Becoming a ‘non-anxious’ presence

By Rick James

2020 has locked many people, organisations and even societies into a downward spiral of anxiety. Many of the things we relied on, can no longer be taken for granted. Many of our ways of working, our programmes, our jobs and even our organisations themselves are at risk. A low-level fear is endemic. The only way to break the spiral of anxiety is the introduction of a ‘non-anxious’ presence. That is the role of leaders today.

Leadership theory agrees. When Bain and Co asked the question ‘What makes a leader inspiring?’ they concluded: “one trait matters more than any other. It is centredness: the ability to remain calm under pressure, empathise, listen deeply and remain present”. (Garton, 2017, HBR).

Not surprisingly, the Bible was there first: Colossians 3:15 says:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

Only as we create space to allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts we can become the leaders – the centred, non-anxious presence – that people around us need today.

  • But how do I genuinely ‘let the peace of Christ rule in my heart? What is currently ruling?
  • This week what can I do to enable me to receive this gift of peace?

Love in conflict

By Elaine Vitikainen

Why are personnel conflicts so difficult to handle in a Christian organisation? A former colleague often said how much easier it was to deal with conflict when he was working with a secular organisation. Some cultures make it even harder to handle conflict positively. I was born and raised in the Philippines and have always been taught to overlook mistakes and avoid conflict as much as possible.

I was recently part of an organisational assessment process. Some real issues of conflict were surfacing. An individual spoke up, saying, ‘We should stop talking about this now and simply love one another’. The others assented saying, ‘Yes, this is what God commands us’. While loving one another is what Jesus requires of us, how is love best expressed in a situation of conflict? How many conflicts have gone unresolved because we don’t talk about it? Do we too easily sweep conflict under the rug using the excuse of love? Sometimes it is more loving to try to resolve conflicts rather than pretend they are not there.

In my experience, when a conflict is not properly resolved or understood, it comes back and hunts us down. It is not easy to talk about conflict, but in the long run it may be good for us. If we do not share our feelings of hurt, frustrations and disappointment with others, bitterness and hatred can set it. But when we deal with conflict in Christ-like manner, allowing grace to overflow, we will experience peace and reconciliation. It is important for each of us to be able to confess, to repent and to be reconciled rather than to keep unspoken conflict inside us. In this way, we can be healed and restored; we can learn from the conflict. Dealing with conflict enables us to become more healthy and effective as organisations.

This week:
Are there conflicts in your organisation that need to be resolved? How will you resolve them?

Measured on trust

By Rick James

Most metrics we use to measure leadership are misguided. Hopefully 2020 will rid of ridiculous notions that leaders should be judged on measures such as annual income raised or numbers/members attending. Otherwise, every leader will be a major failure in 2020, through no fault of their own.

It has become even more obvious in this crisis year that what really matters with leadership is whether people trust them. This is even more than the decisions they make. Trust is therefore a much better metric of leadership performance. Trust is certainly not the same as popularity, but involves judgements we make, often subconsciously, about whether: 

  1. Leaders listen well and genuinely understand others’ realities. Do people feel that leaders are ‘on their side’?
  2. In the face of such uncertainties, leaders have the courage to take difficult decisions. Are leaders willing to experiment with new initiatives, willing to try and fail and quickly adapt?
  3. Leaders are assured enough of their own identities to be open, vulnerable and OK with not having all the answers. Are leaders looking after their own spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health enough to be consistent and reliable?

While we cannot control how much people trust us, we can control our trustworthiness. 

So this week, which of these three areas can I work on to increase my trustworthiness?

Finding a critical friend

By Elaine Vitikainen

“Leadership is so hard” I said to myself. I was reading the whiteboard in the meeting room. The last group had obviously been discussing leadership traits. The list went on and on. As I studied the long list of seemingly impossible demands, I wondered which of these traits are necessary and which ones are extras. I realised that perhaps one of the most important traits of a leader was not even on the list…

It is the ability to come to grips with his or her own flaws. It is only through accepting their own limitations that a leader can depend on others. Leaders who understand their limitations will tend to look for the potential of those he or she works with.

We all need people who encourage us and affirm us. We all enjoy positive feedback. But more precious still are people who will be honest with us about where we are failing. Leaders need people they can trust to give them honest feedback, however uncomfortable. Without such people, leaders will not see their blind spots. They will lose their humility. Their growth will be stunted.

This week:
– Who do you trust to give you honest feedback?
– How aware are you of your limitations? What are you doing about it?

The Cracked Cistern

By Steven Wetton (www.gcf.org.za)

I woke up today feeling drained and empty, dreading having to drag myself off to the office after the weekend… Why does my work leave me feeling like this? Why is my motivation so low? Is the sense of doing good not enough?

I wonder if the answer lies in where I get my refreshment. Jeremiah 2:13 says:
“For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living water, and they have dug their own cisterns— broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Maybe I have been trying to drink from a cistern of my own making, a cracked and broken cistern of reports, outcomes and results that cannot hold water and leaves me dry, empty and drained.

I’m reminded that I need to drink my fill from the ‘fountain of living water’, the true source of life – a source that is fresh and pure and renewed every day. To allow him to renew me for the days and weeks ahead, I need to make time to spend with God every single morning.

Looking to the week ahead, how will you ensure you are receiving refreshment from the fountain of living water each day?

Liberated from the myth of control

By Rick James

2020 feels like an Ecclesiastes moment to me. The current pandemic and its likely consequences are revealing to me how much of what I do, how much of what I desire, where I put my hope is like smoke (closer to the Hebrew word ‘hevel’ from Ecclesiastes rather than ‘vanity’ or ‘meaningless’ as some older translations put it).

