In Growing Agile Leaders (available both in print and on Kindle), author Bob Dale shows his awareness of where we have come from and where we are going in the study and practice of leadership. I was particularly interested in his thoughts about what’s ahead of us and the challenges that leaders face.
“What gives you hope for the future of leadership?”
Leaders are always more pivotal when times and situations are changing rapidly. When the world is cruising merrily along on autopilot, managers do well. But, when new worlds are emerging moment by moment, leaders make the difference. Leaders are the faces of hope and future amid instability.
One of my favorite leadership stories is about Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated 1914 exploratory expedition to the South Pole. Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, became blocked and then frozen into the polar ice. Over ten months, the ship was slowly crushed and finally sank. Survival became the crew’s only agenda. The miracle was that, although the entire crew of 27 spent 634 days on the ice, Shackleton finally led all of them safely home to England.
Ironically, Shackleton was an ordinary leader in ordinary times. But, he became an extraordinary leader when his world descended into chaos. Legend has it that Sir Edmund Hillary, the conqueror of Mount Everest, once noted, “If your life is on the line, fall on your knees and pray for Shackleton to appear.” In the fashion of leaders amid seismic conditions, Shackleton’s blend of skills and temperament ultimately saved the day for his crew on that ice floe.
I think I see a couple of future trends emerging now that call for agile leaders:
Organic thinking is on the rise for leaders. Very few of us now assume that congregations and organizations are stable settings to be managed mechanically. Leaders expect constant change and a pattern of novel challenges. That calls on us to think and lead living, learning, adapting communities of faith and action. In other words, for the future church, only agile leaders need apply---because only agile leaders will survive and succeed.
In the past, churches that were defined by their surrounding culture were best led by priestly ministers. Continuity was expected, and the status quo was supported. In the future, churches as “communities of contrast” will be led by prophetic and agile leaders. In these congregations---measured by Christ’s commands---change will be expected and nurtured.
The future will introduce us to situations we haven’t yet imagined. By definition, effective churches will rely on agile leaders. The future won’t be easy. After all, humans fall 700 times as we learn to walk. The difference is dramatic---agile leaders find ways to regain their feet and move ahead.