Lyle Schaller, Observer of People and Organizations – Enduring Wisdom Transferable to so Many Arenas

lyleschallerheaderbb Lyle Schaller recently died.

His name may not register with many readers of this blog. He didn’t write business books. But, in fact, he did. Great ones…  they were just about a very specific kind of organization…

Who was Lyle Schaller? He was a student of churches – what made them “work” well, and what caused them great problems.

But, that’s not quite correct. He wasn’t a student of churches. He was a student of people, especially people within organizations. He just chose churches as his arena for his studies.

It’s been years since I traveled in that arena. In those days, I regularly pulled one of his books off my shelf in search of a well-marked, my-comments-in-the-margin, passage (those books are all put away in storage). I lost count of how many books of his I read. But I remember many important lessons, and think about how they translate into my current pursuits.

You want to talk about company mergers? You should read what he wrote about church mergers, when two congregations come together. I guarantee that the problems in corporate mergers are no more challenging than those found in church mergers.

You want to talk about how boards should function? Well, he wrote about that in many of his books focusing on church boards (called by different names: “Elders,” Deacons,” all decision-making boards with varying approaches).

You want to talk about the many hats that a true leader wears. Read The Pastor and The People (one of the more memorable titles I remember).

You want to understand group dynamics – this was the guy to read.

He was not much for the modern technology era. Or for formal attire. He usually wore t-shirts, even in workshop settings, with sayings on the front and the back. (I think he may have ironed the sayings on himself on a few of his shirts). More than once, we could see the front of the shirt, and then at the appropriate moment, he would turn his back to us for us to see the “rest” of the message. I remember one session. He was talking about how we will never find a group, a leader, a board, a congregation, that fully lives up to its claims… His t-shirt read:

Front: “I believe in original sin.”

Back: “I’m proof of it.”

Yes, I knew Lyle. I wasn’t a close friend, but I was a deeply appreciative learner. I read his books; went to two workshops he led; and hired him to consult with our church in the Dallas area.

For some reason, I recently thought of this story from Lyle. He was talking about a Senior Pastor of a large church who was so frustrated that the music minister was always late to meetings – really late. Sometimes, the music minister would simply skip the meetings. Lyle’s advice to senior pastors? – just accept it. He said that artists do not live on the same planet as non-artists. And then, Lyle launched into his wisdom about how a true leader has to adapt his/her leadership style to each person he/she leads.   A leader simply has to lead different people differently – in different ways.

I have read other kinds of books, books from different arenas, these last few years. But, so often, I read a thought in a current business book, and I think back on wisdom learned from Lyle Schaller.

To be honest, it’s a surprise how his death touched me. I hadn’t thought of him directly too often in recent years. But, I suspect his thoughts and words come out in my presentations more often than I know…



Wisdom from Lyle SchallerBecause I changed arenas I had not followed him lately. But, I just bought this book, and look forward to reading it: Wisdom from Lyle E. Schaller: The Elder Statesman of Church Leadership by Lyle Schaller (edited by Warren Bird).

(You can read an obituary for Lyle Schaller by clicking here).

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