The following excerpt from my doctoral thesis (pages 72-74) is good exposition of the sacred and secular influences on my understanding of leadership.*


St. Benedict gave me the leadership image of the Abbot. The Abbot accepts the responsibility of stimulating people toward growth. Chapter 2.30-32 of the Rule states:

The Abbot should always remember what he is and what he is called, and should know that to whom more is committed, from him more is required. Let him understand also what a difficult and arduous task he has undertaken: ruling souls and adapting himself to a variety of characters. One he must coax, another scold, another persuade, according to each one’s character and understanding. Thus he must adjust and adapt himself to all in such a way that he may not only suffer no loss in the flock committed to his care, but even rejoice in the increase of good flock. (Derske 47)

Wil Derske, author of The Rule of Benedict for Beginners: Spirituality for Daily Life, sees “a stethoscope as a symbol of Benedictine leadership. The art of listening stands primary in Benedictine life.” (Derske 45) The Abbot is the leader who models servanthood in the same manner as Jesus Christ.

The Abbot as described in the Rule could easily be a case study using the secular approach to management by Jim Collins, author or co-author of books that study corporate performance such as Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Other Don’t. An unexpected management practice became apparent when among twenty public companies, two similar companies from ten different industries, were compared. Jim Collins and his research team found that disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action were the necessary ingredients to move a company from good to great. The first ingredient contained an unexpected outcome:

Level 5 Leadership. We were surprised, shocked really, to discover the type of leadership required for turning a good company into a great one. Compared to the high-profile leaders with big personalities who make headlines and become celebrities, the good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars. Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy—these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar. (Collins 12-13)

The description of a Level 5 Leader is a simple yet compelling expression of a leadership identity that embraces the humility and discipline of the Rule of St. Benedict.

Derske sees a Benedictine Abbot as concerned with Stability (sticking with it), Obedience (listening carefully to God and to one another), and Conversion of Life (daily improvement). For Collins, a Level 5 Leader reinforces the core values of the corporation. Both leadership identities give space by being flexible concerning events and people. Yet both leadership identities express a tenacious commitment to the organization rather than self. A Benedictine Abbot might choose to coax, scold, persuade, or even release a monk. The same might be said of a Level 5 Leader operating with the skills author Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote about in Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. As such, the self-discipline of each leadership identity builds a similar disciplined culture that embraces leading by giving space within the boundaries of governing values/guiding principles.

The spirituality of the Abbot and the self-effacing nature of the Level 5 Leader indicate a high degree of intrapersonal intelligence. Both see a clear path to a goal. The Abbot, perhaps, “towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:14 NRSV). The Level 5 Leader is “resolved to whatever it takes to make the company great, no matter how big or hard the decisions.” (Collins 39) And both need to engage self-reflective adaptive practice. The Abbot “should always remember what he is and what he is called.” (Derske 47) The Level 5 Leader balances a “paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” (Collins 13)

I best understand my leadership identity as one who leads by giving space when I recognize that such an identity is a melding of an Abbot and a Level 5 Leader. Humility is at the least seeing matters from another’s perspective and giving space to listen and let others act. What this study has evidenced is the need for self-reflective adaptive practices. The Anxiety Response Chart method and the Yellow Pad Discipline are two such practices that reinforce humility as an essential leadership quality. The wisdom of Henri Nouwen bears repeating, “Paradoxically, by withdrawing into ourselves, not out of self-pity but out of humility, we create the space for another to be himself and to come to us on his own terms.” (Nouwen 91) Such withdrawal is only possible when self-reflective adaptive practices develop the capacity to effect humble but resolute approaches to leadership such as the Benedictine Abbot or the Level 5 Leader.

*Intrapersonal Intelligence Mediated By Self-Reflective Adaptive Practice
That Manages Anxiety: Learning To Lead By Giving Space
Find the complete thesis at: W Thomas – Final DMin Thesis – 08-01-13

The complete bibliography from my doctoral thesis:

Argyris, Chris. Overcoming Organizational Defenses: Facilitating Organizational Learning. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Baker, Mark W. The Greatest Psychologist Who Ever Lived: Jesus and the Wisdom of the Soul. New York: HarperSanFranciso, 2001.

Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. New York: HarperBusiness, 2001.

Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. New York: Free Pres, 1998.

Covey, Stephen R., A. Roger Merrill and Rebecca R. Merrill. First Things First. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Derske, Wil. The Rule of Benedict for Beginners: Spirituality for Daily Life. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2003.

Ellis, Albert H. How to Control Your Anxiety Before It Controls You. New York: Citadel Books, 1998.

Ellis, Carolyn and Arthur P. Bochner. “Autoethnography, Personal, Narrative, Reflexivity: Researcher as Subject.” Handbook of Qualitative Research: Second Edition. Ed. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc., 2000. 733-768.

Friedman, Edwin H. Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. New York: Seabury Books, 2007.

Galbraith, Craig S. and Oliver Galbraith, III. The Benedictine Rule of Leadership: Classic Management Secrets You Can Use Today. Avon: Adams Media, 2004.

Gallagher, Robert A. Power From On High: A Model for Parish Life and Development. New York: Ascension Press, 1982.

Gardner, Howard. Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2006.

Gilbert, Roberta M. Extraordinary Leadership: Think Systems, Making a Difference. Falls Church: Leading Systems Press, 2006.

—. Extraordinary Relationships: A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1992.

Heiftez, Ronald, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009.

Heiftz, Ronald. Leadership Without Easy Answers. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1994.

Holtz, Albert. Pilgrim Road: A Benedictine Journey Through Lent. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 2006.

Kurtz, Ernest and Katherine Ketcham. The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.

Leas, Speed B. discover your conflict management style. Alban Institue, 1997.

McQuiston II, John. Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living. New York: Morehouse Publishing, 1996, 2011.

Nouwen, Henri J.M. The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. New York: Image Doubleday, 1972.

Schön, Donald A. The Reflective Practictioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Boston: Basic Books, 1983.

Sims, Bennett J. Servanthood: Leadership for the Third Millenium. Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1997.

Steinke, Peter L. Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What. Herndon: The Alban Institute, 2006.

—. Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach. Herndon: Alban Institute, 1996.

—. How Your Church Family Works: Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems. Herndon: The Alban Institute, 1993, 2006.

Ven, Johannes A. van der. Education for Reflective Ministry. Leuven: Peeters Press, 1998.