Autumn 1987, Vol. 39, pp. 225-240.

Robert D. Boyd and J. Gordon Myers:
      Overcoming Leadership Scarcity: Discerning the Spiritual Journey

To meet the demands of personal spiritual development, leadership must address the needs of individual members of religious communities in integrating adult experience.

Robert Boyd received his doctorate from the University of Chicago. A former president of the Commission of Professors of Adult Education for North America, he has written extensively on the psychology of adult learning and small groups. On the faculty of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, he directs the Laboratory for the Study of Small Groups. Dr. Gordon Myers, S.J., is associated with the Laboratory for the Study of small Groups where he is currently researching and writing on the extra-rational dynamics associated with loss and change within small group settings. He serves as special consultant to the Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus and other religious communities and organizations.

Robert Boyd received his doctorate from the University of Chicago. A former president of the Commission of Professors of Adult Education for North America, he has written extensively on the psychology of adult learning and small groups. On the faculty of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, he directs the Laboratory for the Study of Small Groups. Dr. Gordon Myers, S.J., is associated with the Laboratory for the Study of small Groups where he is currently researching and writing on the extra-rational dynamics associated with loss and change within small group settings. He serves as special consultant to the Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus and other religious communities and organizations. FOR religious congregations today, the scarcity of resources is painfully evident and publicly observable. Drastic cutbacks in budgets and membership both point to a crisis of stagnation. Comments such as the following touch upon a particularly raw nerve for religious in the complex challenge of scarcity management:

"As Provincial, some of my most discouraging moments are spent trying to attract members of the province to fill internal leadership positions now vacant. There is growing resistance. We just can't continue to ask more and more from fewer and fewer people."

"In our Congregation, the people willing to serve our own are simply not ready to do so -- not just skill-wise but also as mature enough persons."

"Last month I was asked to serve the province for the next five years as Vice-Provincial. I said 'No.' The job just wasn't challenging enough. Some hinted at disloyalty. Others accused me of not being committed. I say, 'Committed to what?' I've lost the sense of what we mean together as a community."

For women and men religious, such statements point to a uniquely painful piece of the scarcity dilemma. They portray situations in which people are either unwilling or unable to assume those positions of leadership designed to manage the pressing issues of church life within their own religious communities. These brief vignettes identify the three faces of leadership scarcity: first, the scarcity of persons -- fewer members and the same or more needs; second, the scarcity of qualified persons -- some have the potential but lack adequate skill and maturity; and, third, the scarcity of meaning within the community as a whole -- the absence of a satisfying response to the question: "Who are we and what does our life together mean?"


All three forms of scarcity are critical and must concern women and men religious. A careful examination of each is a more extensive task, however, than can be undertaken in a single article. Recognizing this limitation, we have decided to address the third face of leadership scarcity, the scarcity of meaning; it is both an immediate concern faced by many religious institutions and a dilemma for which a solution is readily achievable. in particular, we assert that the absence of meaning is most critically demonstrated in the conversations which occur between the desired candidate for the leadership position and the religious organization's (1) representative. The necessary openness which emerges when a spirit of trust is awakened is rarely present. An exchange of meaning and any spirit of discernment is, therefore, out of the question.

To foster an exchange of meaning founded on trust and characterized by open dialogue is the critical goal of the conversation between the religious organization's representative and the candidate. By "exchange of meaning" we mean the result of a spiritual conversation in which both parties respect the legitimate needs of the other and together ask for the grace to open to the Spirit so that a readiness to decide may be forthcoming.

An exchange of meaning occurs when the essential balance in the relationship between the holistic needs of the desired candidate and the legitimate leadership needs of the congregation are both emphasized. This balance recognizes the autonomy and the interdependency that is involved between the religious and his (2) congregation. It shows a sensitive understanding of the spiritual journey and unique nature of the individual while also respecting the most pressing issues and concerns confronting the organization.

Conversations between the congregation's representative and the desired candidate often end in disarray and hurt because this critical balance is not achieved. To create an open dialogue where meaning is exchanged there must be a mutual sharing based upon understanding and appreciation of the needs of each party. Oftentimes one or both parties inflate their importance at the expense of the other. The result is that an atmosphere of resentment replaces the necessary climate of trust and openness. Any exchange of meaning or readiness to decide will not be forthcoming; the conversation lacks respect and trust and ends in separation rather than engagement.

