way through the morass of writings, studies, and analysis? In addressing this malaise, Mandred Kets de Vries observed, “As far as leadership studies go, it seems that more and more has been studied about less and less, to end up ironically with a group of researchers studying everything about nothing.”[1]Who is a leader and what is leadership, really? is a question asked by MaryKate Morse; she notes that leadership is always taking place; “leadership is influence. Leaders influence others …. ”[2] From my perspective, Morse’s “influence” concept is an essential starting point and a guiding premise in evaluating leadership.

Influence, fundamentally, is about relationships. Mandred Kets de Vries in The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise draws a sharp distinction between leading structures or systems and leading people. He indicates that his “main objective in studying leadership “is to bring the person back into the organization[3] The sub-title gives the best hint to the book content, “Leading Behavior” indicates it is people to people; relationship is paramount in leadership. In our cohort’s most recent reading, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, Albert Hirschman relates “exit” to two primary causes: price and quality in terms of product.[4] Although Hirschman does not relate price and quality to people, I would see personal value to the organization (partly but not solely in terms of pay) and workplace satisfactions as corollary concepts. These are both predominantly relational concepts and impact on relationships.

Vries takes a clinical approach to analyzing organizational behavior. By focusing on people, he is able to encourage leaders to engage in learning “more about leadership and its vicissitudes” in order to “increase their leadership effectiveness.”[5]One of the significant learning highlights in the book is Vries use of self-leaning questionnaires. These “tests” extend the clinical approach to a sort of personal “clinical application” in the reader’s world of leadership.

Vries focuses on three key themes:[6] The first theme is the psychological rationale behind irrational organizational and individual behavior. The second is the dark side of leadership – failure. Varies clinical approach comes through here, “My years of experience,” Vries notes, “have taught me that, like it or not, not everyone has any such [leadership] potential; that, like it or not, leadership failure is a reality – and a common one at that.”[7] The third theme covers the qualities of effective leadership. The characteristics of a charismatic leader and the development of core competencies as displayed in the context in which the leader is operating will determine the leader’s effectiveness.

It is not possible to digest this book in three days reading nor give a comprehensive summary in this short paper. It is a wealth of leadership learning and application. Two chapters especially stand out for me:

Chapter 8 “Characteristics of Effective leadership”
Chapter 9: “Leadership in a Global Context”

In effective leadership, Vries addresses social, political and philosophical changes that are drastically affecting leadership in the twenty-first century. In integrating the property (behavior patterns and personality attributes) and the process (influence and relationships) leaders exhibit seven key competencies crucial to leadership effectiveness: surgency (fire in the belly), sociability, receptivity, agreeableness, dependability, analytical and emotional intelligence.  According to Vries, these competencies expressed in action “will stand leaders in good stead as they operate in today’s global environment.”[8] He then presents the dimensions of culture and how global leadership style and ability must transcend cultural differences in creating value and attitude. Leadership is successful when it creates “appreciation and accommodation of culture diversity … [and the] awareness of the need for a shared organizational culture.”[9]

“So, what went right?” My assessment is being influenced (I’m not done yet) by Vries’ article “The Leadership Mystique” (see note 1). He presents several key elements that I think factor into not only our successful mission conference but that permeates all successful leadership experience:

  • Create a vision – to see the possibility of doing what was thought to be impossible.
  • Get people involved – a broad base participation.
  • Express high performance expectations – our experience of presenting a high goal resulted in reaching even beyond the expectations. I relate this to 2 Corinthians 8:3, “They gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (NIV).
  • Empowerment – enhancing feelings of self-esteem and self-confidence. In the book, Vries relates this to delegating “authority and responsibility”[10] I like Morse’s concept of influence referred to earlier. It is not so much “delegating” as it is sharing.
  • Creating a feeling of ownership and a sense of control. People cannot own what someone else controls. Vries quotes General Patton here, “If you tell people where to go but not how to get there, you will be amazed at the results.”
  • Energize for success. Channel free-floating and affectionate energy in the right direction.
  • Be trustworthy and ensue a spirit of willingness to trust others – in the context of team work, this is an essential element.[11]

According to Vires the keys are: envisioning, empowering and energizing. In both the article and the book there is a wealth of information. The Leadership Mystique allows the leader (in all of us) to dimensionally expand relationship in the leadership experience.

[1] Mandred Kets de Vries, “The Leadership Mystique” Academy of Management Executive 8, no. 3 (August 94):  73-89.

[2] MaryKate Morse, Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008) Kindle, 145.

[3][3] Mandred Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Prentice Hall/Financial Times, 2008), xix.

[4] Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), 22ff.

[5] Vries, The Leadership Mystique, 2008, xxi.

[6] Ibid., 4.

[7] Ibid., 7.

[8] Ibid.,172.

[9][9] Ibid., 192.

[10] Ibid., 260.

[11] “The Leadership Mystique” 1996,

About the Author



10 responses to “Envisioning, Empowering, Energizing – The Mystique of Leadership”

  1. mm John Woodward says:

    Ron, as always, a great summary of the key themes of this book. I am glad you brought up your mission conference, as I meant to ask how they church did on the their faith promise. Hope they reached and surpassed the goals! Looking at your list of key elements of leadership at the end of your post, I can’t help but “amen” each one of them and view them as being simply good ministry practices. It seems that more often then not, people I know in ministry who are struggling have failed in one or more of these premises. For many, it seems that empowering others and also giving others a sense of ownership tend to be the hardest ones, especially for the older generation. I have a ministry friend who recently retired, and his view of ministry was that he was called “to do it all” — and could never let go of the reins and let others have opportunity to learn and serve. So empowering others was never part of agenda. Therefore I have to wonder, are many of these elements contextual rather than universal? Will some of these pass on in the future as times change and new ones take their place? What do you think? Thanks for your interesting thoughts!

