Discontinuous change is here to stay L063

The old saying used to ‘Constant change is here to stay’, but we have to update that for our 21stC context. Leadership is grappling with a whole new paradigm when it comes to change management.

In the 20thC change was fairly predictable and gradual. With the obvious exception of the impact of two world wars, change took place at a steady pace and a consistent direction. With a little foresight, research and by keeping one’s ear to the ground, it was possible to predict what was likely to come in the next 10 years. All that has changed. Since the 1990s change itself has changed!

Instead of being continuous, linear and relatively smooth, it has become discontinuous, sudden, unexpected and unpredictable. Consider the impact of global warming, 9/11 and 7/7, and the economic seismic shifts in the western economy; or the impact of the Internet on music, media, retail, knowledge, and social relationships; or the impact of mobile technology on communications. Both the pace of change and the unpredictable direction of change have been breath-taking.

What is the leader meant to do in the midst of all this? Clearly the old paradigms of the leader as change agent do not work in our 21stC culture. We need a whole new approach. What are the new mind-sets, skills and approaches needed?

It’s tempting to revert to the old caricature of the gutless leader who simply waits to see which direction the people are heading in and then rushes to stand at the front of them, claiming to be giving direction and oversight to something he had nothing to do with initiating. Or is there actually some validity to that approach?

Well one thing is for sure, initiative is going to be increasingly bottom up. The days of the great prophet-leader who is far seeing and determines the direction of travel for all is all but gone. Except for strong tribal cultures where deference to the leader as demi-god is automatic, this approach is bound to fail. People will vote with their feet.

But people still want leadership. In fact it is wanted more than ever in a sea of increasing uncertainty and insecurity. People want to know that someone is in charge, that some is at the helm of the ship, that someone is listening to the weather forecast and charting appropriate courses. But what kind of ship’s captain is needed for these freak weather conditions?

Perhaps I could offer a few thoughts on this matter. There is so much still to learn.

1. Leaders who listen. As Steven Covey so wisely says in his classic ‘7 habits of highly effective people – ‘seek first to understand before being understood’. We need to hear the hearts, concerns, insecurities and hopes of those we lead. We need to understand the pastoral landscape in which we bring our leadership. The uncertainties and fears they live with both limit their ability to respond to leadership vision, and should inform us as to the issues that our leadership needs to address.

2. Leaders who give context for conversation. To figure out what is going on we must be brokers of dialogue. Often the ideas and initiatives that will successfullytake us forward into the uncertain future will come from the conversations that take place with our stakeholders; those who we seek to serve in our leadership

3. Leaders who pray and listen to God. It is now a time more than ever before to heed the gentle promptings of the one who stands outside of time and sees the end from the beginning. Obedience to Christ is one sure way of navigating the future. Obedience has always been a biblical imperative, but now becomes a pragmatic necessity. Those who put their trust in God and his ability to help us navigate the choppy waters will find a measure of peace and confidence in uncertain times

4. Leaders with flexible strategies. Our mission, vision and values may have some enduring qualities, but certainly our strategies must be adaptable, ready to respond to new developments, able to change quickly, and have built-in obsolescence. Any strategy that is designed for more than 2 years needs to be reviewed regularly to see if it is still fit for purpose. Where we are heading may not change, but how we get there certainly will.

In our own context we have had to adopt our strategies and structures radically in the last 3 years. From having one way of doing church that really to all intents and purposes was a ‘one size fits all’, we have developed multiple ways of doing church. In particular our missional communities that have an infinite variety of ways to function, our satellite services that are going to break us out of our Wavertree-centric way of operating, our multiple approaches to how we foster discipleship, and more recently the decision to set up a separate trust to develop our Frontline projects. All of these developments reflect the need to adapt and respond to rapid and unpredictable changes in our environment.

5. Leaders who are happy for others to take initiative and get the credit. As president Harry Truman said ‘you can achieve whatever you want as long as you don’t mind who gets the credit’. The need for a leader to be the guru of any organisation is going to drastically limit its ability to respond to unexpected change. No one person has all the wisdom, all the ideas, all the leadership that it takes to operate in the new context. We must be willing for many of those initiatives and ideas to come from others. If as leaders we need to feel or be seen to be in command and control, then our days will be numbered.

The leader as ‘all conquering hero’ doesn’t work in today’s paradigm. They generally equate to Jim Collins level 4 leader (Good to Great), the charismatic leader who leads by sheer force of personality and individual brilliance. The level 5 leader who is characterised by personal humility and yet fierce resolve will be much better equipped to allow others into the limelight and leadership space.

Have fun as you navigate the new leadership territory and learn to manage discontinuous change!

This entry was posted by nic on Thursday, April 19th, 2012 at 5:28 pm and is filed under Leadership. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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