To examine the conditions and forces which cause or contribute to the failure of the dialogue and the development of various forms of resentment is a sizable undertaking. For this article we have restricted our focus to the described candidate's side of the dialogue, spotlighting his spiritual journey and unique nature. We maintain that this aspect of the dialogue is most absent; the candidate is usually addressed in terms of what he can do, the functions he can perform. Until this element or dimension of the conversation is transformed to include the candidate's spiritual journey many leadership positions will remain vacant and numerous former leaders will spend pain-filled time getting over their experience of service rather than building upon it. We recognize this as a critical observation which will be developed as our argument moves forward.


To gain an understanding of the absence of meaning in the discussion between candidate and province representative it will be necessary to identify a conceptual framework which can shed light on the spiritual journey and the uniqueness of the candidate as an individual. Among the many frameworks that have been proposed, the depth psychology of Carl Jung offers the most insightful and relevant explanations. This framework will enable us to see more deeply into the struggle confronting the person the congregation is seeking to attract.

Jung identified two major stages that occur in a person's life. The first, covering the initial half of life, Jung called differentiation. The second, extending across the latter half of life, he called integration. When the tasks of each half of life are encountered and variant constructive resolutions are worked through, the individual moves progressively toward wholeness -- individuation.

Jungian theory, used as a lens, will enable us to see more deeply into one of the more critical underlying factors which lead to the breakdown of communication between the congregation and the desired candidate and often enough yield resentment and separation rather than consolation and community. Until the conversation between the congregation's representative and the person moves beyond the functions he performs to the religious journey he is about, resistance will continue as the preeminent barrier to leadership procurement.

Instead of expressing this painful situation in terms of forces outside persons and groups which are causing the hurt, we will focus our effort more internally, closer to the center of the anguish, more inside the relational dynamics occurring within the religious and between the religious and his congregation. Before considering the contributions Jungian psychology can make, however, we will anchor our discussion in the concrete context of a brief case study.


A religious community of men situated in the eastern part of the United States has in the past twenty years experienced a movement from abundance to scarcity in numbers. In the late 1950's the membership of this religious group worldwide was nearly 18,000. Today, the community numbers some 12,000 members. By 1990, the projections indicate half that many members. Not surprisingly, as their number decreases their average age increases. At this time in history, these men find themselves attending more funerals and fewer final-vow ceremonies.

One of its most pressing problems is an inability to fill several of its own leadership vacancies. The Directors of Retirement and Formation, to name just two of these vacancies, have not been filled for three years and two years respectively.

The provincial team claims to have exhausted every option to motivate the members to serve their own. So far, the problem remains unresolved. Team members are beginning to feel the burden of smaller numbers. John, a member of the leadership group, sums it up well: "We can't continue demanding loyalty from the loyal."

At a provincial meeting one can hear a stereotype creeping into the leadership team's conversation. Bill starts it off by saying that "...They don't care. They appear to me to be disinterested." Later, Tom chimes an agreement: "They have an exaggerated sense of autonomy." At the end of the meeting the provincial pulls together the various remarks: "Well, we've talked to these people. We've invited them -- even pleaded with them. They've shown regret, but they've also said no! I don't know what to do."

The dominant impression given by the leadership team is futility in the face of such an unworkable problem. Fewer numbers and growing resistance is demoralizing the leadership staff.

The members of the Eastern Province feel the scarcity dilemma but see the situation from a different vantage point. Their responses fall along a continuum stretching from a sense of unpreparedness to a feeling of disinterest.

At a lunch conversation Ed says, "They (the leadership team) are always sounding exhausted. They don't seem very happy. That's not very alluring to me." Others, like Fred, claim the job is beyond them or over their heads: "I think those positions show promise for someone -- even myself. But I'm not skilled enough yet or holy enough for the tasks they involve."

Still others know they can do the jobs that it wouldn't be enough. During a car ride, for instance, Jim says, "From what I can see of what is involved in the positions, they wouldn't really tap my needs for a challenging, more generative experience. Frankly, I've done what they are asking someone to do; it would be boring. Besides, I need to wrap up what I've begun at Brighten." Phil, riding in the back seat, agrees. "I have become a very knowledgeable authority in my area of ministry. I've worked hard at it. To give it up now would be a depressing experience." A final group of these men speak of isolation, a sense that over the years they have become more attached to a particular ministry and less attached to the province. One evening in the recreation room, one man voiced this opinion: "I think we've become a set of disparate individuals. I don't know what we mean together as a province." That remark got Charles going. "The 'invitation' to serve the Province is loaded," he said. "It's unfair. I don't think the province has a vision or a purpose that I share in any longer. They talk about loyalty. Loyalty to what? I don't trust them."


