Revisiting Multi-Layered Leadership

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about “multi-layered leadership.” Given the transition the congregation I am employed at is in, I thought it might be worth another look.

Reading this 2002 article, “Multi-Layered Leadership:  The Christian Leader as Builder, Shepherd, and Gardener,” almost convinces me that its author must have been in conversation with Peter Drucker.  It’s not that hard to believe that this would be possible, since Scott Cormode, its author was the chair in Church Administration and Finance at the Claremont School of Theology, about a 5 minute walk from the Peter F. Drucker School of Management.  Plus, it would explain the references to Peter Senge, Max DePree, and Ron Heifetz.

Aside from this pondering, a number of things are going through my head.  This model which Cormode proposes of the “Gardener,” is what other leadership people would seemingly call connective leaders.  In that, they recognize that there are different leadership skills required for different situations, and that they are able to meet these situations with the appropriate skills or know how to let another person with the certain required skills, frames, or training take the lead.  It’s an example of shared and empowering leadership, which is able to make meaning.  When Cormode writes that “the good pastor will begin to acquire skills to work with each of the models.  At this point, the models stop being styles and become ‘frames'” I wonder, if he was aware of the connective model?  (If you click that link, you will be taken to an explanation of it, and to its diagram showing the interdependence and interrelationship of the different areas of leadership.)

The case study which is discussed about a congregation facing a difficult situation would be a useful example of how to implement my tweaks to the Connective Leadership model below.  When there is a situation or challenge, an organization, group, or person will be faced with needing to respond.  When there is no challenge, and life is in a state of “status quo,” this might be a state of “routine.”  When ideas or assumptions are challenged, rebuilding or remaking one’s approach or understanding might be called for.  This is where leadership as a way to cultivate meaning is so important.  Recovery then, is a way of responding to a challenge, and restoring order.  The extent of the challenges might categorize them as “simple, chaotic, complicated, or complex.”  I, with the help of the work done by Jean Lipman-Blumen and David Snowden and Mary Boone, hypothesize that these states of challenges might require different leadership skills or sets. [1]  [2]


A direct approach (what Cormode would likely call the “builder” approach); an instrumental approach (what he terms the Shepherd approach); and a relational approach (closely resembling his conception of the gardener).

Cormode closes his article by writing, “The important point here is that none of the models should stand alone.  Each has something to contribute because each addresses a separate layer.  The Builder model helps the congregation define roles and set a clear plan for action.  The Shepherd model enables a church to nurture relationships and address interpersonal concerns.  And the Gardener model points to the beliefs, values, and mission goals that form the spiritual core of a faith community.  Each model is necessary because every ministering situation has organizational, interpersonal, and theological layers.” [3]

I definitely agree with him that none stand alone.  For a church in transition then, I think all of these types of leaders are necessary. The interim pastor and transition team need to help the congregation define who it is, and to plan based on this discernment, like the builder model.  During any transition, relationships and interpersonal concerns are magnified, so the interim pastor and human resources committee needs to be adept shepherds. And, also the interim pastor needs to be able to function simultaneously as a gardener along with the council and transition team to really help the congregation define and discern what its beliefs, values, and mission are which shape and frame the work and ministry of the congregation.

What do you think? Do these frames of leadership help you in understanding leadership’s complexity in a setting you find yourself in, in your daily life?

The writing and model contained in this blog post may be shared, as long as proper credit is given to the author, Timothy Siburg. Please respect the intellectual property contained here. 


[1]  David J. Snowden & Mary E. Boone, “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making,” Harvard Business Review, November 2007, pages 68-76.
[2] Jean Lipman-Blumen, The Connective Edge:  Leading in an Interdependent World, (San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996), page 112.
[3] Scott Cormode, “Multi-Layered Leadership:  The Christian Leader as Builder, Shepherd, and Gardener,” Journal of Religious Leadership, Vol. 1, No. 2, (Fall 2002), 69-104.

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