The church is one of the only realms of leadership that enables men and women to retain positions of authoritarian leadership without any regard to the leader’s spiritual health, relevancy or team building capabilities. Therefore, the church has a tendency to solely rely on the pastor’s vision and, consequently, revile the pastor’s downfall. In a sense, the North American preference towards totalitarian leadership within the protestant church has created a standard of perfection that is unattainable, a pulpit that is unapproachable and a people who are unreachable. According to a recent article in Church Leaders:
…anxiety and depression in the pulpit are “markedly higher” in the last five years, said Smoot. “The current economic crisis has caused many of our pastors to go into depression.” Besides the recession’s strain on church budgets, depressed pastors increasingly report frustration over their congregations’ resistance to cultural change.
Instead of addressing the root problem of leadership theory, pastors and leaders are condemned for their lack of ‘transformational leadership’ and subsequently, fall deeper into a never-ending tailspin of leading ministries with a painted façade and a perfected smile. This type of power-driven leadership expectation also leads one to operate from the standpoint of generalized assumption and individual excuse. “Power, it seems, breeds a sense of entitlement and an inclination to hold others to standards of behavior that we cannot live up to ourselves.” Hence, the pressure of authoritarian governance forces pastors and leaders to manage from a place of denial and function from a place of detachment.
Tourish is not advocating for socialistic leadership, but he challenges his readers to question themselves rather than place the blame on the otherness of their team. The author explains that “It is certainly vital that we deconstruct leadership, that we ask critical questions of its practice and that we open up our research to different voices and interests. But it is also important, I think, that we attempt to offer solutions. If the world cannot be made perfect, then perhaps it can at least be made better.” Tourish does seek to find a resolution and reveals the humanity within management structures; however, he also peels back the layers of poor leadership theory and encourages readers to embrace the voices that differ with their presumptions.
This is why it is imperative for pastors and leaders to question their execution and their leadership ethics. If one takes on the mindset of conviction equaling conformity, then one’s ministry is simply reflecting the heart of the leader and not the needs of the congregants. Tourish reveals that:
There is abundant evidence that the penalizing of dissent has become an organizational norm, with a consequent increase in ingratiating behaviors by employees (principally, overt, enthusiastic and excessive agreement with the ideas propounded by leaders and managers) used as a means of both surviving and trying to acquire influence of powerful others.
For many, dissent is viewed as a dissection from the church because it forces pastors and leaders to question their direction. This is why countless people are leaving the doors of the sanctuary. If their voice is silenced and their questions are viewed as steeped in disloyalty, then their deemed as a threat to the very fabric of one’s authoritarian vision and considered a barrier to one’s God-giving calling. However, according to Tourish, one must be leery of using one’s charisma and ‘calling’ as a way to separate the followers from the nonconformists. He reveals that vision without opposition is not persuasive, but steeped in poor leadership theory.
Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams concur with Tourish in their book, Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results. They suggest that “The level and consistency of collective effectiveness of the leadership system makes the difference between organizations that perform optimally and those that do not.” Tourish builds on their perception of leadership and suggests embracing dissension, understanding differences and creating an organization that functions in dialogue. He reveals, “The dialogic organization will always be involved in discussion about strategic direction, including after decisions have been reached. Critical feedback, despite its frustrations, consistently offers fresh opportunities for evaluation.” Hence, if leadership is based upon the conformity of members, then the organization is more concerned with protecting the ego of the individual, instead of protecting the health of the organization.
Dennis Tourish, author of The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective, draws us into a parallel reality of healthy leadership and then gives us the tools to change the trajectory of our journey. He currently serves as the professor of Leadership and Organization Studies and director of Research of the School of Management at the Royal Holloway University of London. However, although his background is steeped in academic dissection, he presents a dialogue that envelopes us with reason and challenges us with application – He challenges us as pastors and leaders to lean into the dissension and take our cue from the those with picket signs.
Toni Ridgaway, “Silent Suffering: Pastors and Depression,” https://churchleaders.com, September 11, 2010, https://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/144651-silent-suffering-pastors-and-depression.html.
Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective (New York: Routledge, 2013), 9.
Robert J. Anderson and W A. Adams, Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results (Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley, 2016), 20.
Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective (New York: Routledge, 2013), 95.
“Royal Holloway, University of London: Professor Dennis Tourish,” royalholloway.ac.uk, accessed February 7, 2019, https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/dennis-tourish(90abca1f-14e2-446c-a414-a3c689392d90).html.