I have always admired lifelong learners. These are people who are anxious to learn a better way to do something, practice it, and share that learning. Bob Dale is one of those people. Bob has been a hero of mine for a number of years. As a church leader, professor, denominational executive, and coach, he has shown what it means to be a lifelong learner. He has also been willing to share what he has learned with others.
The latest example of this is Growing Agile Leaders: Coaching Leaders to Move with Sure-Footedness in a Seismic World, a book that provides insights for leaders who hunger for leadership agility and for those who are “thought partners” or coaches for these motivated leaders.
I asked Bob if he would respond to some questions suggested by the book, and he was gracious enough to do so and allow me to present these to a larger audience. Here is my first question and Bob’s answer.
When did you discover that you had to become an agile leader?
I admit I’ve been a slow and “as needed” learner about agile leadership. But, reviewing my life, I can identify three times---one cultural, one theological, and one psychological---when I had to gain new agility if I wanted to thrive as a leader.
First, I went to college in the wake of Sputnik. I was part of that eager generation who wanted to beat the Russians to the moon. I made a painful discovery during my freshman year at the University of Missouri---I had an agricultural mindset from my childhood culture, and I was expected to live and lead in a scientific world. I was an alien---a person who would struggle to survive in such a strange world. I may have traveled less than two hundred miles from my Ozark mountain home to the campus, but I’d crossed over into a totally different universe with an unfamiliar industrial mindset. It was a huge stretch to bridge cultures and ways of thinking. I realized if I didn’t learn to move with sure-footedness in this foreign land, I’d flounder.
Second, in my fifties, I finally saw God’s church is a living, adapting community. It was a theological insight that reoriented my leadership. Through my earlier industrial prism, I’d seen congregations as “well-oiled machines.” Then, I realized God’s miracle of germination and gift of harvest call on me to sow seeds and nurture life in His living communities. Believing and leading organically gave me a solid faith toehold for agile leadership.
Third, at sixty, I entered a “deadline decade.” With retirement and other major life changes looming up, I enlisted a coach to help me map my future. I invested emotions in three arenas---connections, creativity, and coaching---and they gave me a new sense of traction. These basic psychological markers continue to serve as my north star.
Those realizations are in the past, but I’m sure I have discoveries about agile leadership in my future as well.