Leadership as poetry and plumbing?

James March reckons that leadership is a mix of the two. After all, as he puts it, ‘no organization works if the toilets don’t work…’

The imagery is his way of conveying the old leadership/management contrast.

It’s picked up in Resilient Ministry, a book based on some intensive research into how pastors can survive and thrive in ministry.

Leadership requires both creative art and methodical tasks. As an art, it involves ambiguity, imagination, innovation, emotional engagement and improvisation. But the methodical tasks require technical details, repetitive chores, organisation, administration, plans, orderly procedures and perhaps even restroom repair.

For the record, the authors list the poetry aspects of ministry leadership as

  • Reflection (‘Pastors grow in leadership expertise as the practice reflection both during and after presenting situations’)
  • Hardship (‘The most effective method of leadership training… is the experience of hardships’)
  • Systems thinking (understanding relational connections and their impact)
  • Political perception (dealing with interests, power and authority, growing relational capital)

While the plumbing involves

  • Modelling (primarily, spiritual maturity)
  • Shepherding (listening, encouraging, speaking truth and counselling)
  • Managing expectations (your own, and those of others)
  • Supervising conflict (‘conflict is a crucible for discipleship’)
  • Planning (vision, leadership, staff, governance)

The poetry and plumbing metaphor is an interesting image. The former seems more glamorous than the latter, though I suspect most of us notice the absence of plumbing before we notice a dearth of poets! Plumbing problems also have a way of clamouring urgently for attention while poetry seems as though it should be reserved for quiet moments when there is nothing else to do!

What do you think? Do leaders have to be able to have a grasp of both? If you are a church leader, do you long for the poetry but find yourself fully occupied with the plumbing? Has your training helped prepare you for either (or just trained you to be a linguist and a talker)? If you are a leader in another field, how does the imagery apply to what you do?

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