What really makes leadership such a challenge in these times? I have been making a list. This is what I have so far.
Whether people choose to use the Ron Heifeitz language of adaptive challenge or not, the key observation remains that many are very stressed because leadership/life/church is no longer business as usual. In the church, clergy sometimes feel they aren’t exactly sure what they should be doing – “This is not the church I was trained for.” When the future is not yet clear, how should we plan for next year or even the next six months.
One observation of younger leaders, in particular, is that in a church setting they often feel as if they are in an intercultural situation with different generations representing, in essence, different cultures. How can I help different groups relate on more than a superficial level? In an organization where almost everything seems to be in flux almost every aspect of life can contain skill issues.
A related stressor is lack of knowledge. Often clergy ask me a form of the question, “Do you know where I could go to take a course on …?” After that the reference can be anything from learning Twitter to understanding postmodernism, the diminishment of the American empire, congregational governance systems to the more general “Does anyone know what’s happening out there?”
Another of those seldom talked about but real challenges is motivation. Take the generational groupings question – sometimes leaders may know, intellectually, that they need to be about this work but, in truth, they don’t really want to do it! Lack of motivation leads to lack of action which leads to the blossoming of guilt which sucks the joy out of almost anything!
Sometimes commitment is talked about in the same breath as motivation but they differ. Commitment involves a matter of what one is willing to give oneself to. A lot of leaders now struggle with (another unsaid issue) of whether they really think this form of the church is worth the commitment of one’s time and energy. Integrity issues arise when commitment sinks into the quicksand of indifference but the paychecks are still cashed.
I believe that great leaders possess outstanding skill and knowledge, honed through effective practices and exercised within a character marked by authenticity & integrity. If one’s life is marked by falseness or a lack of integrity it shows. Even if there is no scandal, people can sense the dissonance and grow reluctant to walk alongside, especially through any kind of mucky terrain.
Many leaders seem to find themselves in a nightmare. They are called up on stage to play a piano concert in front of an attentive audience who scrutinize their every move. Only trouble is that while once they knew something about scales, harmony and counterpoint they never practiced. Quite simply many leaders do not do the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly practices it takes to get into and remain in shape for the concert (or big game if you’re a sports fan).
In many cases, the challenges before congregations and their leaders are huge. It is not unusual that almost any area of an organization needs work – governance, physical plant, relationships, communication, program, worship, etc. When many congregations/organizations turn to their leaders for guidance they often, subconsciously also expect the leader to get it done (by themselves). Can’t be done and work overload, role ambiguity, boundary setting and all the rest quickly come into play.
The resource question relates to the matter of support. How many technical upgrades can one get done for $35? How strong a children’s ministry can be sustained with one person and four felt markers?
At its best leadership is a team sport. Ideally none of the members should be the same or perform exactly the same function. Many leaders though find themselves on the ice surface alone. Instead of six players coming over the boards, only 2 show up. Talk about lonely. No wonder leaders burn out.
For some leaders the major challenge feels like an attack upon the spirit. It is difficult to be a great strategic leader if one does not feel like they are accepted or belong, if matters of guilt (and forgiveness – sought and given) are not attended to, if life (and the hard decisions) are not seasoned by a sense of grace and if there is no hope.
And just in case this is not challenging enough, often one of the above masquerades as another! And they often hang together, feeding off one another! Yikes!