November 5, 2012 by cbbeard
These are strange and difficult times, particularly for those in leadership positions. We live in a “Jekyll and Hyde” world where some of the greatest things about modern society can also bring about the biggest challenges for leaders. Globalization has opened up a world of possibilities, but part of the package is diversity in worldviews and methodologies that must be navigated by the leader if he or she is to be successful. There is no “one-size-fits-all” situation or environment in this day and age. In this dizzying environment, I think there are two necessities for the successful leader in a chaotic world: being securely anchored and having flexibility in interaction.
A Secure Anchor
A leader without a secure connection to a solid, immovable foundation will be left to the ever-changing winds of the increasingly chaotic environment of the present age. Leadership is “a social relationship in which people allow individuals to influence them toward intentional change” (Nelson, 2002, p. 23). This relationship and process in and of itself is complex, changing, and full of questions. It requires consideration of ethics, sociology, and psychology (among others) as well as constant consideration of leadership goals. The leader can attempt to anchor him or herself to any number of things including a seemingly endless amount of external and internal foci, but few options offer the stability needed to keep the leader grounded on firm footing in a chaotic environment.
Psalm 102:25-27 says:
In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
What could be more stabilizing than being anchored to an eternal and unchanging God? This connection is a key advantage for the Christian leader. Nelson (2002) stated that “A spiritual person is someone who continues to let go of the self-focus that is antithetical to God” (p. 48). Therefore the stability relies on God and not on the environment or the self alone. A spiritual leader, therefore, is one who depends on God for ultimate strength, direction, and clarity on matters of leadership and relationships of influence. This anchor is not only advantageous for contexts that are overtly Christian (in the church, ministry, etc.) but are stabilizing even in environments that are more secular in nature. This anchor is important in the factory as much as it is in the church.
Flexibility in Interaction
The necessity and presence of a secure anchor does not necessarily create a rigid and inflexible leader. In fact in the diverse and fast-paced context of modern leadership, one must be able to examine the context and adapt leadership methodology on a regular basis. Schon (1983) discussed the concepts of “knowing-in-action” and “reflection-in-action” which help the leader be most effective in various contexts. Knowing-in-action is the knowledge the leader demonstrates in practice, while reflection-in-action is the reaction of a leader to “surprises” that arise in leadership. Those surprises arise when expected outcomes are not found, and the result is outside of the leader’s knowledge-in-action. At that point the leader observes the surprise and can therefore adapt and adjust accordingly. Reflection-in-action helps create leadership that is efficient and effective in a variety of unique situations the leader encounters.
Central to both of these characteristics is the process of reflection. For a Christian leader to be anchored to God, he or she must continually reflect on who God is through the Bible and prayer, and at the same time reflect on his or herself to determine what must be adjusted to align with God. It is not enough to simply know God, for the leader to be truly anchored, he or she must adjust to God’s expectations and standards. In flexible interaction, the leader must reflect on the situation as well as leadership methodology that may not prove to be effective in the given context.
What do you think? Is it possible to be anchored and flexible at the same time? What are the biggest uncertainties a leader faces in today’s world?