Review: Spiritual Kaizen

January 3rd, 2013

Bishop Grant Hagiya, Episcopal Leader of the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church, has been at it a long time. A life-long United Methodist, a student of Chinese Kenpo Karate since junior high, and an Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership, he brings a wealth of experience and a unique perspective to the work and art of church leadership.

Bishop Hagiya asserts that key characteristics of the martial arts have greatly influenced his leadership style, specifically discipline. Through the diligent mastery of form and application, one gradually comes to appreciate the inner philosophy which underlies them. Leadership, for Bishop Hagiya, is about form and philosophy, technique and theology. This basic underpinning, combined with his studies in secular leadership and organizational development theory, bring to Spiritual Kaizen: How to Become a Better Church Leader unique perspective into the challenges and opportunities of church leadership.

For so many who were not trained in the art and techniques of leadership in seminary, Bishop Hagiya offers a word of encouragement and invitation. Debunking “Great Man” or “Savior-Hero” theories of leadership which assumes that certain individuals (men) are born with leadership traits, Bishop Hagiya is adamant that “ordinary” pastors can indeed grow into highly effective and growth-oriented pastors through diligent study and application of leadership insights and practices. He cites numerous examples and case studies to illustrate his points.

Woven throughout the book are Scripture references and reflections on Jesus’ style of leadership. These are held in a kind of fugue-like dialogue with learnings from secular leadership studies—on styles of leadership, supervision of staff, effectiveness, coaching, mentoring, and so forth.

At the heart of Bishop’s Hagiya’s approach is his understanding of kaizen, a Japanese word meaning steady and continuous growth in learning. This is a form of spiritual discipline as well as of learning and application.

Hagiya compares kaizen to Wesley’s means of grace—intentional daily practices of the spiritual disciplines which lead to growth in love of God and love of neighbor which Wesley referred to as being perfected in love. Commenting on these times in which we live and serve, Hagiya notes that we are in a time of ministry when no one knows the answers, so that our whole orientation must be one of constant learning and experimentation. This is to be grounded in a deep spiritual well of faith, in the emotional intelligence of the leader, and in a commitment to transformational leadership.

Each chapter concludes with suggestions for further reading, reflection, and study. The appendix contains a process for each reader to organize the information of the book and design a customized personal leadership plan. The final chapter includes important reflections on the role of bishops and cabinets, which will be of special interest to United Methodists in light of recent discussions of the guaranteed appointment and related matters.

Each chapter begins with an epigraph—some humorous, all evocative. One comes from Winston Churchill: “Excellence is…caring more than others think is wise; risking more than others think is safe; dreaming more than others think is practical; expecting more than others think is possible.” This excellence is the fruit of spiritual kaizen, which, Bishop Hagiya asserts, means we can accomplish great things. For ultimately, as he reminds us, God will provide the way for us to succeed, and leadership will make the difference by following that lead. 

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