Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

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Managing Leadership Anxiety
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Managing Leadership Anxiety: a review

I would not have readily chosen “anxiety” as the word to characterize my low experiences in leadership. Frustration, yes. Loneliness, yes. Overwhelmed, yes. Disappointment, yes. But I have not often thought of myself as suffering with anxiety. That is, I had not identified my struggles in leadership as anxiety until I read (listened to) Steve Cuss’ book, Managing Leadership Anxiety: Yours and Theirs. I now realize that anxiety has often been at the root of many of these struggles.

In this blog post, I want to continue the theme of the last couple of blog posts – reviewing helpful books on leadership. As was true of both previous blog posts, these books are not only for those in formal leadership roles. All of us in cross-cultural missions are leaders if we are seeking to lead people to change their thinking, beliefs and lifestyle. “Managing Leadership Anxiety” therefore applies to all of us who sense a call to disciple the nations to become followers of Jesus.

Leaders need to manage their own anxiety first

Besides being an author, Steve Cuss is a pastor who began his ministry as a trauma and hospice chaplain. In helping families deal with grief and loss, he learned that he needed to first of all manage his own anxiety. He needed to understand what was going inside of himself before he could truly connect with others. When he became a lead pastor of a rapidly growing church, he realized that anxiety came with that role as well. Cuss needed to develop ways of thinking and behaving that allowed him to manage that anxiety.

The goal of managing anxiety is not simply for relief, it is to connect more fully with God and to raise awareness of what God is doing. Anxiety blocks our awareness of God because it takes our subconscious attention. This means that anxiety can be an early detection system that we’re depending on something other than God for our well-being.

Cuss, Steve. Managing Leadership Anxiety (p. 17).

Not knowing what to do

Cuss defines leadership as knowing what to do. But as leaders, we often don’t know what to do. Yet we have to do something, because we are leaders. This makes us very uncomfortable and leads to anxiety. We worry because we can’t control what is going to happen. We are not sure that we have adequate information, wisdom, or training to tackle the task before us. As leaders, we wish that someone would tell us what to do or that we could be certain of a particular outcome. As Cuss says:

leadership paradoxes

The paradoxes of leadership

Is leadership harder today that it was in the past? I think so. A few weeks ago, I led a leadership training for four new field leaders. As I surveyed the challenges they face and the expectations we have today of our field leaders, I noted that what they are being asked to do is significantly more difficult now than it has been in the past.

Technology raises expectations of leadership

Yes, today leaders have a host of technological tools available to help them communicate and organize and collaborate. But those same tools have also raised expectations of them. Those expectations are about how quickly and creatively they will communicate, how neatly and completely they will organize their work, and how broadly and fully they were collaborate with others. Ironically, that which should make leadership easier has also made it more challenging. This is a paradox of leadership today.

When I first took on a major field leadership role more than 30 years ago, I had neither email, Microsoft Teams nor even a cell phone for communication purposes. I did not even have a landline in my home. In some senses, maybe this should should have made leadership more difficult. But no one expected quick responses, regular check-ins or even monthly communication from me. Most of our decisions were made after months of deliberation and extensive discussion with several other mission leaders. The sending offices back in North America had no expectations that I would be involved in communicating with or facilitating vision trips for new missionary candidates before they arrived. It is hard to even imagine such limited communication from a mission leader today.

The demands of leadership today

Tim Elmore, author and founder / CEO of Growing Leaders, very much agrees that leadership is more difficult today than in the past. In his latest book, The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership: Embracing the Conflicting Demands of Today’s Workplace, he describes why great leadership today is so demanding. The book was published in November 2021. So, it was written in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID has definitely added to the challenges that mission leaders face today. But the challenges of leadership today are not only due to the pandemic.

Leadership is seldom easy, but today it affords us the challenge of collaborating with a more educated, more entitled, more savvy population that has greater expectations of satisfaction and rewards than in past generations. Uncommon leaders stand out because they are able to juggle seemingly contradictory traits to lead such people.

Elmore, Tim. The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership (pp. 9-10).
Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU from Pexels

Finishing Well: Cheering the Next Runner

What would you think of a relay runner who went to the locker room right after completing his or her lap? Perhaps you would think the runner had suffered an injury or had some other health concern. Aside from that, we would question their relationship with the rest of the team. A healthy relay team recognizes that success depends on the performance of each runner. Therefore, each member of the team who has completed their leg stays on the field and cheers on the remaining runners. They stay off the track and cheer from the sidelines.

