Monday, June 30, 2008

The Pastor as a Leader

By: Gary J. Salton, Ph.D., Chief R&D and CEO
Professional Communications, Inc.

A leader’s position determines their information needs. A supervisor in charge of a specific process works with a short-range horizon and much detail (input). Well-defined processes convert raw information into usable form. The desired outcome is usually explicit (output).

A CEO has a long-run horizon with few details (input). The processes are undefined and vague. The outcome is a judgment that requires balancing often-competing factors (output). Different positions favor different approaches. But helping the transition between levels goes far beyond just learning new competencies. It involves changing world views.

Information is the only vehicle we have to understand the world. The different information flows at the different levels create different understandings. There is situational variation. But there will also be commonalities. In other words, there will be variation around a central theme. The point of central tendency and the degree of variation give us something to study.

The suitability of a strategy determines how well a job can be done. If you pay attention to detail, your long-range vision will be compromised. Details compound geometrically with time and will exhaust the capacity of any mind. If you do not pay attention to detail, you cannot be precise. You will not have the needed data. It is a trade-off. “I Opt” technology translates this common sense observation into a framework of assessment. This gives us a way to conduct the study.

This Research Blog uses “I Opt” technology to evaluate 40 Pastors from 10 Protestant Churches. Data from 160 CEOs, 703 VPs, 3574 managers and 653 supervisor are used as comparison points. The goal is to identify opportunities to improve the leadership performance of pastors.

When people encounter situations requiring a decision they usually use a preferred strategic style. “I Opt” defines Strategic Styles as particular combinations of input/process/output elements. You can learn more at and/or You can also click the Styles and Patterns video on the right for a simple explanation.

Pastors are people. They are not exempt from the need to make an initial choice. Table 1
compares the pastor’s median commitment to particular strategies with other executives in the “I Opt” database. The yellow boxes show the initial approach most likely to be used.

Table 1
"I Opt" Strategic Style Commitment
Median Percent of Maximum Possible Commitment

Pastors appear to fit into the strategic style approach used at higher management levels. Pastors are equally likely to use the RI and HA strategies. The RI focuses on creating new options. The HA focuses on analysis and assessment. This posture seems to match common experience of a pastor as a thoughtful idea generator. It rings true.

Not only are the initial approaches compatible with the pastor’s position in the hierarchy, but their other strategic styles also fit in. Chart 1 shows a stair step relation in strategic style commitment at the various levels.

Chart 1
"I Opt" Strategic Style Commitment by Organization Level

Four distinct categories representing five different organizational levels are moving in a lock step. This kind of pattern is no accident. There is a cause driving the pattern. That cause is the information processing demands of each organizational level. In other words, the duties of a position cause people to favor a particular strategic style. They not only favor it in work, they favor it in life. It can come to define their persona in the eyes of others.

A question might arise whether pastors are a distinct category or whether they are merely a part of an existing one. Table 2 answers this question.

Table 2

The first row of Table 2 shows that VPs and Managers handle information in totally different ways. They are truly distinct. They seek different kinds of information, process it differently and target different outcomes. There is no doubt but that VPs and Managers “see” different worlds.

Pastors have a foot in both camps. They differ from VPs in that they give more emphasis to analysis (HA). They differ from Managers in putting less stress on proven, well-understood methods (LP). It is reasonable to consider pastors a distinct category. In other words, pastors are a unique breed.

There are spiritual and secular consequences to the pastor’s choice of initial strategy. Spiritually, their choice is well considered. Spiritual choices tend to be long-run (e.g., salvation) and have intellectual resolution (i.e., what to do). Both analysis (HA) and idea generation (RI) are thought based strategies focused on the longer-term future. They fit with the spiritual mission.

The pastor’s strategy choice may be less than ideal for their secular responsibilities (the church, finances, and administration). This area tends to be shorter-range and responds to intervention (i.e., action). Pastors, as a group, will likely be slow to respond to secular challenges. Difficulties can compound during these delays. This is a point of exposure arising from the pastor’s preferred strategic style approach. A strategy that works well in one dimension may not work as well in another.

Secular and spiritual duties of the pastor are entwined. The church must be maintained as an efficient, functioning entity if the pastor’s spiritual mission is to be fully realized. Paradoxically, the long run HA and RI styles of the pastors can short-circuit actions needed for the secular viability of the church.

Pastoral leadership programs would do well to recognize the consequences of the pastor’s choice in initial strategy. They can give pastors tools to help them make better judgments on these initial decision approaches. It will not always be analysis and ideas.

Pastors have substantial capacity in both the RS (instant action) and LP (disciplined action) styles. Merely sensitizing pastors to this exposure may be enough to yield a gain for both the pastor and the church. Giving them tools for quickly assessing new situations can further improve outcomes. There is opportunity here.

Strategic Styles are the strategies a person uses to settle issues. If their favored style fails or if added decisions are needed to resolve an issue, people move to their next most favored strategy. The combinations of primary and secondary strategies are called Strategic Patterns.

