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

The four “H” words

Written by: on October 25, 2014

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.”[1] 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.[2] 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.”[3] 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.”[4] 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.[5] 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.”[6] Your determination inspires me.


            [1] Manfred Kets De Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise, 2nd ed. (Harlow CM, UK: Pearson Education, 2006), 263.

            [2] Ibid., 203.

[3] Ibid., 263.

[4] 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.

[5] De Vries, 40.

[6] Ibid., 213.


About the Author


Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

9 responses to “The four “H” words”

  1. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Thanks for highlighting the four “H”s, I also thought this was a great ending to the book and a good consummation for much of Kets de Vries’ ideas. His narrative writing using the clinical lens was not only instructive and helpful but very interesting.

    I especially liked how you highlighted humanity through your own experience of serving without a thought of or looking for reward. This is a “clinical” expression of Kets de Vries observation. Unfortunately, you are correct in observing that much of Western society has lost this great leadership (cultural) value. Do you think it is the emphases on entitlement that has taken us away from recognizing the value in all persons? We have twisted the sense of “expectation” from hope filled anticipation in giving and receiving into a selfish satisfying of personal needs.

    Concerning humor, Kets de Vries fulfills his own exhortation: he notes, “The challenge in life is to die young as late as possible” (265). If we could only learn to ask, “How can this be done better? Or, what more can I do?” What if? What next?

    • Ron…
      So good to engage with you this weekend. In replying to your question about entitlement… my short answer is I really don’t know. I wonder if it has to do with our cultural context which does to some degree support an entitlement framework. But perhaps it has to do with our we view others … as tools and instruments to accomplish goals and outcomes. I think your thoughts about the “twisting” certainly are important and present.

  2. mm Clint Baldwin says:

    I too happened to focus on the four H’s. And I particularly appreciated the aspect of humor. Howard Macy, who taught Old/First Testament for years at George Fox has done quite a bit on the use of humor.
    In agreement with you, I too think the use of healthy, substantive, prophetic, witty, strategic, healing humor is often much underrated.

    • Thanks Clint….
      There is a lot to glean from our reading this week. (And thanks for including the reference in your post to the story about the frog, owl, & alligator – that in itself was humorous!). You are wise and right to offer that humor has a place today (as well as a need) to speak prophetically, strategically, witty, healthy, substantive and healing. May we cultivate that well…

  3. mm Ashley Goad says:

    Carol, I love everything about your beautiful prose and the four H’s. Humor is so simple, yet it is not so easy! I tend to become caught up in the everyday business and seriousness of life, and rarely does more than a chuckle exit my lips. But there was that one time…when we were all together…laughing so hard that it hurt! And how good did that feel? Like Clint said, humor is often much underrated. I think we need that reminder…more often than not!

    • Ashley…
      I love what you wrote … “humor is so simple, yet it is not easy!” Perhaps we need to give the gift of perspective (although I realize that depending on who is giving the perspective that it might not aid to humor-development).

      I realize how good it was to laugh when we were together because we genuinely like being together as a cohort. Perhaps community is a significant part of healthy humor… hmmm.

  4. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Carol, Great post as always! I agree with you that there is freedom to be ourselves when there is no expectations. It is often failed expectations that drives people apart. At the same time, as humans when get involved in others lives we naturally expect for some positive response. Like you say, it is not easy and requires us to be intentional to develop such character. Thank you for sharing insight from your prayer life and also the importance of play and humor for our soul and body.

    • Telile …
      So appreciate your wisdom and perspective. I realize there is tension … I do have expectations from the people that come. We have work to do together, yet I think (hope) that accepting who each person “is” might make a difference. Although I know that it is not always easy depending upon our personalities.

      Blessings my friend!

  5. Michael Badriaki says:

    Dear Carol, great post indeed. The four H words simply drove the message home. In many ways, I was reading a fine post on the “golden rule”. It is as though you beautifully asked your readers to consider the need to be first and out of being, the process of doing flows there in.

    Your reflection on the author’s sentence, “The humanity of leaders is often best revealed in how they treat people whom they can’t benefit from.” was right on point. I believe such a premise asks leaders to consider people’s dignity and human worth before anything else.

    Yet how will people know about human dignity and worth if they are not taught? Thanks for teaching Carol!

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