The imperative of Christian leadership

“What the leader focuses on gets done.” As I go about the continent speaking and doing accreditation site visits, I get to see many schools in action and gain a sense of how leadership happens in each place.  Since my job often focuses on helping others with change, I have been thinking about what motivates people to change and the role of leadership, formal or informal, in making change happen and as change relates to what makes Christian education distinctive.

I recently read Dan Pink’s newest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. He describes management in the last 100 years as a version called Motivation 2.0, that relies heavily on control and extrinsic rewards. Pink contends that this style is out of sync with human nature itself, particularly in jobs of knowledge workers – the kinds of right-brain, creative, complex-thinking jobs that we see today. We are created to be curious and self-directed in our learning, but that somehow this desire gets “controlled” out of us – education being one culprit. Pink cites a Cornell study of 320 small businesses, in which half of the workers were granted autonomy and the other half relied on top-down direction, and states: “Businesses that offered autonomy grew at four times the rate of the control-oriented firms and had one-third the turnover.” Leaders lead out of their assumptions about the nature of human beings. Whether it is kids or teachers, if you assume the worst or the best about them, you will likely have people living up to those expectations. Do you as a leader bring out the best or the worst in your followers?

What Pink says about money and extrinsic motivation resonates with me as a Christian. In his proposed Motivation 3.0 model he sees purpose maximization as a key to long-term job satisfaction. We desire to work for higher purposes in life beyond ourselves.  Christian education is, in the end, not about the money, but the highest purpose of helping student to know and live for Jesus Christ.

In a recent survey (Gates Foundation/Scholastic) of more than 40,000 public school teachers, supportive leadership was once again shown to trump financial incentives, such as merit pay. In order to retain good teachers, 68% said supportive leadership was absolutely essential, while 71% said monetary rewards for teacher performance would have moderate or no impact on student achievement. Teachers also highly desired “relevant” professional development, clean and safe working conditions, and time to collaborate with access to high-quality curriculum.

My friend Mark Eckel recently completed his doctoral work on the implementation of faith-learning integration and discovered that the key variable in terms of effect was leadership. He reports that the variable of administrative encouragement around faith learning integration happening in the classroom caused the largest shift in the total score for how teachers were integrating faith and learning! He states: “Learning how one teaches all things from a biblical point of view is the cornerstone of what it means to teach in a Christian school.” Amen!

As a leader (whether you are an administrator or teacher) I leave you with these questions:

  1. How do you know that faith-learning integration is being practiced in your classroom(s)? What evidence could you show me?
  2. If teachers/students are dependent on you as a leader to emphasize this area, then what are you doing to strengthen faith-learning integration?


Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, curriculum, distinctively Christian, mission development, staff development, student outcomes

7 responses to “The imperative of Christian leadership

  1. Fantastic post. Perhaps more books like would help build the kingdom if Christian teachers like ourselves feel motivated to write them.

  2. Great post. Thanks for the kind words about the book — and the very insightful connections you’ve made.
    Dan Pink

  3. Mom

    I will go get the book this afternoon

  4. John Kitur

    I find the article very enlightening! The questions at the end are both challenging and eye-opening. Thanks for the good work. I am interested in getting Pink’s book and Eckel research.

  5. Great information and confirmation of how leadership motivates. Control can be stifling and the opposite can nurture creativity that can equip Christian leaders. Thank you CSI for posting this!

  6. Very nicely done. A number of studies point out that pay is not a motivator, but that it makes a convenient excuse to leave one position for another. I have some interesting work on teams that I would be glad to share.

  7. Shirley

    While Christian school teachers strive to create this motivational model in their classrooms, it is imperative that their supervisors also create the same atmosphere relative to the teachers and staff under their supervision — modeling Christ in walk and talk. It’s catching.

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