Sr. Margaret John Kelly is Executive Director of the Vincentian Center for Church and Society.


Margaret John Kelly, D.C., Ph.D.

Chapters she contributed to A Concise Guide to Catholic Church Management (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria, 2010)

Reviewed by Mark F. Fischer


The first, fourth and fifth chapters in the Concise Guide are by Sister Margaret John Kelly, a Daughter of Charity who serves as executive director of the Vincentian Center for Church and Society, under whose auspices the Concise Guide was compiled.

1. Leadership
Chapter One, entitled “Leadership,” is an application of Robert Greenleaf’s “servant leadership” concept to church management. Kelly is an enthusiastic advocate of servant leadership, the view that the leader serves followers by enabling them to achieve their goals and develop their potential. She identifies the concept of the servant leader with Jesus Christ and recommends the servant leader style to church managers.

Within the chapter, Kelly considers other styles of leadership described by management experts, which Kelly terms the “authoritarian,” “participative,” and “laissez-faire” styles. She concedes that, “For special situations it may be appropriate to adopt the authoritarian or laissez-faire style,” but insists that “the servant-leaders would seldom call on these” styles (16).

Why does the servant leader model eclipse other models?  Kelly argues that “there is considerable agreement” that servant leadership “draws on and develops the best within individuals and within organizations” (8).

This claim may be over-stated. Kelly quotes Ken Blanchard’s appreciative words about servant leadership but never refers to Blanchard’s influential Management of Organizational Behavior with its concept of “situational leadership.” This is the theory that there is no one preferred leadership style, but rather a continuum of styles, each appropriate depending on the level of the followers’ readiness.

Blanchard would never say, as Kelly does, that the servant leader would “seldom” call on any style other than the servant-leader style. Instead he would say that the wise leader changes his or her style depending on what the situation demands.

Kelly’s chapter on “Leadership” in the Concise Guide corresponds in subject matter to the chapter entitled “The Consequences of Pastoral Leadership” by Michael Cieslak in The Parish Management Handbook.  Interestingly, however, the two chapters bear almost no resemblance to each other.  Cieslak does not even mention servant leadership, but instead correlates the vitality of a parish to the self-knowledge, maturity, and vision of the priest-leader.

In short, Kelly’s embrace of the servant-leader concept to the detriment of other styles limits the usefulness of this first chapter in the Concise Guide. It might have been fairer to say that servant-leadership is appropriate when followers are well-motivated with a relatively high readiness to do their work.

4. Communication
Kelly’s chapter four is entitled “Communication: The Oxygen of an Organization.” She explains the metaphor by saying that communication, likes oxygen, is “essential for organizational survival” (65). Chapter four is interesting because it devotes as much to non-verbal as to verbal communication. It acknowledges the fact that managers may be weakening or even contradicting their explicit communications with messages they may not even know they are sending. Kelly claims that these non-verbal messages make up “75 to 90 percent of daily communication” (71), and draws readers’ attention to them.

In chapter four, Kelly introduces the specialized vocabulary of non-verbal communication without reference to experts, such as Mark L. Knapp, who first developed it. The reader may wrongly assume that Kelly herself coined terms such as “haptics” (communicative touching), “proxemics” (spatial closeness or distance) and “chronemics” (the timeliness of communication). The neologisms may be irritating, but the words describe behavior that everyone will recognize.

5. Meetings
The last of Kelly’s three chapters is entitled “Meetings.” She says that the chapter “presents an overview of the importance of meetings and some practical means to make them instruments of community-building and organizational strength” (85). The second half of the chapter – the “practical means” – is the richer of the two. It considers the question of when it is appropriate to accomplish a task with a meeting and when it is not.

The sections on “Meeting Planning,” “Format for Agenda,” “Traits” of the good leader and the good follower, “Aids to Participation” and “General Guidelines for Meeting” are brief and to the point.

One shortcoming of the Concise Guide is the absence of any thorough discussion of ecclesial consultation via pastoral and finance councils. No chapter in the Guide is dedicated to them, and even within chapters there are only passing references. Kelly refers to pastoral councils in both her chapters on communication and on meetings, but only indirectly, that is, in the case studies with which the two chapters conclude.