What approach could be set forth that may offer the leaders and members of the Eastern Province a solution? A clear perception of the feeling experienced and expressed is critical to an understanding of the approach that is being proposed here. Initially, we notice the anger and frustration of individuals and groups. Hammering away at the presenting problem is leading nowhere; they seem cornered, locked in a room with no way out. Their growing anxiety is signalled especially by the recurrence of "they" statements. Both members and designated leaders give the impression that "we" are not a part of the problem -- "they" are.

When the initial statement of the problem remains a surface description and is also formulated in this two-camp manner, a tug of war is in process. In this province, it is highly unlikely that useful decisions can be made or be implemented into an effective plan of action.

The first face of scarcity -- fewer people and the same or more needs -- is especially on the minds of the leadership team. Several years of searching for help, coupled with a diminishing resource pool to draw from, has been spiritually depleting. John says that the team "can't continue demanding loyalty from the loyal." And he is right. The second face of scarcity -- a lack of qualified persons -- appears when Fred hints at availability but more especially stresses his feeling of inadequacy. The third face, the scarcity of meaning -- the focus of this article -- is picked up in the rec room conversation. Comments such as: "I don't know what we mean together as a province," or Charles' doubting the "province has a vision or purpose" that he shares in any longer, strongly suggest that within the province as a whole there exists a scarcity of meaning. The evidence from the members is mounting. From the rec room conversation the verdict is that for the last few years there has been a growing feeling of the province at drift -- a sense that the province is waiting almost endlessly for something to happen. As a province, the group as a whole seems to be in the world but alive as if under an anesthetic.

To the extent the province context remains at a level of function and task and not a deeper level of a communal search for meaning, the desired candidate will continue to experience a distance between his spiritual journey and the spiritual climate of the province.


Let us return now to our initial focus on the candidate in dialogue with the province representative. We concentrate on the person for two fundamental reasons. In our initial analysis, the individual appears as both the problem and the solution to the problem. The individual's unwillingness to take on the leadership role is seen as the problem and its obvious solution could be achieved by his assuming the role. Certainly this view of the situation places the individual in the focal position.

As reported in the case study, the feelings of disappointment and even resentment expressed by the provincial team toward those who have received much and now appear unwilling to give in return are human and understandable reactions; as demonstrated by the reluctant candidates, however, those feelings are met with responses of guilt and counter-resentment. No organization can move forward where such conditions exist.

Solutions to problems of leadership rest in part on knowledge which can stimulate insight into individual life journeys. We now present such knowledge as we explore the Eastern Province's members as persons on the unique life journeys.


The developmental perspective has generated various frameworks within which to view the individual's growth over the life-span; but it has been from depth psychology, and in particular analytical psychology, that the more encompassing spiritual dimension of the person has been observed and incorporated. The result is a holistic view of what it means to be human. The works of Carl Jung and those following his lead have given us understandings which make visible the underlying dynamics that individuals encounter regarding issues of mutuality and commitment such as those being experienced within the Eastern Province.

Analytical psychology posits the notion that the individual's life journey is divided into two major parts. The first half of life is dominated by the processes of differentiation, while the second half of life becomes increasingly occupied with the task of integration. We will examine each half of life sequentially and in some detail as such knowledge will illuminate the individual's dilemma with the leadership problem.


The differentiation processes begin in early childhood where the infant slowly separates himself from those significant others in his life-space -- increasingly establishing himself as a unique person. From these primitive beginnings the individual moves outward adapting to an ever more complex world while at the same time becoming aware of a developing set of demands from within. Both worlds awaken his conscious being to explore, to try, to achieve, to master, and to be. This consciousness resides in the ego. The developing ego directs a variety of processes and mechanisms. It engages in transactions with the Self from within and the facticities of the world from without, and this moves forward the process of differentiation.

The first half of life is primarily involved with the development of abilities and the honing of competencies. The ego sees its own survival and realization in the development of the capacities it has within its domain: cognition, language, physical skills, and other abilities developed through learning, training, and the application of will. The child, eager to explore the world, discovers and learns a vast array of knowledge and skills. The youth, accepting challenges, learns the anguish of achievement and failure. The final stage of this first half of life sees the adult extending and improving his abilities in a chosen field of service. Thus the first half of life is primarily involved with the exploration of potentials, the enhancement of talents and the sharpening of gifts which have come together to structure the individual's identity in the world of ministerial service.

