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Clergy introvert

A recent item by Adam S. McHugh in The Christian Century caught my eye: "Can Introverts Lead?

On one level, it's a ridiculous question. I know of many introverts among the ranks of the clergy, for example. To be sure, some of them once thought they were entering a life of reading and reflection, but they soon learned the truth: The job description of the typical pastor includes a lot more of "getting groups to accomplish goals together" than "poring over biblical commentaries to prepare a brilliant sermon." That goes with theological school leadership too. Introverted scholars do move up the ranks to become deans and presidents.

So did these introverts follow the wrong vocational path? Maybe -- if you're subscribing to some outdated notion of what good leadership means. In fact, author McHugh identifies four old-fashioned, commonly agreed-upon qualities of good leaders:

  • Charisma
  • Dominance
  • Gregariousness
  • Superstardom

But here's where it gets interesting to me -- McHugh then contrasts this list with the qualities of a "Level 5" leader as outlined by Jim Collins in his best-seller Good to Great. As Collins explains, a "Level 5" leader is a rare, truly exceptional person. McHugh summarizes:

  • Level 5 leaders display compelling modesty, are self-effacing and understated.
  • Level 5 leaders display a workmanlike diligence -- more plow horse than show horse.
  • Level 5 leaders set up their successors for even greater success in the next generation, whereas egocentric level 4 leaders often set up their successors for failure.

You don't have to be an extrovert to do this. In fact, introverts often have that drivenness, combined with personal modesty, that qualifies them as "Level 5" leaders.

I'm a big fan of Jim Collins, in part because Good to Great is a business book that's actually based on solid evidence. And the companion book, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, applies its principles to the nonprofit world. Both are well worth your time.

Read the whole article in The Christian Century here.

Read an earlier blog post about Jim Collins here.

Read a review of Good to Great and the Social Sectors here.

If you are affiliated with one of In Trust's member institutions, you can read In Trust's 2008 article about Good to Great here. (You will need to register and log in if you want to read the article.)


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