Strategic Patterns have a precise and mathematical definition. However, for purposes of this research blog is perhaps best to typify them in terms of the maxim likely to be seen in behavior.

Changer:---------“I got an idea, let’s try it”
Conservator:---“Let’s do it once and do it right”
Perfector:-------“Great idea, let’s think it through”
Performer:-----“Let’s get it done! We’ll do it right if we can and anyway if we have to”

Strategic Patterns (i.e., long-term) tend to follow the same systematic progression as shown in Strategic Styles (i.e., short-term). In other words, the pastor’s long-term strategic pattern fits into a stair step hierarchy as neatly as does the short-term strategic style. This is shown in Chart 2.

Chart 2
"I Opt" Strategic Pattern Commitment by Organization Level

Pastors seem to fit best with higher level executives (CEO and VP). Like them, pastors favor a Changer stance (“Great idea! Let’s try it!). Managers and Supervisors lean toward a Conservator posture (“Do it once, do it right!). These longer-term stances are more easily seen in Table 3.

Table 3
Median Percent of Maximum Possible Commitment

A sharp-eyed reader will notice an anomaly in the otherwise orderly progression. The pastor’s strength in the Performer pattern (far right on Table 3) falls short of all other organizational levels. This is more clearly seen in Chart 3.

Chart 3

The Performer strategic pattern results confirm the pastor as a unique category. The “Let’s get it done! We’ll do it right if we can and anyway if we have to” stance is ill suited to both the pastor’s secular and spiritual responsibilities. For a pastor, a low commitment to this pattern is the right posture.

Overall, the pastor’s long run decision stance seems to fit well into the leadership hierarchy. Standard leadership development tools are likely to be as effective as they are in the purely secular realm. However, there is a little secret embedded in the statistics.

This analysis used medians. This is the mid-point of a distribution. It is unaffected by people who hold extreme positions. Had we used averages a different aspect of the distribution of pastors would have become visible. Chart 4 shows this condition graphically.

Chart 4
(n =40)

There is clustering of pastors in the Conservator Pattern quadrant. A cluster is a bunching of people who tend to view the world through the same color glasses. They will tend to accept the same kind of variables as relevant, process them in roughly equivalent ways and seek the same character of outcomes. In other words, they can form a natural coalition.

The pastor cluster favors disciplined thought (HA) and disciplined action (LP) as a way of conducting life. They are detail sensitive. They tend to be thorough in processing information. They want to be right every time and seek certainty in the outcome. They see obstacles vividly and seek to avoid them.

In contrast, a majority of other pastors see opportunity more vividly than obstacles. They are more dispersed. They will try to realize the opportunity they see in different ways. However, there is commonality. They value new ideas. They are more willing to focus on central aspects of issues rather than details. They are willing to sacrifice certainty for the promise of large gains.

Clustering seems to be more pronounced among pastors than it is in other management categories. Charting the sample variance, an unbiased measure of dispersion in a group, makes this visible. For purposes of this research blog it is enough to say that the higher the sample variance, the more different are members of a group from each other. Chart 5 shows the results of this test.

Chart 5

The pastor’s Changer and Conservator categories stand out. This confirms that the pastor category is composed of two distinct subgroups that carry the same title. In other words, there is not one kind of pastor but two very different ones.

The “little secret” has implications for leadership. Leadership development programs drawn from the business community will miss the mark. These programs see leadership training in terms of continuum and have built their courses that way. In other words, they did not have clusters to worry about, so they did not build them in.

Adopting these business tools without modification is likely to short-change pastors. Focusing on opportunity oriented pastors automatically disenfranchises those that are obstacle oriented. The same applies in reverse. Focusing on obstacles will be of little value to a pastor whose world centers on creating opportunities. Neither category is “right” or “wrong.” Both obstacles and opportunities exist in the real world. Leadership training must address both of these legitimate stances.

One place to start leadership training for pastors is to introduce them to “I Opt” technology. Pastors in both subcategories are smart people. Showing them the biases inherent in their information-processing postures is often enough to produce a gain. A recognized bias can be offset. An invisible one cannot.

Training can also be adjusted. For example, “vision” is currently seen as a quality of leadership. This is the ability to envision and articulate an end state without knowing exactly how it will be realized. Vision is a natural quality of the Changer Pattern. It makes no sense at all to a Conservator. For them, it is the equivalent of a childhood wish.

Leadership training can be adjusted to accommodate these situations. For example, exercises can be developed to show the Conservator “how” to create a vision. Alternatively, they can be shown how to link a series of shorter-term goals into a system that resembles a long-term vision.

The point to be made is that standard programs do not have to be abandoned. They just need to be adjusted. They need to recognize that pastors are a unique breed with unique needs. Recognizing this gives us an opportunity to improve church leadership in both the secular and spiritual realms. It is an effort worth making.