Mission Leadership and Life Long Learning
October 12th 2020
Let’s face it, these are strange times. Crisis time.
There are different kinds of crises, some more serious than others. Opioid crises. Border crises. Gut wrenching refugee crises. Unprecedented displacements of tens of millions of people throughout the world. Political powerplays. Military manoeuvres. Wars and rumours of wars. Acts of terrorism. Inevitable stock market shocks. Appalling domestic violence. COVID-19 and lockdowns.
Then there are the kinds that are, well, of lesser consequence. Midlife crises, bad hair days, long queues at supermarkets, toilet paper issues, concern about how many likes a social media post attracts, to name a few.
It’s hard to go past COVID just now. Lockdowns and restrictions. We’re told that Melbourne has some of the tightest restrictions of anywhere in the world. We can leave the house for an hour a day, and only if necessary, for one of four approved reasons. One person from each family can shop once per day. Supermarkets and pharmacies are open but almost every other retailer is closed. We can’t travel more than 5km from home, apart from exceptional and approved circumstances. Another 250,000 Melbournians are out of work with the stroke of a pen. And that’s just Melbourne. Think of the rest of the country. Worse, think of the rest of the world. Especially consider places with less help, no social security, inadequate healthcare facilities, and so on. This is a health crisis. A financial crisis. An employment crisis. A global crisis. These times are being called catastrophic. Seems like the whole world is in turmoil. Victoria is in a declared State of Disaster. The police patrol streets and the military knock on doors. In Australia! They say the economic impact will make the 1990 Recession in Australia look like a picnic.
"And serious leaders know they don't everything!So, they keep learning.
But the greater crisis is lost peoples, unreached peoples, unengaged peoples, eternal destinies. And serious crises call for serious leadership.
Knowing and Doing
I have learned the hard way (and continue to learn) that knowledge and action must be held in tension. Knowledge alone is not particularly helpful; it “puffs up” warns Paul (1Corinthains 8:1). So, well-meaning advisors say, "More learning will make you proud; don't let your head get in the way of your heart; you don’t need to study because you have faith”. On the other hand, the implications of actioning something without the benefit of relevant information can be futile, even dangerous. That’s why James encourages us to put our minds into gear before putting our mouths into motion (1:19-21). It is necessary to have information in order to act appropriately.
"Knowing and doing are inextricably linked."
Quite some years ago, I decided – based on limited information – to pursue a course of action which had negative implications for other people. This was not the first time I had done this: making decisions and implementing them is an important function of leadership. I was doing my job. I was well-intentioned, faith-filled, and courageous. And in a hurry. And mis-informed. And wrong. I didn’t know what I needed to know before making and following through on my decision. Thankfully, I was able to resolve my mistake, seek forgiveness and reconcile relationships. But I have regretted that mistake ever since. I learned rather painfully that it is far better to pursue outcomes based on the right information!
I am Still Learning
Since then, I have resolved to become a lifelong learner. I continue to make mistakes in my leadership role – like the famous Michelangelo said at age 87, “I am still learning”! But I make the mistake mentioned above less often. My most recent learning experience involved online university study with like-minded leaders from around the world. I found the rigour of study stretching, and the incessant pressure of deadlines helpful. It took me close to three years to complete my MAOL (Master of Arts in Organisational Leadership) while working fulltime in my leadership role at Pioneers. And I am so thankful I took the plunge.
Interestingly, I had contemplated further study numerous times in my leadership journey but could never quite find the right space in my head or calendar for such a task. Like you, I juggle lots of responsibilities at home and at work, alone and in community, trivial and important, operational and relational. Thankfully, somewhere along the way, through the counsel of wise friends, I realised that putting off my Masters was not helping anyone – not the people who follow me, nor Pioneers, nor the nations, nor me.
Some Things I have Learned So Far:
There are lots of things I don’t know. And by committing to ongoing education, I am developing as a servant leader and learning how to lead in times of crisis.
Knowing and doing are allies. The first without the latter feeds my pride; the latter on its own causes problems that will need to be fixed. Pride and problems are crises themselves.
I am a better leader this year than I was last year.
I have a long way to go and want to keep reading, listening, reflecting, dialoguing and sharing.
QUESTION: What is something you need to learn today to lead better tomorrow?
Simon serves as the Director of Pioneers Australia. With his family, he joined Pioneers in 2001 following a background in nursing, the pharmaceutical industry, the military, mission work in West Africa and Bible College. He is a champion of both formal and incidental lifelong learning to grow knowledge, improve skills and develop competencies… and simply to stay fresh.