My twitter feed this week has been liberally sprinkled with intriguing and inspiring quotations on leadership. This was a vast improvement, it must be said, on the weekend, when the feed was dominated by tweets about football and a dancing dog! It was a sign that many of the people I follow had managed to get themselves tickets to the hottest Christian leadership conference in town, hosted by Holy Trinity, Brompton and featuring Tony Blair as a super-duper top-secret special guest speaker.
One of the other super-duper speakers was Mike Pilavachi, leader of Soul Survivor, and a dynamic – nay, hyperactive – speaker.
I asked a friend afterwards what Mike had spoken about, and the answer was ‘vision’. He told a story to illustrate some of the frustrations of being a visionary leader: You suddenly see what the future could look like, the image is crystal clear and desperately exciting. You go to your church, office or ministry team bubbling over with excitement. You paint sweeping mental images of incredible ministry, amazing opportunities and abundant fruit. You share in broad brush strokes the glorious future you have foreseen. Then the administrators start asking ‘How are we going to do it?’
The way my friend related it, Mike saw this as the administrators trying to throw up road blocks and explain to the visionary why his vision would never work. I’m sure, judging from the one occasion I’ve heard him in person, that Mike was using a certain amount of hyperbole. I’m pretty confident that he exaggerated his feeling of frustration with the administrators, but it strikes me that he may have misread what was really going on here.
In his story, Mike has the visionary explaining the vision again, trying to paint it more vividly to convey the excitement and opportunity more clearly, but the administrators just want to know how – what’s the time scale? How will it be funded? What resources do we need? Have we got the man-power…? Where I think he has misread it is in thinking that the detail people haven’t bought into the vision.
He thinks they’re raising objections, whereas what they’re actually saying is: ‘Great vision! We’re behind you 100%. When do we start…?’
How do I know this? Because I’ve been there. If I am following a visionary leader and he comes in with a vision that he is utterly convinced is what God has for us next, I need very little more to convince me that this is right and we need to get to work.
As I talked with my friend, though, we recognised another difficulty, which is all the people in the middle.
Visionaries often seem to have dreams that they know they aren’t to start on right away. They know – probably from experience most of the time – that it is going to take a long time, with a lot of gentle drip-feeding as well as exciting image-painting to bring the hearts and minds of everyone in the church or organisation on board with the idea.
Yet the administrators are itching to get started. They’ve grasped the vision, sorted through it in their minds, rejected the bits that won’t work, figured out how to do the bits that will, and have showed up at the next meeting mentally wearing hard hats and tool belts ready to start work.
If it takes too long before anything starts happening, they are going to get bored and disenchanted, and may start to question whether the leader actually meant it, or believed his own vision, in the first place.
A real challenge for visionary leaders is working out how to keep their nuts and bolts people feeling like progress is being made towards the dream while still edging the late-adopters along to the party (because if the vision seems to be ploughing ahead before they’ve bought into it, they will likely be critical and perhaps feel bullied into a path they’re not yet sure is right).
It’s a difficult line to tread. Has anyone got any examples of where this has been done really well? How have good visionary leaders managed to juggle all the different paces of the people they are leading to achieve a vision?
Share your stories and links to examples below.
PS I know it’s not a Wednesday, but I’m posting this in Leadership Wednesdays anyway, because in the grand scheme of things I don’t think it matters that much, do you?!