How Well Do You Handle Change?

April 20, 2006

A friend sent this quote, which is slightly paraphrased from the Coporate Shrink in the March 2006 issue of Fast Company:

By the time one hits mid career, personalities and styles are largely set. The biggest variable in the Journey is ones own choices of personal flexibility and open-mindedness to listening and learning. These qualities are hard to teach and even harder to acquire as we age. For the ambitious, driven executive the degree of difficulty is extremely high and could well break their career if “choices and changes” are not made wisely and flexibly. With rapid globalization and technological innovation, the more one can tolerate or even enjoy ambiguity, uncertainty, and change, the more successful that person will be.

It’s a good quote, and it rings true for anyone serving in the ministry today. I didn’t know what to do with the quote until I read Peggy Noonan’s column called Don’t Wait, Calibrate. Noonan talks about how past presidents welcomed dissent and vigorous debate inside the White House. They wanted to hear many different points of view, knowing that in the end, as Mr. Bush said earlier this week, the president is the decider. But decisions are only as good as the information you have to work with. After considering how other presidents welcomed debate, she comes to her point:

George W. Bush, on the other hand, does not tolerate dissent, argument, bitter internal battles. He is the decider. He decides, and the White House carries through. He is loyal to his aides, who carry out his wishes.

On one hand, she says, Mr. Bush is tough and brave and stubborn and he leads with his heart. But sometimes you need to question yourself, endure hellacious arguments and referee bitter debates. Noonan comes up with this memorable line regarding presidents who look to history for vindication: “Just because they call you a jackass doesn’t mean you’re Lincoln.”
Leaders must strike a balance between conviction and ambiguity. It was said about Ronald Reagan that he had a few core beliefs that animated his entire presidency. Everything else was just details. There is an important message here for all church leaders. Change is upon us, and there is no going back to doing church the way our grandfathers did it. Moody and Spurgeon both died over a century ago. Woe to those who try to live in the past. Woe also to those who forget the past. The path for effective ministry lies somewhere between those two woes. Happy are those who know what they believe and why they believe it, and are relaxed enough to enjoy the journey into an ever-changing future.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?