Reactive Management to Adaptive Leadership

Mike Gafa presents some steps to move a consistory from managing to leading in today’s Whiteboard Wednesday.

Everyday brings a new crisis for church leaders. In turn, too many consistories find themselves playing “leadership whack-a-mole” as they attempt to solve the latest crisis. Similarly, leadership in the church can sometimes feel this way, but this is not a good method for leading churches. Instead of playing Leadership whack-a-mole, we should be actively participating in adaptive leadership.

Rick Veenstra, Regional Executive for the Great Lakes Region, describes “adaptive leadership” as follows: “Adaptive leadership is about establishing a clear mission, vision, and values for the congregation, facing the facts of what is not working, creating a cohesive leadership team, taking risks and the like. Since I believe that all congregations have only two options – slow death or deep change – all congregational leaders will need to lead change in the life of the body. This requires attention to adaptive leadership. I believe health and vitality of the congregation depends on the willingness of the leaders to devote at least 20% of their time to adaptive challenges.

Rick is a wise leader who has been in the crucible of leadership for a long time. Another person who inspires adaptive leadership is Stephen Covey, who developed a tool he called the “Time Matrix.”

Here’s the idea: Covey said that we can divide our time in essentially four quadrants. Covey described things that are considered urgent and important that fall into quadrant one. In ministry we can think of pastoral care situations, such as funerals (which can’t be planned in advance!) that are both urgent and important. Any number of pastoral care concerns would likely fall into quadrant one. The challenge for quadrant one is to limit our time there. As a leader in the church, everything cannot be considered a quadrant one crisis. Instead there needs to be delegation and you need to be able to empower other leaders.

Then there is quadrant three, which Covey called the “Quadrant of Deception.” This area is where we spend time on things that seem urgent and important, but are really unimportant. Here, activities such as receiving an email from someone who tells you to drop everything you are working on today in order to resolve some other issue are examples. Another example, could be you are getting out of a meeting and someone says, “This is the biggest thing we have going and it needs to be solved today.” But you know in your mind that it’s probably not the case. This is why it’s called the ‘Quadrant of Deception’. So the challenge here is to be discerning. We need to be discerning leaders in order to make sure we don’t spend very much time at all in quadrant three..

Quadrant four is the ‘Quadrant of Waste’. These are things that are neither urgent nor important. Example tasks may include internet surfing, watching television, or checking social media. Although these things aren’t necessarily bad and can actually be healthy outlets, it is important to set limits and put boundaries on how much time we spend in quadrant four.

Last but definitely not least is quadrant two. This area consists of things that are not urgent but are important. This is also known as the ‘Quadrant of Leadership.’ Prayer falls into quadrant two – your daily prayer life is not an urgent thing. But is it important? Vitally so! Also, the key relationships in your life such as with your family, staff members, and church members are important but not necessarily urgent. But the more time we spend in quadrant two, the more discerning we are to stay away from quadrant three, which makes us better equipped to limit our time in quadrant one, and also the better we are at setting boundaries in quadrant four.

Time spent in quadrant two – aka the ‘Quadrant of Leadership’ – is an investment in leadership for ourselves, our families, and our churches.

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