Like smoke, our work and our leadership are transitory and temporary. They will not last for ever. And like smoke, they are impossible to grasp and control. The more we try, the more elusive they seem to be.

Perhaps one of my big lessons of 2020 is that we are NOT in control. That our ‘effectiveness’ is not actually in our power to manage. Despite our black and white job descriptions, our sense of responsibility, we are not masters of our own destiny, let alone the destiny of the initiatives we lead. This is quite humbling. And also quite liberating. It is not all about us. Ultimately it is God’s work and responsibility. I’m reminded of the quote from poet TS Eliot “Ours is only the trying, the rest is not our business”.

Looking ahead to this week, what big tasks await us? Since we are not in control of the outcomes, how do we invite God’s transformative presence into these situations?

Strategy and Prayer

By Matt Parker
http://www.mattparker.online

I love strategic planning. Writing mission statements, doing SWOT analyses, and setting goals excite me. I get a buzz out of envisioning the future and putting the plans in place that will help accomplish this.

I just started talking with my organization’s board about implementing a strategic review. They were enthusiastic as I laid out a six-month process to them.

But there was something that made me pause and reflect.

I was reading through the book of Acts at the time. And, in the second chapter, soon after Jesus ascended to heaven, we see the disciples gathered together in the upper room. They had been given a huge task: to continue the work that Jesus had started by taking the amazing hope of the Gospel message to the nations and baptizing and making disciples.

They were not (as I might have been tempted to do) writing a strategic plan, with vision statements, goals, objectives, and performance indicators (all in a nicely bound document with different colours and a beautiful cover photograph, of course!)

Instead, they were praying and fasting. And as they did so, the Holy Spirit came down upon them in power, strengthening them and guiding the way forward.

Think about that. We can compile the most detailed, ambitious, and compelling of plans, but these mean nothing unless God is at the centre. “Apart from me you can do nothing”, Jesus tells his disciples in John 15.

As we think about the future of our organizations, we must commit to prayer. We must seek God’s will, taking time to listen for his voice. And we must keep praying, pursuing him, listening carefully, and responding to his guiding throughout the entire process.

How can your organization better keep Christ at the heart of your planning processes?

Reminding ourselves of God’s presence

By Elaine Vitikainen

Monday is often a time for the office staff of Christian organisations to come together to sing, pray and to reflect on God’s word. It is a good way to start the working week by acknowledging that God is present with them and that God will help them as they work through the week. But what if you work from home? What if you work in a place where there are no regular office devotions? What if you don’t feel that God is by your desk on Monday morning? We all heard how people dislike Mondays. A friend once shared that it is even harder when she spends the whole Sunday at the church and returns to work on Monday in a secular environment. How can we experience the presence of God on a daily basis?

James 4:8 encourages us to come near to God. And as we come near to God, God will come near to us. But how do we do this in practice? How do we practice the presence of God at work; or as we sit in front of a computer?

Why not find something that reminds you that God is present with you every day. We may not have the benefit of a cloud above the tabernacle, but we each have our own experiences of God’s presence with us. What would symbolise to you God’s presence in your work place?

This week, reflect on Psalm 139:7-10

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

Coffee and Your Organization’s Growth

By Matt Parker
http://www.mattparker.online

For me, each morning begins with a strong cup of coffee.

Making the ideal cup of coffee takes some time. After measuring out the granules, adding water to the coffeemaker, and pressing the “start” button, I sit back and watch as the newly percolated coffee slowly drips and trickles into the cup below.

It creates the perfect result and is always worth the wait.

This morning, as I sat, bleary-eyed, watching the coffee drip into the cup, I reflected on the similarities of the drip-by-drip approach for making coffee, and for building our organizations.

We may have a clear vision for what we want to accomplish, the goals we need to meet, programmes we must create. But achieving this takes time – and often more time than we would like to take.

Rather than rushing to find a quick fix, growing a healthy organization can be more of a drip-by-drip process. Sometimes we can get frustrated at how long it takes. But the results of this approach are often so much better than if we rush too quickly to make the changes that are needed.

As you look at your organization, what is the next “drip” or two that must be added in the next week?

Is it a training program for your team? Must you send a special communication to your supporters? Is a tweak needing be made to one of your processes?

Start by praying. Decide what God is saying. Move forward with accomplishing this. Make it happen.

And, as you pour yourself another cup of coffee, commit the entire process, your vision, and your people, to God.

Identifying blind spots and hot spots

By Rick James

My colleague, Nick Wright, developed a really interesting exercise to use with top teams when developing a strategy. When we look at ideas for future direction, who we are in relation to what we are looking into will influence what we see – and what we don’t see – how we do it and what conclusions we draw from it. This is because our subconscious assumptions, biases, filters and defence mechanisms create blind spots and hot spots.

Blind spots are what we are not thinking about. They touch on what is invisible to us. They are concerned with (un)awareness. They are created by our beliefs. They reflect the paradigms we hold. If we challenge them, it can feel mind-bending. Hot spots are what we are not talking about. They touch on what is sacred to us. They are concerned with relationships. They are created by our values. They reflect the passions we hold. If we challenge them, it can feel heart-wrenching.

This week in looking at a current issue, think about:
Blind spots: What are we assuming? What appears self-evident to us and why? How can we draw in contrasting perspectives and ideas?
Hot spots: What are we avoiding? How will we handle power dynamics and vested interests? What will we do if we feel threatened or defensive? How can we hold robust conversations that feel safe?

Good questions to explore trust in teams. Here is a good way to start sensitive, but critical, discussions within a team. First get individuals to finish the sentence:
– What I most value about this team is….
– What I would like most from this team is….
– My work would be much more productive if….
– I would have more fun at work if….
– I feel frustrated when….
– I feel really motivated when….
Then facilitate a discussion drawing on people’s different responses.