In these case studies, Kelly asks the reader to imagine that he or she is on a pastoral council, but does not explain the Church’s general teaching on pastoral or finance councils or their relevance to parish management. This limits the two chapters and the Concise Guide as a whole.

Despite that, the three chapters by Kelly introduce church managers to the basic themes of leadership, communications, and meetings. While these introductions would not suffice for an MBA-level course, they are well-adapted to a seminary course on parish administration or to a certificate program for parish business managers.

To return to the first page of the review of A Concise Guide to Catholic Church Management, click here.

2 Responses to Kelly

  1. On Chapter 1, “Leadership”, by Margaret J. Kelly

    · I am sorry to say that I have not read “The Concise Guide to Catholic Church Management.” There were a couple of things in your review that caught my attention, and that I may see somewhat differently.

    · First-and-foremost, I do not view authentic servant-leadership as a “style” of leadership that one may use or not use based upon a given situation. Greenleaf is clear that servant-leadership (the-servant-as-leader) is a philosophy of life that puts serving others first, then leading out of that deep desire to serve. In that way, servant-leadership may be seen as part of one’s authentic self. That doesn’t mean that servant-leaders are perfect.

    · Regarding your comment about Kelly and Blanchard on whether a servant-leader would seldom call on another style: Actually, I believe that Ken’s own thinking on this has evolved over the past thirty years. See his book, “The Servant Leader.” Also, my colleague Shann Ferch and I conducted an interview with Ken about eighteen months ago which underscores this. I am attaching a link to one of the interview clips from that interview that may be found on YouTube. Other segments from that interview can also be found there.

    · I am not familiar with Knapp on non-verbal communication. I do know that Greenleaf wrote clearly and eloquently on the centrality of careful, receptive listening as being key for servant-leaders. His writings on the importance of listening and other characteristics have been part of my own work over the years.

    · The reference to “church managers” (drawing on the title of the publication on Church Management) is a reminder to me that, in my experience, there is a lack of leadership (servant-leadership) instruction and encouragement in every kind of management education (business, church, educational, healthcare, non-profit). I believe it is useful to encourage managers to recognize that they are also leaders, and that this requires exercising a different set of muscles. The explosion of MBA programs in recent decades has done little to raise the understanding and practice of ethics, values, and servant-leadership—and this is one reason why values-based leadership and servant-leadership are increasingly coming to the forefront.

    · Greenleaf was fond of talking about operationalizing (managing) and conceptualizing (leading) within organizations. To the degree that we can encourage the development of more effective servant-leader-managers (those who are able to both care for and inspire others (as a servant-leader), and who also recognize that people and vision are at least as important as managing the financial bottom line, the better off I think we will be as a society. Attached here is a link to the NBC Dateline piece on servant-leadership that I was involved in a few years back, and which has some relevance to this point.

  2. The Challenge of Servant Leadership
    Having served in leadership in the management of Catholic institutions (educational and health care) and in governance of many Catholic organizations over several decades, I have always spoken of (and tried to live with varying degrees of success) the servant-leadership approach as integral to our Gospel mission and Catholic identity. That type of leadership at the top seems to me to be a distinguishing characteristic of Christian faith-based organizations. Even though the goal is never fully achieved, the effort has the potential to advance organizational climate and even productivity.

    On the down side, to profess a commitment to servant leadership carries a very serious challenge, but so does Gospel-living which fortunately provides for forgiveness and redemption. It also seems that in our current environment, the language of “servant” is not easy for some to internalize as a value. For some it may connote too much mildness if not weakness, and for others it may demand too much detachment and imagination. It also requires as well a generous share of prudence and patience, not the most easily acquired or practiced virtues in this fast-paced world..

    But still, because of the universality of the Gospel message, I think the servant leader approach provides for adaptation to particular needs or provides the repertoire advantage you mentioned in your critique. Indeed in our interactions, we need to individualize according to the needs of others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *