Indispensable: What Leaders (or Pastors) Really Matter

Gautam Mukunda's 2012 book, Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter explores the "filtering" process to identify leaders within an organization. Specifically Mukunda argues that those who make it through the filtering process could be called "modal" leaders - the variance of decisions made within modal leaders is very small, thus modal leaders are interchangeable. That is if a pool of people make it through the filtering process then that pool of people (no modal leaders) will make very similar decisions even if there is only one job to contend for. Modal leaders are consistently on the spectrum between "bad" and "good". This mans they are rarely horrible, conversely it also means they are rarely game changing excellent leaders.

Photo by  Joseph Pearson  on  Unsplash

In my way of thinking, modal leaders are leaders who will consistently give you a single base hit. Every now and again, the modal leader will do something flashy to get to the base, but they are only getting to first base. Even rarer, the modal leader may hit a double but conditions really have to be right.

However, Babe Ruth was not a modal baseball player. He was a high risk/high reward player: hitting home runs or striking out. Mukunda identifies these high risk/high reward leaders as "extreme" leaders. Because of their risk, extreme leaders in an organization often are people who for various reasons skit the filtering process. Mukunda says there are many ways you can skirt the process: money, celebrity, legacy, etc. Often we hear of successful extreme leaders, but extreme leaders are risky and most organizations are interested in mitigating risk not amplifying it. 

The United Methodist Church is an organization that has a very stringent filtering process. Most clergy have a high school degree, a four year bachelors degree, a four year graduate degree and then a two (or more) years of residency. Put another way, the youngest someone can be an elder in full connection in the UMC is 28 years old (do keep that in mind when thinking about how few clergy are under 35 years old, you can only be in that category for seven years.)

This stringent filtering process means that the UMC is full of modal leaders. I am a modal leader. Modal leaders are solid but of course we have our limits and when an organization asks modal leaders to function as non-modal (aka: extreme) it is an uphill climb. Truthfully, if modal clergy were extreme clergy then they, more than likely, would not have been ordained to begin with.