This differentiation stage can be readily observed in the behaviors of college students who struggle to comprehend a vast array of information, and in the behaviors of apprentices -- a vanishing phenomenon in our society -- who apply themselves to master a trade. We also see it in the religious attending graduate school while maintaining a full time ministerial position. Our 'hero myth' is the young manor woman in the role of an ascending junior executive; or the young religious rising in the ranks of the order, full of vitality, and developing skills and competencies to master every challenge encountered. The messages of such myths have their place in a society and in a church that support individuation, for they point the way that individuals must go to attain their wholeness as persons by developing those potential capacities that manifest their unique being. The period stretching from young adulthood through the middle years is when individuals, religious and lay, must work at realizing their potentials through the development and employment of their abilities.

There is a mutuality here between the individual's development in the differentiation stage and the goals of society in general and the religious congregation in particular. Both work at this mutuality because they both benefit from the individual's achievement. The "Eastern Province," as a case in point, has been supportive of its members pursuing their chosen fields of professional development. The members, in turn, have made good use of this support to realize their unique potentials.

At every developing phase of differentiation the individual makes specific kinds of contributions to the community. The student, the apprentice, the junior executive, the sister, priest, or brother contribute to the welfare and enrichment of society and/or religious congregations as both in turn contribute to their growth through opportunities and a variety of support systems. This mutuality is seen readily because the student and the professor, the apprentice and the work situation, the junior executive and the company, the religious and the congregation share the dynamic of the immediate life-space.

Mutuality is not the case with the Eastern Province, and herein lies much of the problem. The Eastern Province, having supported the member in his professional development through the first half of the member's life journey, now has the expectation that the member will serve the province by assuming an administrative role. Such requests are made of members in the second half of their lives when their abilities and contributions have been recognized. It appears only logical that the province selects its outstanding members for its own needs; but what is logical from one perspective may be unreasonable from another perspective. The problem lies frequently in the provincial team's failure to take into account, or its lack of awareness of, the developmental crisis that the member is confronting in the second half of his life. A knowledge of the second stage of life is critical to understanding why, under certain conditions, the mutuality between member and province appears to break down.


In the second half of life the individual begins a journey that takes him aback along the path taken during the stage of differentiation. It is in no sense a re-living of what is past but the re-working of that content through a growing awareness that what is being sought is wholeness. The search is for synthesis and the task is now one of integration.

In contrast to the first half of life where the person's attention was primarily absorbed in the development of abilities to relate to and to deal with the outer world, the second half of life confronts the individual with concerns that arise from the inner world. In the second half of life the individual struggles either to become conscious of his existence in the inner world or to avoid it through superficial interpersonal relationships. If the individual chooses the way of the inner journey, the task is then to integrate the existential qualities of his first half of life with the expanding consciousness that is occurring as the inner journey progresses.

The integration that a person works at in the second half of life uses the experiences of the first half of life as the raw material for the syntheses. For example, Jim, a member of the Eastern Province, has been working in the first half of his adult life at developing competencies in the professional areas of counseling and adult education. His challenge now lies in drawing upon these competencies in fostering a new image of himself as a person and a potential leader within the congregation.

The context where the person has encountered and worked through the challenges and tasks of the first half of life is generally the context to which the person relates his integration efforts in the second half of life. The importance of the continuity of the context is central to the understanding of integration. An individual may tolerate a shift in the setting of the context, provided that a link can be established between the context in which differentiation was worked through and the context in which integration is being worked upon. In other terms, there must be a continuity linking the road travelled in the development of differentiation to the road the individual is to travel in the development of integration. Without such a continuity the individual would have to begin his journey anew, abandoning what has gone before and demanding a form of life which is developmentally out of phase. For example, in the case study above, Jim feels no such continuity; instead he sees an enormous gap between the contexts because for him to respond favorably means to put his own growth as a person on the shelf for several years. However, his resistance will decline to the extent he sees a bond between the prior context of counseling and education and the possible future context of provincial leadership. Acknowledging this continuity of context is critical to an appreciation of the dilemma faced by those who are asked to leave the positions they now hold and assume leadership roles within their religious communities.

