Will the Adaptive Leader Please Step Up

Tod Bolsinger, in his recent Leadership Conversation, summed up leadership for adaptive change as “leading where there is no expert or answer into an unknown and unknowable future.” No wonder “adaptive leadership” daunts so many leaders! But, the suggestions he set forth were disarmingly ordinary.

• Technical competence. A pastoral leader has to know how to do with consistency the basic tasks required of ministry – fidelity to the texts and traditions, presiding over meetings that matter, preaching, administering, caring for people and providing for their experience of true community. Tod’s quick to point out that you don’t even need to excel at these things. So maybe you cannot preach like Peter and you cannot pray like Paul, you still have to bring a basic competence to these things. People need to trust your professional competence.

• Relational congruence. Even more importantly, people need to be able to trust the leader’s judgment. (As Tod put it, “If people can’t trust you on the map, they won’t follow you off the map.”) The leader has to be genuine and authentic and emotionally reliable in every situation. A congruent leader knows her/himself; their interior life matches their exterior life. They demonstrate emotionally intelligent care and concern for their people and the mission of God. They are curious, humble and eager to learn.

• Core values. An adaptive leader must be deeply rooted in their own core values. They recast challenges into the framework of what is essential – what is at the heart of the matter? Congregations, too, need to be firmly rooted in their core values and the adaptive leader helps them see and practice what those values are. It gets to the core of what cannot be changed so that everything else can be.

Adaptive leadership is essential as the church finds itself in uncharted territory. May we be those leaders.

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