If you follow The Jesus Leader on Instagram, you know that my husband and I welcomed our first baby a few weeks ago. First, let me say… She’s adorable! Seriously, she’s the best baby and we’re so grateful to Jesus for her.
Over her first sweet weeks since being born, there is so much that I’m learning and being reminded of when it comes to leadership. For example, I’m reminded of how often we face adaptive challenges.
Adaptive challenges are the situations we all face where the solutions to problems are unknown, or where there are too many options and the way forward is not clear. They are the moment when we know action is going to be needed, but we aren’t sure what it is.
My husband and I faced this in becoming parents. If you’ve had kids, you might remember this feeling. You know everything is about to change, and new things will be required of you. But, the way forward is unclear.
But, it’s not just in parenting.
We face adaptive challenges all the time – in life and leadership.
We’re in a season in our world where we understand this far too well. As everyone keeps saying, we’re in “unprecedented times.” I don’t know how true that is, but we’re certainly in a season of life that is new to our generation. And because of that, we’re all being faced with adaptive challenges.
Not only in this season, but also over your whole life as a leader, you’ll be faced with these challenges many more times. Therefore, you’ve got to learn to walk the fine line between having a clear vision, and rolling with the punches. Here are a few ways that you can do that.
Plus, I’ve created a helpful worksheet for you to take action on your own challenges. Download it for free.
1. Abide in Christ.
I know, it sounds like a no brainer. But stick with me.
In John 15, Jesus talks about abiding in the Father. It’s what He does and it’s what we’re invited into. It’s through this deep relationship that we’re able to face and even embrace what would otherwise overwhelm us. Plus, it’s when we abide that we can lead those around us into the unknown.
Remember, what is unknown for you, is not for God. Therefore, as you learn to rest in your relationship with Him and trust His leading more fully, you’re tapped into the one who is not caught off guard by the changing world around you.
So, what does it mean to abide? Among other things, it means to find rest in God, to cease from striving, to dwell with Him. When we abide, we make a willful choice to stay in step with the Spirit of God. To trust, listen and learn from Him. Instead of rushing ahead or lagging behind, we take steps forward as he leads us.
2. Transcend Fear
As a leader, when you face adaptive challenges, it’s natural to feel fear. But, it’s vital that you learn to overcome and transcend it. Most of the time, people feel like they’re the only ones who feel incompetent. I’ve been there. But in reality, everyone feels it from time to time. But, when you feel fear, it will lead to micromanagement and safe thinking. Those two things will kill your ability to lead through adaptive challenges.
So, you’ve got to learn to transcend fear. How? Begin by recognizing that it’s not courage that casts fear out. It’s perfect love. This goes back to abiding. When you’re connected with God, fear is cast out. But it also comes from your connection with those around you. When you’ve got community with peers, it casts out fear. So, connect with God and connect with those around you.
Think with me about the life of Paul. He says “follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11). He counts everything as loss and is able to even take joy in joining Christ in His suffering. And through this, he provides an incredible example of transcending fear. It happens by letting go of yourself and embracing Christ.
Scripture says that the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). But the fear of man, or the fear of failure or the fear of suffering is not. So, in order to lead with wisdom and courage into the unknown, you must let go of the fears that can grip your heart and fix your eyes on God.
As a note, I learned long ago that comparison kills. Kills dreams and ideas before they’re even born. It kills leaders from the inside out. And it kills what is needed to lead in adaptive challenges. And comparison is a friend of fear. They feed each other. So, as you kick fear out of your life, go ahead and kick comparison out too.
3. Catalyze Chaos.
It might seem odd to hear this one, but in the midst of adaptive challenges, you can catalyze chaos. Bruce Tuckman was an American Psychological Researcher. He developed a theory aptly named Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development. In short, this theory says that each group goes through four stages as it develops. They are Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. The idea is that each group must go through a season of storming (or chaos, tension, conflict, disequilibrium) before it can get to the point of norming (setting habits, figuring out roles, etc.) and eventually performing (thriving). Therefore, the tension and chaos that groups face is not a negative thing (as we usually think of it). Rather, it is a necessary step on the path to excellence.
I would say that this applies to other settings as well. Adaptive challenges will likely bring up some chaos, tension, conflict in your life as a leader, or in the groups that you lead. It’s only natural. The unknown draws those things out of every leader and team. However, those reactions to the unknown can be an incredibly helpful step in moving forward if handled well.
So, how do you handle it well?
Whether in your own life as a leader, or within the groups you lead, you can allow chaos to be a catalyst by embracing it. Think of the last time you cooked pasta. In order to cook it, you have to turn up the heat to a point of boil. But, if you turn it up too hot, the pot will boil over. Chaos can be the same way. Allowing there to be some “heat” in your life or the life of your team can be an incredible motivator. It can propel action and drive change. It can be the catalyst that actually moves you from apathy to action. Moreover, it can be the very thing that gives new ideas and life to an organization or individual. So, rather than avoiding any heat (and never getting cooking), embrace it (and maybe even turn it up a little).
Think of what many of our churches are facing in the midst of COVID. The churches that have embraced the adaptive challenges of reimagining their budgets, their methods and the effectiveness of their programming, are the churches that are abiding in Christ, pushing past fear and allowing the unknown of this season to move them into new territory.
I’ve created a simple worksheet for you to assess your willingness and ability to lead in adaptive challenges. I’d love to send it your way- no strings attached.
I’m believing in you.
P.S. I’ve been on a maternity leave from the podcast but it’s coming back soon! If you have any guests that you’d like to hear on the show this fall or winter, let me know!