If there is one thing (and there is more than just one) to take away from reading Manfred Kets De Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise it is that the path to the end game should have a different road. I am not a business person; yet I recognize that as a leader in the Church business is part of what takes place. There can be a right way and another way to handle the business aspect. I am part of a structured, some might say, archaic denomination. Decisions come forth by following a certain polity. There is no lone island, we are accountable not only to our parishioners, but to a larger collective forming a presbytery. There is form and function, but there is also a connected system. When one church body makes a collective decision, such as leaving the denomination (and therefore the presbytery) the strand connecting church bodies is frayed and broken. Leadership can become frayed if we do not attend to effective leadership. The end game in Leadership Mystique is up to our own investment. Kets de Vries uses four “H” words to describe effective leadership: hope, humanity, humility and humor. Each aspect of effective leadership is revealed in various ways throughout the book. They are not three steps or even twelve. The brilliance might be that they are not steps at all, just four words to cultivate and develop.
“The humanity of leaders is often best revealed in how they treat people whom they can’t benefit from.” This simple, yet profound statement comes in the final pages. It is the middle part of the sentence that is the hallmark for me, our leadership is revealed in how we treat someone who we cannot benefit from. I find the statement almost ironic as it seems to be opposite of what I have heard from my students in seminary and from pastors concerning their parishioners. Expectations. Humanity. Benefit. The end game often depends on people “volunteering” their time and energy in the causes of the church. People can become the product and the means to drive toward the end result. How will I treat someone I cannot benefit from? This afternoon I “worked” at my church’s soup kitchen. We served more than 30 people. Some I know by name and some I saw for the first time. I realize there is freedom – for myself and for the other when there are no expectations. They can be who they are, and so in a surprising way can I. Humanity requires empathy. It is not easy, but it must be a strong thread if we are to lead.
Hope actually precedes humanity in the “H” list. Kets de Vries pointed out that leaders have two roles to play. One is the energy that a leader brings to the organization driven by the vision of what can be, creating a culture and developing others by empowering them, drawing upon their strengths. The other role is design oriented, architectural. With one hand we are creating hope and with the other we are examining the structures and issues that need to be addressed. This week I started reading The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears by Mark Batterson. One thing that I realized is that my own prayer life has become pretty routine and dull (says an adjunct who is teaching a prayer course next semester). What has been missing is hope. I have not dared to pray what is really in my heart – to even seek to “let out” what I really want, instead I have softened it, “couched” it if you will. I have dreams but I have not prayed a circle around them and turned toward God to fulfill them. Ouch!
And then I remember these words from Isaiah 2:3 (The Message), “He’ll show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.” This is a hope message, a vision to live into as a leader and as a follower of Christ.
Humility is the third H. It is “rooted in accurate self-perception.” I realize that in this particular area we have work to do, in knowing self – both our true self and our false self. This semester I am co-teaching a course on shame and grace. In the Church and in our theology we have more often focused on addressing our guilt, we have often failed to address our shame. If we are to have an accurate self-perception we will do well to attend to the shame we carry. Guilt reminds us of our shortcomings, our “less thans.” “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Kets de Vries may not have directly referenced shame, but his urging to be attentive to what we wish for in relationships, how we approach people and situations and our reactions when things go as we intended and what our reaction is when things go differently are all aspects that will help us to identify our feelings and motivation. When we invest in this challenging work we speak our voice and establish connection.
The last “H” might be the most underrated essential, humor. When there is so much to do and so much pressure to get things done, it is easy to forget to just laugh or enjoy the moment. There are too many times when I have. Except for Cape Town. As I thought about humor I didn’t look to the words, examples or assessments in Leadership Mystique, I remembered two things – the way my husband can make me smile and our shared laughter at Cape Town. Celebrating Deve’s birthday bonded us. We laughed and sang, together we have that shared memory. I had a roomie that drew laughter from me in my “tired, I’m catching a cold state.” Laughter makes us come alive. It fosters connection. What a gift humor is!
Kets de Vries hallmarks of effective leadership remind me that, “real leaders are often rather ordinary people with extraordinary determination.” Your determination inspires me.
 Ibid., 263.
 Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love Parent, and Lead (New York, NY: Gotham Books, 2012), 69.
 De Vries, 40.
 Ibid., 213.