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.

Resting in God

By Elaine Vitikainen

On the midnight of the 15th of June, the Government of Finland lifted the state of emergency in Finland and further eased the coronavirus restrictions. It made me reflect, ‘What did I learn during the last few months of isolation?´ Here are some of the things that I wrote down for myself:

  • Make the most of every opportunity – there may be no next time. The training we decided to postpone until after the crisis, now may never happen. We can’t retrieve time.
  • There is an opportunity to start again. During the lockdown, many of my colleagues felt that we were all at the same stage. We were all starting from scratch, navigating the new ways of working. This led to abundant sharing of knowledge and resources to help one another out.
  • The future is indeed unpredictable. We have to plan, but hold our plans very lightly. We cannot be sure that things will happen as we imagine.
  • God’s thoughts are not mine. God’s ways are not my ways. (Isaiah 55: 8-9). I do not know God’s plan for my life. But as I choose to trust God to do what is best for me, my soul rests in God.

As Space for Grace takes its own annual break over the next couple of months, why not take some time to reflect on how God has spoken to you during this crisis? How did the crisis affected your relationship with God? How can you rest more fully in God?

Pressing Return

By Nick Wright

As we wait for life to return to normal or even a ‘new normal’, I’ve been wondering what ‘return’ really means. This word keeps coming back to me: Return. Last week I was struck by the concept of ‘return on humanity’, in stark contrast to ‘return on investment’ (Clare Norman, 2020). 

In deep thought, I half-glance down at my keyboard and tap the ‘return’ key. The cursor leaps back to where it started in the left-hand margin (or the right-hand margin if you use a different script) – except that it doesn’t. It’s actually one line, one step, further ahead on the page than it was before. Now I’m thinking – a return that means a revisiting, yet also a step forward. Where do we need to go back to in order to advance forward? What will best yield a ‘return on humanity?’ 

And this came to mind. In 18th century Europe, the Enlightenment must have felt like a bright liberation from the feudal dark ages. Yet, ‘the (apparent) death of God didn’t strike (even) Nietzsche as an entirely good thing’ (Scotty Hendricks, 2016). In losing sight of God, we somehow lost sight of each other too. 

I’m convinced it’s time for a new Enlightenment: a radical return, not to religion but to the Spirit of Jesus and to step forward with renewed humanity – together. 

  • What might this look like in your work and leadership?

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring. Will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.”  TS Eliot from the Four Quartets

Nick Wright is a psychological coach and organisation development (OD) consultant who is based in the UK and works internationally (www.nick-wright.com). 

Get to the heart of the matter

By Rick James

Last year I reviewed a five year change process with a large Kenyan church. They made massive shifts in the nuts and bolts of their organisation reviewing their patriarchal constitution, developing much needed policies. The process of addressing them, however, brought to the surface more fundamental issues of relationships, culture and trust. To bring significant change needed attitude and behaviour change. 

For me the most powerful moment was mid-way through. The constitutional review had ground to a halt due to the lack of trust amongst the board members and leadership. It was only when the board themselves acknowledged that they were the source of the problem; spoke openly to each other; forgave and prayed for each other that they were able to develop the reservoirs of trust needed to deal with such a sensitive topic. 

Any organisational change process needs to get to the heart of the matter. This case study reaffirms that for any organisation to change, individuals must change too. Major OD often requires deep, personal transformation of leaders, far beyond rational logic or knowing the theology of servant leadership. This goes deeper than brute logic. It is a work of the Holy Spirit.

This week:

  • How might we adjust our current change initiatives to focus more on personal change and building trust? 
  • How might we create more space for the Holy Spirit to transform underlying attitudes (which drive behaviours)?

Well-fed deciding for the starving

By Steven Wetton

I was in a recent meeting about food provision when somebody said: “The well fed should never be deciding for the starving.” It made me stop. I asked myself: “Do we the ‘well fed’ decide for the ‘starving’? Do we even have the right to make decisions for programme beneficiaries?” I felt really uncomfortable. For I am one of the well-fed. I realised taking such decisions pre-supposes huge arrogance on my part.

Whenever I feel uneasy, I turn to scripture. Proverbs 15 vs 22 says ” Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed”. And James 3 vs 17 says” But the wisdom from above is pure first of all; it is also peaceful, gentle, and friendly; it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds; it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy.”

I realised if we take the guidelines in James 3 seriously, then we will not be arrogantly deciding for the ‘starving’ but rather that we are engaging them as advisers to help us shape our interventions so that we produce a harvest of good deeds that are free from prejudice and hypocrisy. And going even further, perhaps they should be the ones deciding and we become just the advisers.

In such turbulent times, I am reminded the value of keeping God’s word as a lamp to guide us and be a light for our paths (Psalm 119:105).

This week consider:
What issues are you facing, what is making you uneasy?
Where in the Bible could you turn for guidance?

Listening and stretching out our hands to God

By Rick James

How are we leading in this crisis? Who are we depending on?

I was so impressed by how the Ethiopian President, Abiy Ahmed, responded. In the face of COVID-19 he gave his public blessing to a call for a national month of prayer. He attended the launch day entitled ‘Ethiopia will submit herself to God’. The Speaker of the House and various Government Ministers were also there. They took this verse from Psalm 68:31 as a challenge, inspiration and prophesy – “Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God”.

