How to lead and gain clarity when in organizational, team, or project overwhelm
Cross-cultural work is way more nuanced than it used to be.
As recently as 20 years ago, it was possible to do effective cross-cultural work with a religious worker visa, holding studies in your home, happily sharing and planting without so much concern over visas and ministry platforms.
We all know that’s not the case today. Governments want to know you’ll bring practical value to society beyond “Good News” they have yet to understand. So many are using a variety of strategies–from for-profit businesses to non-profit foundations. Community centers and community development organizations are in abundance. We’re often asked to lead them with a Master’s in Theology, rather than an MBA.
It’s overwhelming. It’s difficult to figure out where you are, let alone what you should be doing. What’s the next thing? What is the outcome? How do we set goals? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier and much less complicated to have a Bible study at home?
Today, I want to give you a place to start.
Start with your current season.
For those who live in the tropics, bear with me here. I know you basically have two seasons: hot-dry and hot-wet. While the parallels are similar, your experience differs from those of us who live closer to the poles.
The natural world revolves around seasonality. We learned pretty early in human history that it would be foolish to try planting corn in the fall or to think we might reap a harvest in the spring.
Solomon knew this in ancient times: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1
If you are in the overwhelm of leading–be that an organization, a project, or anything you find yourself “in charge of,” take time to think about your current season*. Is it your organization, project, or thing you are in charge of’s spring, summer, winter, or fall?
Spring is the season of all things new. It’s the time of startup! Projects and initiatives in the spring are just getting started. There is a lot of volatility, guesswork, and hope. There are no roots. We don’t know if this will work. But spring is the heady time of getting things started. Organizations or projects who find themselves in the spring should ask themselves the following questions:
1. What are we truly passionate about?
Spring organizations or teams should take time to understand who they are. It’s easy for an organization in start-up mode to think about short-term gain over long-term growth. Avoid this trap. Be sure you know what you’re about. Know what you’re willing to suffer for.
2. Who is this for?
We talked about this last month. Know your beneficiary. Know who it is that you’re serving. What are the advantages you provide for them?
3. What’s it going to take?
At start-up stage, know from the beginning the resources necessary to make this work. What’s it going to take in terms of time, skills, and cash to start, grow, and sustain our organization or project?
If you are just getting started, you are living in your organization’s spring. Start here.
Some of you are out of the start-up stage, and now in a place of increasing vitality. Like spring, summer can be chaotic. The climate is right. Summer is the season for growth.
Your project or initiative might be in its summer–things are really taking off. Sometimes, they may be really blowing up. Either way, if you’re leading through summer, ask these three questions:
4. What is our real purpose?
Summer brings lots of options. It is more important than ever to figure out where your team will make its deepest impact on the surrounding culture. You can’t just let everything grow in any direction it wants. Natural growth must be pruned and purged. Let your clearly defined purpose guide your pruning.
5. Who is this *really* for?
You defined your target in the spring. Now it’s time to focus. Instead of just “target” recipients and beneficiaries, clarify your “ideal” recipients and beneficiaries. What are the advantages you alone provide to this select group of people?
6. What kind of team do we need to build?
We are minimalists in the spring/start-up stage. When growth happens, it’s critical to spend time and energy building a team. What kind of team do you need to build? Where are you strong? Where do you need more strength? Your team is the lynchpin for extending this season of growth and the coming harvest.
Now it’s time for maturity. Visible growth seems to slow down. But the maturation process is simple. Real fruit and productivity are happening. Fall is the season we reap the benefits from the hard work of spring and summer. You’re past the crazy of start-up and you’ve witnessed a long summer of growth. Recognize that the current slowdown is normal. It’s a sign you’re a maturing organization, project, or opportunity. Here are the questions to ask in autumn.
7. Who are our partners?
Maturity means thinking outside of your own organization or project. If you can realize your vision on your own with no outside help, your vision is too small. Who are the key relationships that allow you to fulfill the entirety of your purpose?
8. What is our platform?
You now know how you make a difference. Be clear with your team about the difference you make. What makes us unique? How are we particularly suited and capable to do what we do? This is tough to answer in spring or summer. It’s only with maturity that we can define platform at this level.
9. How do we improve our systems?
This is hard for those who love the Wild West feel of start-up. We make up systems along the way in spring and, to a certain extent, in summer. But a successful fall means creating impressive systems for ongoing development and maturity.
Winter is a scary time for most organizations, projects, or opportunities. The glory days of summer are a distant memory. Even the maturity that comes with fall seems in decline. What do we do? Shut the doors? Turn it over to someone else? Figure out something to renew the work? These are troublesome questions to answer. While we can’t see it, winter growth is some of the most important. To lead your organization through a cold and difficult winter, here are three questions to guide you back to real renewal.
10. How are we preparing future leaders?
There is a new generation of leaders following in your footsteps. How are you, your organization, or team preparing others to run with the vision? Too many leaders hold on to power. The best way for organizational and project leaders to future-proof their organization is to let go of power and entrust the next generation of leaders.
11. What is our impact?
Winter is when leadership should consider the real impact our organization or team is making on the community and in the world. Winter is a season of uncertainty. It’s important to understand the things that outlast us. What are we doing that is meaningful, significant, and timeless?
12. Where do we need to innovate?
Winter is when leaders scan the horizon to see what’s coming. Practice the three sights. Hindsight is learning what we can from the past. Insight is learning what we can from inside the organization or initiative. Outsight is gaining clarity on what is going on outside of our organization, project, or region. Consider what you learn and work with your team to innovate for renewal.
If you’re a new leader in the middle of organizational or project overwhelm, take time to clarify your season. Once you’ve determined your season, ask and answer these questions with your team. This will give you the clarity you need to move forward!
What season is your organization in? What season are you in?