Many leaders, especially kind, loving leaders, just hate that moment when they have to say, 'Hey, listen, you’re not doing enough. You need to be better.'


" — Patrick Lencioni, management guru and founder of a parish revitalization movement

“Blessed are the nice.”

Many well-intentioned people who serve the church insert this ninth beatitude into their work — to the detriment of their ministry. Effective leadership instead is based on radical love, which is grounded in trust, does not eschew conflict and allows for commitment, accountability and, ultimately, results.

These were some of the key observations made by Patrick Lencioni, a management guru and founder of Amazing Parish — a Denver-launched parish revitalization movement — who shared his analysis of successful teambuilding at a national convocation for Catholic leaders in Orlando, Florida, this summer. On Aug. 1, staff of the Archdiocese of Portland Pastoral Center (the hub of church administration in western Oregon) gathered during lunch to hear a recording of the talk.

“We aren’t an insurance agency, we aren’t a business, we are a church,” said Archbishop Alexander Sample in his remarks following the video presentation. “But there are many principles used in organizations … that work and that help a team function better and in a healthier way.”

Archbishop Sample heard Lencioni’s original talk as a member of a local delegation at the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” where attendees devised ways to reflect the church’s missionary call.

In the talk, Lencioni used wit and anecdote to underscore his points, while reminding listeners that all worthwhile accomplishments include the aid of the Holy Spirit.

He drew from a concept articulated by Stephen Covey, of “7 Habits” fame, and described the circle of influence and circle of concern, with the latter including things like world hunger and poverty.

Whether one is a bishop, pastor, youth minister or other church leader, the first focus should be on the circle of influence, with interior peace and inner holiness the starting point, Lencioni said. If we don’t prioritize our spiritual life, no amount of effort and strategizing will be fruitful.

The second element in a church leader’s circle of influence should be his or her team. Lencioni said the term “team” might sound secular, but he believes it’s biblical. “We can’t deny Jesus worked on a team,” he said, pointing to the disciples.

And no matter what great ideas you have about reaching the periphery or serving the church, they will not be effective without a strong team, said Lencioni.

To cultivate strong, faith-grounded teams we need “a radical level of trust based on vulnerability,” he said. Such trust allows us to engage in conflict.

“This is an area that most churches and faith-based organizations struggle with,” Lencioni acknowledged. He clarified that he was not referring to mean-spirited personal conflict. “I’m talking about productive, healthy conflict about what’s the best plan of action.”

Churches hire kind people who sometimes forget that part of being loving is being able to say, “I don’t see how that program is going to work” to a fellow parishioner, he said, adding that the command from Jesus is not to be nice but to love.

Without conflict, we don’t have real commitment, Lencioni pointed out. “We need people to weigh in on decisions so they’ll buy into” a plan.

What follows from commitment is accountability, with peers being the primary source of accountability, he said. Leaders, however, must be the final arbiter.

“Many leaders, especially kind, loving leaders, just hate that moment when they have to say, ‘Hey, listen, you’re not doing enough. You need to be better.’”

Yet it is an act of love to say, “I want to help you get better,” he said. “When we don’t do that, it’s not virtue or love; it’s withholding excellence.”

Lencioni concluded by saying church leaders need to exude their inner joy. If people see the love of Christ in the places we work, “they are going to want more, and God will surprise us,” he said.

In his post-talk comments and a brief question-and-answer session, Archbishop Sample commended staff for the “palpable sense” of Christ’s love in the building while encouraging them to grow in the joy of the Gospel. He also emphasized the importance of collaboration across departments. “We are all one team,” said the archbishop.