In this series, we have been using the analogy of a relay race for finishing well in a ministry assignment. So, how do we cheer those who follow us as we complete our ministry assignment? How do we keep from getting in the way of their performance? Our relationship with those who follow us in ministry shapes our cheering for them as they run their lap.

Relationships Matter

Yes, it would be strange for a relay runner to go directly to the locker room. Similarly, it would be tragic for church planters to cut off the relationship with the local church leaders who succeed them in leading the new church. Tom Steffen wrote:

The seventh and final component is determining how church planters can maintain good relationships after the phase-out. They work themselves out of a job, but not out of a relationship. Continued fellowship includes prayer, visits, letters of challenge and encouragement, sending other people to visit, and cautious financial assistance.

Tom Steffen, Passing the Baton, p. 18.
baton transfer

Finishing Well: Transferring the Baton

We are finally getting to the finishing part in our series on finishing well in a ministry assignment. In a relay race, transferring the baton is crucial to finishing well. For example, the US 4 x 100 meter relay team was disqualified in the 1988 Olympics for a late handoff. In a similar way, how we transfer responsibility and leadership defines to a large extent whether we finish well in a ministry assignment.

The incoming runner has the primary responsibility for the transfer of the baton. Specifically, he/she places the baton so that the outgoing runner can grasp it most efficiently. In a church planting assignment, the missionary is directly involved in the training of emerging leaders. However, in administrative assignments, there is usually less involvement in selecting a successor. Nevertheless, one can leave behind a “Policy and Procedure Guide” or a step-by-step manual for the next person filling that role. So, what characterizes a good transfer when we finish our ministry assignment?

The Transfer is Intentional

Throughout his book, Passing the Baton: Church Planting that Empowers, Tom Steffen emphasizes “a comprehensive, phase-out church planting model” (p 7). From the very beginning, the church planting team intends to transfer responsibility and leadership. In other words, this transfer plan guides the whole process of church planting.

Likewise, in an administrative role, we recognize that others will follow us in the role. We are intentional in passing the baton to those who follow us. Successfully transferring responsibility may include cross-training others in the office prior to our departure. 1Cross-training is the practice of training your people to work in several different roles,2 or training them to do tasks that lie outside their normal responsibilities (from Cross-Training – Team Management Skills From MindTools.com). Furthermore, putting together an up-to-date procedural manual will contribute to a smooth transfer. Of course, we also need to spend adequate time in the transition zone. More about that later.

coaching or mentoring
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Do I need a mentor or a coach?

In the last while, I have been thinking about how to strengthen our mentoring within SEND. In a recent analysis of leadership development within our organization, I noted that we needed more intentional mentoring of developing leaders by our current leaders. This is a gap in our current leadership development. Thinking about how to fill that gap has naturally led me to try to define mentoring. How is mentoring different from coaching? SEND U has already sought to create a coaching culture within the mission. More than 200 people in SEND have received some type of training in coaching. So, do we need both mentors and coaches?

Defining coaching and mentoring

A significant difficulty in answering this question is that the definition of coaching varies so much. For example, Lois Zachary and Lory Fischler in their mentoring fable, “Starting Strong” say,

Coaching is more instructive, but mentoring is more of a relationship. It’s not about me telling you what to do and you doing it.

Lois Zachary & Lory Fischler, Starting Strong: A Mentoring FAble, p.21.

Developing leaders: a perspective from Timothy and Titus

When Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus, he showed concern about transitioning to new leadership. He demonstrated a commitment to developing the leadership capacities of Timothy and Titus, his delegates to churches he planted. He is quite concerned about leadership development in the churches. While these letters are not leadership development manuals, there is much we can learn from them. I find five leadership essentials in the letters to Timothy and Titus that should guide leadership development.

CHARACTER MATTERS

Character matters a great deal to Paul. The qualifications for church leaders in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 are mostly behavioral characteristics. As many commentators have pointed out, most of these qualities are expected of believers in general in the New Testament. Church leaders ought to be models of mature Christian character. Christian leadership qualifications encompass the totality of the person, not just skill in ministry tasks.

Saul Was Not Ready

1 Samuel 9 introduces us to a very promising young man named Saul, a young man who we soon find out has been destined by God to become Israel’s first king.  He is from a good, highly-respected family with wealth and influence (1 Sam 9:1).   He himself is physically impressive, tall and handsome (1 Sam 9:2). But this young man has a problem – his father’s donkeys have wandered off, and he and his servant have already spent three days looking for them without success.

At this point, we come to an interesting discourse that gives us a window into Saul’s spiritual formation up to this point in his life.

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