MANAGEMENT HISTORY & Why Pastors Lack Management Skills, More Than Leadership Skills

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 8/24/15.

Sometimes seminary students have a negative view of the term 
“management” because in their minds it has been linked with inflexibility and control. As a result, seminarians often eschew learning management skills.

But it has been my (oft quoted) observation that, “Pastors more often are kicked out of a church because of poor management skills, than because of poor leadership skills.”

To understand how management got a “bad reputation” that it does not deserve, let’s look the history of management.

The historical beginnings of the “management” movement.

Management as an academic discipline began with a mechanical engineer named Frederick Taylor who invented the term “scientific management” (“The Principles of Scientific Management,” New York: Harper & Row, 1913).  Now, because it was a “science” it seemed legit to study in universities and the field of management was born. Today, management degrees (e.g. MBA, MSM, etc.) are some of the most popular degrees in graduate school.

But, many people, this professor included, have problems with Taylor’s “scientific management.”

Not because it is scientific, or even because it is management, but because of what it soon became.  You see, Taylor put the company before the person.  He famously intoned “the worker must be trimmed to fit the job” (quoted by Daniel Boorstin, “The Americans: The Democratic Experience, New York: Vintage, 1974, 363).  To legitimize this he conducted time and motion studies to show how jobs could be better performed.  Of course, business managers were elated at this science, that could prove that by manipulating people, jobs can be done faster and more efficiency (oftentimes however at the expense of the workers self-worth and dignity).

The Rise of “Tactical” AND “Strategic” Management  

Not surprisingly, many critics arose who criticized Taylor’s approach (an approach when came to be known as Theory X).  The critics said that Theory X did not fully appreciate the worker (it didn’t), that it de-motivated the worker (it did) and that it was too inflexible (it is).

The later point, that it was too inflexible, was championed by Henry Mintzberg in a great book called “The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning” (New York: The Free Press, 1994). Some wrongly misconstrue that Mintzberg was saying strategic planning was wrong.  He wasn’t. But what he was arguing is that in Theory X management is seen as being too inflexible, too lock-step, too rigid.

He suggested that “planners” need to be both “right-brained planners” who learn procedures and processes (who I call “tactical leaders”); as well as “left-brained planners” who (Mintzberg p. 394, quoting Quinn) are “wild birds … (who) range throughout the organization stimulating offbeat approaches to issues” (who I call “strategic leaders”)

This approach to management, flexible, innovative and integrated (across several disciplines), is very helpful for the church.  Because it utilizes right-brained planners (tactical leaders) and left-brained planners (strategic leaders), I have called this STO leadership (where O represents the “operational, team-orientated leader).

To foster innovation you need both strategic leaders (who can see the vision) and also tactical leaders (who can plan out the innovation). And, I have observed in my church case study research that innovation is very important for church growth (I even wrote a chapter about “Innovation” that I observed at Solomon’s Porch church in Minneapolis).  In fact, you can find a chart that compares “Innovation” and “institutionalism” on ChurchHealth.wiki

I want to stress the importance of this flexible, inter-disciplinary management.  Postmodern management scholars such as Mary Jo Hatch and Haridimos Tsoukas see management as having to do with the ability to plan flexible tactics, address conflict, recruit volunteers and alter management styles as an organization grows.  In fact, in my consulting I have found that among pastors, leadership principles are usually rather well understood, but that pastors are weak in  management principles.

I say all of this to ensure that as you study management and leadership, you do not dismiss the former in lieu of the latter.  A holistic understanding of both leadership and management is critical for today’s church leader.  And in my case study research, I have found management skills missing more in pastors than leadership skills.