One of the perks of being a Presbyterian minister is a week of paid study leave. Last week I spent a couple of day in Kansas City reflecting on life and ministry with a small group of pastors from across the country. I spent at couple of days at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship Conference in Atlanta focusing on the issue of how churches can reconnect with their neighborhoods. And I spend one day in a preaching seminar with Dr. Craig Barnes from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Yes, it's like drinking from a firehose, and I'm still swallowing. But the most help so far has come from a book I read on leadership during the week called Leadership On the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, by Heifetz and Linsky.
The whole book is worth the read, but what really stuck with me is the need to understand what kind of change leaders are asking people to make, and how the nature of the change demands different kinds of leadership. The first kind of change is technical; we know how to do this whether it's changing the color of the carpet, balancing the budget or rolling out a new product. It may not be easy but we can figure out new methods, deal with criticism and move on. The other kind of change is adaptive; we really aren't sure how to change to deal with our circumstances. We'll have to learn some things that aren't in our current bag of tricks in order to do something we've never done. And most important we'll not only have to change methods but the hearts and minds of others in order to get to where we need to go. The truth is that most of us don't like to make adaptive changes and our most natural response is to resist.
So the real test of leadership is helping people go where, initially at least, they don't want to go. Forget other people for a minute; what about ourselves? Where do we need not to just "tweak" our lives but adapt them to a new reality? I find resistance and denial come easy and fast whether it's losing 20 pounds, moving across the country, or facing up to financial challenge. We'd rather not. Now multiply that factor by a few hundred folk and the challenge of leadership becomes clear.
There are ways to make the adaptive changes needed; that's what the book is about. But the first challenge is not to misunderstand what you are really asking other people to do, and what it will require of you to help them do it.