Monday, October 17, 2011

Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, Ron Ashkenas asked the question, “Where have all the leaders gone?”  Admitting some nostalgia for the past, he nevertheless points out the low confidence ratings for the President, Congress, corporate leaders, and leaders in most segments of society.  He goes on to comment on the  large sums spent in recent decades on leadership development programs and wonders if we are getting our money’s worth.


Ashkenas suggests two possible reasons for the growing perception of leader ineffectiveness.  Both may have implications for church leaders as well.


First, he suggests that “the velocity and volume of issues that leaders are confronted with today has increased substantially.”  Leaders have always faced problems and change, but both seem to come more rapidly today with increased means of communication, short attention spans, a desire for “quick fixes,” and a growing consumer mentality even in the churches.  There is little time for reflection and analysis about one issue before the leader is forced to move to another issue.  This is especially tragic for the leader of a religious entity who needs to reflect on biblical and theological principles in making decisions. 


May I suggest some responses to this situation?  For one thing, a leader must learn to delegate.  There are capable and informed people in the church—both clergy and laity—who may be better equipped to deal with certain issues.  Give them that opportunity.  Leaders must also let the technology that often intrudes on their lives work for them.  Learn how to use e-mail, texting, and various applications to help you organize your digital input.  Wise leaders will also adopt coaching principles that will help people to make decisions for themselves.  Rather that coming up with a quick and often uninformed answer, learn how to ask good questions that will help people to discover solutions for themselves.  Finally, make time for reflection and prayer.  No one will give you this time.  You must carve it out for yourself.


According to Ashkenas, a second reason for diminished confidence could be that “many of today’s leaders are overly concerned with the reactions of their stakeholders.”  Certainly a leader needs to listen and be responsive, but the latest brushfire can often obscure the horizon that the leader must keep in view.  Leaders must learn to categorize the comments and “advice” they receive.  One way to do this is to ask such questions as, “Is this something that I need to address?”  “Is this something that someone else can address?” and “Is this something that no one needs to address?”  Choosing the right category requires both self-confidence and a commitment to the overall vision of the church or organization.  This means that the church leader must learn to be a non-anxious presence amid the tumult of congregational life.


Despite the challenges of our time, I am convinced that the leaders are still there.  You may very well be one of them. 

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