Perhaps with such leadership, it is no surprise President Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year. His wife, Zinash, released a beautiful and haunting worship song last month, pleading for God’s mercy. She sings about God not abandoning us during this time when the world is terrorised by bad news.

As you listen to Zinash’s song, called Maren (God’s mercy)

  • Take time to be still, stretch out your hands towards God;
  • Imagine sitting with Jesus, what would he be asking you? What would he be saying?
  • Allow the Holy Spirit to breathe life, energy and direction into your leadership.

Candles in a dark world

By Nick Wright

Last night I was speaking with Jasmin in the Philippines. She told me about an incident that really moved me. That day Jasmin saw old woman, who lived on the pavement, trying to eek out an existence by selling candles on the street. As Jasmin approached, this stooped woman beckoned to her with a smile.

‘Would you like to buy a candle?’ she asked. The tone in her voice suggested that she was bracing herself for disappointment, that same disappointment she had felt day after day, year after year, on so many occasions. After all, there were other people selling candles too, so what hope did she have? ‘How much for a candle?’, Jasmin asked. ‘2 pesos’, she replied. Jasmin said, ‘I will take 10 candles’, then, as if secretly, slipped a 500 pesos note into the woman’s hand.

‘But I don’t have any change for such a large amount’, the woman said. ‘How about you keep the candles and pay me next time you pass by, when you have some smaller change?’ Jasmin replied softly, ‘This is a gift to you from Jesus. Please accept it as a gift from Him.’ At that, the woman threw her arms around Jasmin’s neck, burst into tears, and cried, ‘Maam, thank you for helping me!!’ Jasmin hugged her back and whispered gently, ‘Pray and say thank you to Jesus.’

As she finished relating this story, I asked Jasmin why she did what she did. She welled up and said: ‘I remember selling candles as a child, how hard it was. I wasn’t good with maths and so, if I made a mistake when giving people change, I had to pay it back out of my own tiny earnings. I know what it is to be poor.’ So, I asked specifically about this woman, this one person, this stranger. Jasmin replied, ‘At least, for one day in her life, she knows how it feels to be loved, to be blessed by God.’

I fell silent. All I could see were images of Jesus, touching the lives of the poor and most vulnerable in the world. ‘I come to bring good news to the poor!’ He’s still doing it now. It challenges me:

  • How can I bring good news to the poor this week?

No longer boasting about tomorrow

By Elaine Vitikainen

We are all faced by the great uncertainty of the future. A colleague told me that planning has now been reduced to what can be done in the next three days, instead of planning for the months to come. In the past, a fully booked schedule was something to be proud of. Now, it felt like we are all starting from scratch.

The verses from James 4: 13 – 15 have spoken clearly to me in this present situation: Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”

These verses reminded me that everything is in God’s hand. My life and my future can never be separated from God. Yes, I can plan but surely, it is God who directs my steps. It is God’s will that prevails in the end. Therefore, I cannot boast about tomorrow for I do not know what a day may bring. (Proverbs 27:1)

This week:

  • Spend some time reflecting on how God has directed your steps in your life? How was God present at some of the big turning points?
  • As you look ahead, how can you make yourself more aware of God’s presence on your journey? 

Shaped in the waiting

By Rick James

None of us likes waiting. Unfortunately the Bible is littered with examples of waiting, whether we look at Moses and his calling, the people of Israel in the wilderness, and even Jesus before his ministry.

Waiting is not much fun, but it seems to be a crucial part of our necessary development. It forces us to confront who we really are. Last week I was feeling that I was slipping further behind on my work. Then suddenly my hard drive failed and I lost a number of files and a number of days work. It was a small thing, but quite disturbing. I realised how much I need to feel on top of my work. I tried hard to be calm and peaceful. While I felt my efforts had worked, my family said otherwise!

In the midst of this COVID crisis, we are all waiting – for the threat to be gone, for the restrictions to be lifted, for ‘normal’ life and work to resume.

Psalm 27: 13-14 says:
I remain confident of this:
 I will see the goodness of the Lord
 in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
 be strong and take heart
 and wait for the Lord.

This week consider:
What are you learning about yourself in the waiting?
How are you being shaped by this waiting?

Shaped in the crisis

By Rick James

All our certainties and even assumptions about the world are in the air. Everything is unsettled and in a state of flux. It’s deeply uncomfortable, distressing and threatening in so many ways.

Yet these are also opportunities in this crisis. Usually, our organisations are highly resistant to change. They change as little as they have to. But now, everything is more fluid and flexible. It may be possible to shape our organisations in directions we have only aspired to before. In the wilderness, we need to head in the direction of the Promised Land.

I work part-time at a University and finally we are taking the leap towards online learning, having spoken about it for years. I am also apart of a consultancy charity in the UK. We are now putting into practice our previous intentions to work through local consultants in Asia and Africa. My local church has said for years “Church is not a building – it is about who we are and what we do in community” – but now we are making that a reality.

This week, think about the organisations you are a part of:
Where is their ‘promised land’?
How can this crisis help them move in that direction?