Monday, January 17, 2011

Four Kinds of Folks

My friend and Systematic Theology professor, R.J. Gore, Jr., a Chaplain (Colonel) in the Army Reserve and and Iraqi War veteran, has talked about writing a book entitled Ten Things I Learned in the Army That I Should've Learned in Church. I hope he does, for military life has many, many lessons that transfer not only to ecclesiastical life but family and business life as well. Most, but not all, of these have to do with the subject of leadership.

Years ago, while still in high school in fact, I read Small Unit Leadership: A Commonsense Approach by COL Dandridge M. "Mike" Malone, USA (Ret.). COL Malone began his career as a Private in 1951 and retired from the Army in 1981. I'm not sure if he's still living -- I certainly hope so -- but his experience serving his country taught him much about the vital subject of leadership and I would commend his book not only to soldiers but also to corporate managers and clergy as well (both the world of business and most parishes need clear leadership).

One part of Malone's book that I found particularly helpful was a section where he list four categories in which every soldier in a squad, platoon, or company/troop/battery will ultimately fall. They are: willing and able, willing and unable, unwilling but able, and unwilling and unable.

Willing and Able

Obviously these are the types of folks all of us would love to have working for us, belonging to our parishes, etc. They are able to perform the task and want to do so. As Malone points out, the approach to these people is that of a coach -- give a minimum of guidance and get out of their way, allowing them to excel!

Willing and Unable

This is a place where each of us has found ourselves from time to time and no doubt will again. They want to do the task in question but do not have the knowledge required to do so. Ignorance is not, in and of itself, a problem but rather an opportunity to educate. The approach to these people is that of a teacher -- work with them, give them the knowledge needed, and then they will often pleasantly surprise you with the results.

Unwilling but Able

These people can do the job -- you know they can -- perhaps they have in the past, but for one reason or another will not do so now. Writing in a military context, perhaps for units deployed in a combat zone, Malone advises that these people should be approached as a warden (and not the kind found in parishes, either). That is the correct immediate approach in the Army, although I would suggest that in most contexts (and even in that one where time allows) one should first find out why they are unable. Perhaps something else in going on that, when addressed, would move them into the willing and able category; if so, help them so that they can excel. If it's merely a matter of motivational deficit disorder, then bring smoke as needed (in today's business world, most employers aren't going to have the patience to do so [replacing these employees is too easy] and in the church one can't really bring smoke [one can and should, however, realize the results one will get when placing folks in this category in charge of a task]).

Unwilling and Unable

These are people who, due to emotional and developmental reasons should never have been allowed in the Army. Malone suggests, rightly, that the approach to be taken when you have discovered someone in this category (which is pretty rare) is to process them out as soon as possible. Again, he's correct in that context. In the corporate world that's the answer as well.

But what of the church? First and foremost, one should realize that all of us, due to our sinful nature, are exactly there. As St. Paul points out, "None is righteous, no, not one." (Romans 3:10 ESV). Except for the supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit, there we'll remain!

Obviously one can't process someone out of the church (one can, and when appropriate should, exercise Church Discipline but that's another matter entirely -- the goal is restoration) but the approach should be one of ministering to them (with boundaries) rather than promoting them to positions of leadership.

Malone's book is a classic and well worth a read. I haven't read it in at least 10 years (and probably considerably more than that) but the approach that he teaches is so effective that it's stuck with me.

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