Thursday, March 27, 2014

Five Essential Functions of Effective Leaders

Effective leaders, in any organization, are those who can provide the leadership functions their systems need of them. This concept puts on its head any personality-based notion of leadership (charisma, intelligence, gender, race, ethnicity, pedigree, beliefs, looks, confidence, etc.). In other words, leadership is a function of the system, not a product of personality. The counter-intuitive reality is that healthy organizations have strong leaders—conversely, it is not always the case that strong leaders have healthy, or effective, organizations. The question then, is, “What function will I need to provide to be an effective educational leader?”

Reviewing the literature on leadership yields five essential functions of leaders. These five essential functions have appeared in different forms over the years, but they consistently comprise the "top five" on lists about what effective leaders do. They are:

1. Having a vision and communicating it well
2. Articulating goals and identifying strategies
3. Creating an adaptive culture open to change
4. Monitoring progress
5. Providing necessary interventions.

All leaders need to provide those essential functions--whether in a congregation, school, non-profit organization, or business. However, there’s no one best way to provide them. WHAT a leader needs to provide is clear; HOW a particular leader chooses to go about it is a product of both context and personality.

The challenge of the complex nature of the job of leaders, with the multi-faceted dimensions and demands of an organization, calls for an astonishing wide-ranging skills set: from interpersonal relational skills to high-level analytical and intuitive-interpretive skills. Organizational leaders, in whatever role, need to cultivate and apply a wide repertoire of cognitive styles in order to carry out the job, sometimes, in the course of a single day! They need often to switch from abstract, symbolic perspectives to a concrete, realistic perspective from one moment to the next. They may start the day with internal vision-casting in a Zen-like state while driving to the office, only to be engulfed in managerial problem-solving within twenty minutes of sitting at the desk, then, end the day dealing with interpersonal conflicts in the midst of emotional reactivity.

Effective educational leaders do well to remember that in the midst of the urgency and the press of the daily triage, there are only five functions that will ultimately determine their effectiveness. Five things make the difference, for they are the essential functions that the system needs of its leader. It is not much of an overstatement to say that, at the end of the day, all else is distraction. In fact, what dysfunctional systems are very good at is distracting its leader from focusing on and providing the essential functions!

  • To what extent are you providing the five essential educational functions of a dean?

  • What things distract you from investing time, thought, and effort on the five essential functions?

  • Are you stronger in providing one function over others? Which functions do you need to work on increasing your competence?

  • Dysfunctional systems are adept at sabotaging a leader’s focus on the five functions. Are you able to identify ways your system and context inhibits your effectiveness in one or more of the five essential functions?

  • Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Ministry (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan. Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center's blog for theological school deans.

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