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Leadership Tools Come in Many Forms
Leadership Tools Come in Many Forms

Leadership development happens in many ways in our congregations. A book makes us think in a new way. A speaker at a workshop gives us an "Aha!" moment. We watch someone flawlessly lead a meeting or execute a project. We're talked into taking on a task that’s different from anything we've done before.

Since most of us can use all of the help we can get in honing our leadership skills, InterConnections asked several staff members of UUA districts to tell us about their favorite leadership development tools. Not all will be right for you, but we hope some will. And sometimes it's simply useful to see what tools others find helpful.

Janine Larsen, district executive in the Pacific Northwest District, notes, "I refer leaders to three resources most often: the Rev. Robert Latham's book, Moving On from Church Folly Lane: the Pastoral to Program Shift; Rev. Daniel Hotchkiss' Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership; and Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, by Richard Chait and others." The first two are available from the UUA Bookstore, and the latter from Larsen says, "We encourage group study of these books, to share learning and decide how their leadership team might wish to evolve, based on what they've read."

She adds, "I also tell them, first and foremost, to pay attention to their spiritual development. Spiritual maturity develops leadership more deeply and surely than anything else, I've found."

Larsen says some PNWD congregations are also experimenting with the new UUA Tapestry of Faith curriculum, "Harvest the Power," which was created to strengthen the skills and confidence of congregational leaders. "All of them have found the need to adapt the curriculum in some way, but there are valuable pieces in there."

Tandi Rogers Koerger, PNWD program specialist, says, "My favorite leadership development tool is mentorship, either individual to individual or congregation to congregation or a skilled consultant working with a congregation. I will also suggest that a congregation struggling with an issue contact a congregation that works with that issue particularly well. Emails and phone calls ensue. Resources are exchanged. There are road trips to the healthy congregation by leaders from the struggling congregation. A breakthrough and affirmation usually result."

"It's the same with individuals," she says. "I watch to see who is doing well and I send others to them to find out what they’re reading and what tools have worked for them. As they converse they are reaffirmed that they are not alone."

The Rev. Karen Brammer is the UUA's small church specialist. "Part of what I do is to help people see themselves as leaders. Small congregations often have little hierarchy and because of that many leaders don’t imagine themselves as leaders."

She recommends three resources:

The In-Between Church: Navigating Size Transitions in Congregations by Alice Mann of the Alban Institute. "With this book, leaders of small congregations really get how their congregations are different from larger ones." (UUA Bookstore)

Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems by Barry Jones, "about understanding how to manage conflicts that can’t be solved." (Available on eBay)

Leading Change in the Congregation: Spiritual & Organizational Tools for Leaders by Gilbert Rendle and Alice Mann of the Alban Institute. (UUA Bookstore)

Brammer adds that despite several of these books being more than a decade old, "They're the ones that I hear leaders of congregations quoting to each other."

Brammer also recommends an essay by the Rev. Dr. Tom Chulak, district executive of the St. Lawrence District, titled Visionary Shared Leadership is the Key. In it Chulak says congregations will suffer if leaders are not working together.

Chulak writes: "When a minister and the president of the congregation are working together for a common vision, you can feel it. When a staff team is in harmony with one another, you can feel it. When a leadership team connects with each other and the congregation, you can feel it. And good feelings are a sign of good health. And health leads to vitality. And vitality leads to growth." The essay can be found on the CD Drive Time Essays: Small Congregations, released by the UUA in February 2009 (or listen online).

Leadership schools are another resource for developing leaders. Within the UUA they include the Midwest Leadership School, the Southland UU Leadership Experience, Dwight Brown Leadership Experience in the Southwestern UU Conference, UU Leadership School in the Pacific Central District, Russell Lockwood Leadership School in the Mountain Desert District, and the UU Leadership Institute in the Central East Region.

Congregations are encouraged to send teams of leaders to these schools. Contact your district office for more specific information on schools in your area.

Leadership development is increasingly taking place online. District staff are conducting online webinars on leadership issues and many other topics. Contact your district for availability of these sessions.

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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