Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Leading in the 21st Century: Pathfinding

Last Saturday, I spent most of the afternoon helping my grandson, Noah, prepare for an oral report on Davy Crockett, the Tennessee frontiersman, hunter, politician, and popular hero. We even went to iTunes and downloaded “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” from the 1950’s TV series. Although Crockett’s adventures may not have opened up new territory like Daniel Boone, Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, John Fremont, or other pioneers, he was something of a pathfinder, discovering new trails and hunting lands in the rapidly changing Tennessee wilderness. Men like Crockett were always just one step ahead of civilization. They prepared the way for expansion into new territories.

Pathfinders are still needed today. As we consider what makes effective organizations in the 21st century (churches, judicatories, etc.), we have to name “pathfinding” as one of the key values of such organizations. Every group needs someone who is out there on the cutting edge, scouting out new possibilities and identifying resources that allow the organization to address those opportunities. In the 18th and 19th centuries, scouting parties were sent out ahead of settlers to find not only the best places to live and work but the resources for a viable settlement there.

Effective organizations today must embrace this value. In industry, this function is often allocated to a research and development department, but many companies have discovered that the best innovations come from the factory floor or even from the user of the product. Whether your organization is a church or judicatory, each person should be given a coonskin cap and named a pathfinder, commissioned to look for new opportunities and new resources. This requires giving each person some time to explore, dream, or just to wander around.

Such exploration may involve reading, research, benchmarking (discovering what others are doing), talking to constituents, or just speculating. Leaders in effective 21st century organizations will fight for this “blue sky” time because it is the only thing that will keep their organization vital and effective.
Several ministers of my acquaintance have used their sabbatical time to visit other churches or organizations to find out what they are doing. Usually, they cannot import a newly discovered idea or practice to their own situation intact, but the exposure to other ways of doing things helps them to reconceptualize their own ministry.

Inherent in this mental model is the idea that the organization will be on the move. It will not be in the same place tomorrow that it is today. Even if the organization wants to stay in one place, it cannot because the environment around it is changing. In order to serve in that new environment, the organization must seek out new ways to serve and interact with it. It’s a risky task, but it can also be a lot of fun! (And someone might even write a song about you.)

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