mMCBm3MThis week, one of our RevGals has a basic question about who we are and what we do in ministry: 

Dear Matriarchs:
What’s on my mind is “leadership” — what does it really look like, what does it NOT look like, how can each of us best be leaders, and how can we avoid the traps of self-anointed leadership, and what compass do we follow?

We begin with the wise words of Kathryn Zucker Johnston: “Damn. Awesome question!” And the Matriarchs chimed in with our own enthusiastic “Amen!”

Kathryn continues:
I think leadership looks like being willing to be accountable, and a big piece of that is learning who gets to do that for us/with us and just as important – who doesn’t. And the discernment to know the difference. 

I think leadership is constantly pushing ourselves to be better. For me, that usually means if something gives me a visceral negative reaction, taking a step back and figuring out what that was about and how I can continue to push on that growing edge – sometimes that means learning about a new thing, sometimes that means figuring out why a certain person is pushing my buttons.

I think leadership is being honest about our energy bandwidths and knowing when to push even when we’re tired and knowing when, for the greater good, we need to stop. I think leadership is doing the stuff we don’t want to do, and doing it in a timely manner, because that frees us up to do the things we want to do. 

I have in-person colleagues that I trust, and I have a group of clergy that has become a lot more than ‘just’ a cohort group that help me with all of these things.

Sharon Mack Temple
Thanks so much, Kathryn. I hear you identifying maturity and courage as qualities that are present and growing in good/healthy leadership. And I can’t imagine how professional growth would be possible without trusted colleagues.

Martha Spong
Adding to Kathryn’s thoughts, I want to name two things that matter in leadership: authenticity and listening. By authenticity I mean knowing who you are and being prepared to let other people see you. It’s hard work to be conscious of the things that aggravate us, to be vulnerable about the things that matter to us, and to recognize where those things derail us. Whether through group support, therapy, spiritual direction, coaching, or some combination of the above, leaders need to cultivate self-awareness and have it checked by people they trust. It’s okay to be private or introverted; just don’t be a lone wolf. Listening was a hard skill for me to learn, and one that I am still cultivating. As an extrovert, I started my ministry with a tendency to fill in a silence with words, to cut through perceived discomfort that really was my own discomfort. As pastors, we can lead best by coming alongside the people in whatever context we serve, drawing them out, and listening to their stories and for their gifts and graces. How is God speaking to them? Interestingly, the best books I have read in this area are about business leadership rather than church leadership. “The Art of Authenticity,” by Karissa Thacker, is a very accessible book about seeing how you are operating within a system. “Humble Inquiry,” by Edgar Schein,” offers support for asking the questions that make our listening fruitful. Leadership requires our ideas, but having ideas and even enacting them does not equate to leadership. We lead when we use our intellect and our intuition to craft a vision with people who own it with us.

Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath
I think leaders need to be able to master the important phrase, “I don’t know but let’s find out.” And then you need to find out. When the institution or the leaders make a mistake, you need to make a real apology. Always say “please” and “thank you” to the people you are leading.

Dee Eisenhauer
In addition to the things mentioned above, I have found the image used by Ronald Heifetz in “Leadership Without Easy Answers” of the leader keeping the heat on under the pot of the institution high enough to cook up something new but not so high a pressure cooker pot explodes. So the leader sometimes has to cool things down if there is too much stress and conflict in the institution and sometimes has to stir and heat things up if there is too little productive conflict. He also uses the metaphor of getting up on the balcony from time to time to see more clearly what’s happening on the dance floor–and that can happen with consultation, retreat, colleagues, other kinds of analysis. I think the leader always has to the be the one with the Big Picture in mind. Patience is a crucial virtue, because sometimes the leader leads by encouraging people to wait and see what will emerge.

Jennifer Burns Lewis
I would add that good leadership is resilient—- able to see possibilities, to assess and regroup, to adapt and reflect.

Wow! To quote one of our Matriarchs who will remain anonymous:
“Damn. These are good!” The leaders and their responses. Thank you, dear Matriarchs!

Now it’s your turn, dear reader:
What is the most important quality/task of your own leadership approach?
Which of the above ideas will you take away and use?
Respond in the comments below.

Do you have a question about how to be a more effective ministry leader? Send your question/experience to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com and you will help us all to become better ministry leaders.


Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.


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One thought on “Ask the Matriarch: About Leadership

  1. I really appreciated this post and the wisdom from women I so respect. I am wondering if this might be the next RevGal book? Clergywomen on leadership with personal stories?

    Liked by 1 person

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