Leading In The Shadow Of Uncertainty

Do you ever find yourself wondering if the next step you want to take is actually the one you’re supposed to?  I’ve been soaking up this great book lately called  Next Generation Leader: Five Essentials for Those Who Will Shape the Future by Andy Stanley.  Its not a very large book, but I’ve really been taking a ton of notes so it’s been a slow process.  I want to take a quick look at the word “clarity” today to give you some thoughts on leading in the shadow of uncertainty.

Whether you are in full time youth ministry, or you volunteer, or you came across this article as someone who is in the secular work force you can probably relate to this nagging thought.  “If I’m in leadership, I should probably know what to do … all the time.”  The problem is, if you are honest with yourself, you don’t.  Neither do I.  The good thing is neither does Andy Stanley, and he runs a mega church!  As a young leader he said he would think, “Leaders are supposed to be able to stand up at any given moment and give direction with absolute certainty.  Or so I thought.”

In all reality, uncertain times won’t be going away … ever.  Andy came to a point where he had to decide that uncertainty is actually “a permanent part of the leadership landscape.”

Do we let that choke the life out of us?

Do we cower in a corner?

Do we call our mom and ask for help?

Please don’t.  Especially don’t do the last one.

The art of clarity

In describing the art of clarity, Andy uses to picture of a quarterback on a team that’s six points behind on 4th and 8 with five minutes in the game.  “With limited information and facing an unpredictable outcome, you do what every quarterback in that situation does: You draw upon your knowledge and intuition and you call the play.”  He goes on to say, “As any quarterback will tell you, that kind of clarity requires both confidence and humility.  Confidence to move boldly in the direction you have determined.  Humility to acknowledge that at best you are making an educated guess.”

So why is it that most of us are comfortable with “coaches, captains, and catchers giving clear signals in the midst of uncertainty” when it terrifies us in our own business or ministry?

More responsibility = more uncertainty

When you had your first job you probably just needed to listen to what the boss told you.  As time has gone on and your responsibilities have increased, you may find yourself more and more wary of your ability to lead.  The fact is, you’ve likely been handed the responsibility you have because you’ve shown your self capable of leading.  Andy notes, “The cost of success as a leader is greater uncertainty, not less.  This is why it is imperative for you to learn now how to thrive in uncertain environments.  They don’t go away.”

He mentioned in the book that in the early stages of his church’s life, they wanted to do small groups in people’s homes in place of Sunday school.  They talked about it for the longest time.  The subject dragged on for over a year.  Every time it was discussed, there were dissenters.  At the end of one meeting in particular, someone began expressing all their concerns and objections on small groups meeting in homes.  Andy finally had enough.

He “smiled and quickly reviewed the discussions [they] had been having for the previous year.  Then [he] said, ‘After tonight we are not going to discuss ‘if’ anymore.  We are moving forward.  From now on I need you to focus your energies on ‘how.’  There are many unanswered questions.  None of us have ever been part of a church that was organized around home groups.  We have a lot to learn.  Feel free to question our implementation, but not our direction.  As of tonight, we go forward.'”

Today, thousands of adults are involved in small groups in his church.  Many of the people in that meeting went on to be some of his key leaders in his small group ministries.  He notes, “Were we certain of the outcome?  No.  Were we clear about our direction?  Absolutely.  The goal of leadership is not to eradicate uncertainty, but rather to navigate it.  Uncertainty is a component of every environment that calls for leadership.  Where you find one, you will always find the other.”

Take those you lead on a journey

Just keep the people in mind who are following you as you navigate these waters.  Do not forget to encourage them.  Let them know you are in this with them.    Remember that “most of the time we are asking people to follow us to places we ourselves have never been.  There aren’t any photographs – we are left with word pictures, metaphors, and illustrations.  There are no maps to guide us – we are left to cut the trail.  Yet as we move forward into the uncertainty before us, we sense the need to turn occasionally and assure those who follow.”

How are you managing the uncertainty?

I’d like to hear your comments.  I’m really enjoying this awesome book.  This is just a snippet and I highly recommend you read the whole thing.  It’s filled with great stuff!

Sound off in the comments below!

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