  2. Ron…
    Your concise summary and application is always so helpful for me. You demonstrate again and again your own growing edge and reflective nature. I thought it interesting that the failure aspect of leadership was not so much in what “didn’t work”, which seems to be what we often rest “failure” upon. Rather failure as to do with our style — the how we lead, our inability to address our motivations and approach. Sometimes these things are hidden to us (his fishing illustration is so much more telling than the Johari window:), but what will we do with what has been revealed to us? That involves risk of a different sort. As you think about and evaluate your recent conference I wonder how are you creating a learning culture? (Perhaps it is already present). I realize that having a learning culture moves the control from the leader (or the leadership team) yet this might be critical for us in the church. Is that part of what you see has developed? Insights for us?

    • mm rhbaker275 says:

      Hi, Carol,
      This book is definitely an assessment tool in addition to a training manual of sorts. It is filled with practical application without over simplifying leadership skills. It is the narrative genre along with the prolific antidotes that makes the text readable. I think it is his “clinical paradigm.” I have read other books like this, such as, “Shackleton”s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer” (Morrell & Capparel) and “Journeys to Significance: Charting a Leadership Course from the Life of Paul” (Neil Cole); I think Kets de Vries is among the best.

      Our conference was great! The pastor said in his message the following Sunday, “I am overwhelmed, I can’t comprehend what happened.” Perhaps in some sense, we achieved General George Patton’s exhortation, “If you tell people where to go but not how to get there, you will be amazed at the results.” This was a shared experience where the congregation “owned” the experience. We have only begun!

  3. Ron,

    I love your quote from De Vies: “As far as leadership studies go, it seems that more and more has been studied about less and less, to end up ironically with a group of researchers studying everything about nothing.” This is so true. In fact, I have seen so little good come out of leadership studies, with some obvious exceptions, that I have wanted to jump ship on anything that has to do with leadership — or leaders. Too often, I have been disillusioned by those in leadership, especially spiritual leaders. This has caused me to become reactive rather than proactive, and I do not think that being reactive will produce much good fruit.

    One of the best parts of this book is what De Vries offers as solutions to the problem. Frankly, I have not yet read all of those parts of the book in depth, but I intend to do so. It is rare to see leadership texts that offer practical solutions to the problems of dysfunctional leadership, so I look forward to reading all that the author says on this matter. Your post and our text this week have given me hope. Hope is a great gift. Thank you for that, my friend!

    • mm rhbaker275 says:

      Thanks, Bill,
      I think that we generally think of “reaction” as responding to a problem or crisis … perhaps that is why you say it is not a good way to lead. We refer to this as “knee-jerk” leadership. It seems that much of our government’s leadership is crisis management. Reading Kets de Vries clearly (with all of his acronyms, 263) suggests ways we can understand and prepare our own leadership skills and progressively develop the leadership skills in an organization. I think, however, there will always be sense in which we respond to needs a we become aware and act in the face of needs and problems.

      I agree with the content in this text and the need to study deeper and more thorough; I often go deeper into the text when I read cohort posts … for an example, I barely skimmed over the chapter on succession (chapter 11) until I read Carol’s post – I then read the whole chapter. This is an excellent reference.

  4. mm Clint Baldwin says:

    Great review. Thanks.
    In the midst of the whole, I appreciated your thought that it is not so much about delegating, but about sharing.
    Words are important…they lead us in certain directions.
    I think your words here showcase collegiality and deemphasize hierarchy. It’s not that there is not distinction/differentiation; however, distinction/differentiation need not inordinate inequality.

    • mm rhbaker275 says:

      Thanks, Clint,

      I continue to hold one of MaryKate Morse’s concepts at the top; leadership is a shared experience. She notes, for an example, “Leaders are not simply born or made. Leadership is an intricate dance between potential leaders and their followers so that power is group-made” (Kindle 84) Again she writes, “Authentic leadership-leadership that catalyzes a group toward deep change and moves its members in positive, energizing directions-involves the group acting together” (256-257).

  5. mm Deve Persad says:

    Hey Ron, you have such a great way of summarizing the whole text in an easier to read way – which is always helpful for me. Like John, I’m wondering how “faith promise Sunday” went for your church family this weekend. Additionally, as you consider the list of you gave regarding successful leadership, I wonder which one would you recommend that your church focus on more than others, and why?

    • mm rhbaker275 says:

      Our conference was a great experience! There are many ways to measure success … we had a faith promise challenge goal of $6,500; we received faith promise commitments of $10,145! Perhaps more significant is the breath of support and involvement. The congregation accepted the missional challenge to join God in mission; they truly “bought” into this effort as their own.

      A couple of the replies to my post have asked what was the most significant success factor? I do believe that the congregation understood that the challenge was first, personal and what each one was able to do was significant; it was empowerment and “buying” into what God is doing. A second factor, not really in Kets de Vries is prayer and seeking God. How could we know what God is doing without talking to God. This was actually a week long mission emphases culminating on Sunday morning. Our prayer service on Wednesday evening was as great as I have ever experienced!

      I wish I could post a couple pictures here – I will put some on FB – perhaps we are linked there. The home news agency (CHOG News, Anderson) got wind of our meeting and has asked for details – possibly they will do a news article.

  6. Ron! Fantastic on your missions conference and faith promise! We teach in our missions seminars that God has reserved finances for the harvest but if churches do not engage with completing the Great Commission they will never see a dime of that money. God desires that all men come to the knowledge of His salvation. Missions is the expansion of His glory on the earth and He moves on the hearts of the people to finance that cause! Praise the Lord! You got me excited as your church moves forward in missions. Hallelujah Ron! To God be all the glory!!

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