In the above case study Jim perceives the province as being unable to provide him the continuity of context in which he will be able to "wrap up" or continue in a meaningful way what he has been working at throughout his professional life. The province leadership group needs to understand this. It would be a narrow interpretation (even more serious, it would demonstrate a misunderstanding of Jim's spiritual development) to see his reluctance as a selfish act or as a lack of congregational commitment. As Jim views the situation, to leave what he is now involved with and assume a provincial leadership position would foreclose his effort at integration because the continuity he sees in his life work could not be developed in the context of a province staff position. The movement toward individuation through processes of differentiation can only be continued if the individual integrates the differentiated aspects of his life toward some state of wholeness.

A congregation's leadership group because of pressing problems may attempt to operate on the basis of putting out fires as over against examining the causes of the fires. In our consulting work, we have been told this by many persons in leadership positions. Leaders seek candidates from the perspective of function and task needs. Leaders try to relate the abilities of the candidate to the congregation's needs but fail to attend to the candidate's spiritual journey. His journey, for example, may be exploring the relationships among freedom, power, and authority in an educational institution. Unless the congregation sees this exploration within the meaning of its own existence there is no common ground between it and the candidate. He must live up his journey to meet the congregation's needs, were he to accept the leadership role he is being asked to fill.

Is the conclusion to be drawn that there is no solution except one that proposes to use autocratic means to assure the province's leadership needs are met? That is, if the province makes it possible for its members to develop their potentials, should it not make demands on these members to provide the leadership it so desperately needs? These questions are more than dilemmas involving personal agendas and organizational programs; they highlight critical conflicts between systems of value. This type of conflict need never arise. It is sheer nonsense to see the individual and the community in opposition -- each is dependent upon the other in the realization of its potential and goals. When problems arise, as in the case of the Eastern Province, the difficulty can be traced in part to the organization being unaware of or failing to take into account the individuation process and its unique expression in the lives of its members. This conclusion does not imply that the Eastern Province has not been generous to those members who are now being called upon. Financing education and helping members to further their abilities, however, address only the differentiation stage of individuation. Until the integration stage receives similar attention, the problem will remain of recruiting leadership from the ranks of those members whose professional lives have been outside intra-province service.


We close our discussion with three recommendations concerning those conversations involving the attraction and selection of individuals to leadership positions within their own religious communities.

First, we encourage the leaders of religious congregations of women and men to achieve a balance between the careful attention given to members during the differentiation stage of their life journeys and the careful attention give to members during the integration stage. A positive attitude must be created for formation over the life-span. It is well documented that most congregations are very generous in providing for the developmental needs of members in the first half of their lives; but there does not appear to be the same sensitivity toward furthering integration and fulfillment through the second half of life. Too often, personal and interpersonal formation activities (appropriate to the mid-years, for example) lose out to the demands for ministerial service to the province which continue to ignore the individual's spiritual journey. Formation over the life-span of the person with increased emphasis upon the midyears and beyond is necessary. Integrated and comprehensive programs in adult education can be immensely helpful in enabling community members to build an awareness and a language which accurately expresses the movement of God's spirit within them during the latter half of their lives.

Secondly, it is vital to foster a legitimate connection and proper balance between the province's organizational needs and the person's need to be faithful to the on-going pattern of human growth during his integrative phase of development. This recommendation assumes that both the province representative and the province member can name his developmental task and that both can demonstrate a commitment to it. It also assumes that both are involved in a process of forming a job description that respects the province's need and the person's spiritual quest. Most often, the provincial or his assistant presents the job description in final form to the candidate for his reaction. When his occurs, the job belongs to the provincial and if it fails, that failure belong to him as well. Instead, we suggest that a spirit of teamwork be created which incorporates the leadership group and the candidate into a problem-solving process which yields a job description that belongs mutually to the province and the individual candidate.

Our final recommendation points toward the subject area of further investigation; it calls for stronger attention to the religious organization's developmental needs. A balance must be struck between assisting individuals in accurately naming the nature of their own spiritual journey as persons and assisting the province in naming the nature of its own spiritual journey as a community. Resolving the person's "who am I" question must move hand in hand with coming to grips with the community's "who are we" question.

  1. We will be using the terms "organization," "congregation," and "province" interchangeably to illustrate the breadth of application.
  2. In order to remain consistent with the case study used in this article, we have made use of the masculine pronoun throughout.