“How are you doing?”
I plop into the massage therapist’s consultation chair and stifle a yawn. Her question is loaded. In the last month I’ve only slept in my bed six times. I leave again in two days for another week.
“I’m exhausted,” I say.
It’s true. I’m worn out and still have two major trips remaining this summer. But I want to seem together and on top of my life so I add a follow up statement to soften the response.
“But sometimes that’s how it goes.”
I’ve been using this phrase a lot lately. Some seasons of life are busier than others. Right now I’m in the middle of the busiest one of the year.
Each summer I lead three to four week-long trips. During these trips I am working every waking moment keeping track of teenagers, constructing, teaching, and overseeing a team of adults. This year added another week-long trip for my sister-in-law’s wedding.
It’s a physically and mentally exhausting schedule. But, that’s just how it goes sometimes.
Except, that’s not how it needs to go.
Great Leaders Evolve
On the first trip of the summer I enjoy a rare two hours to myself on a flight to the Dominican Republic. While the kids fill out customs forms and eat peanuts, I zone out and catch up on David Letterman’s Netflix show.
Sitting across from Letterman is Howard Stern, the King of All Media. They’re discussing Stern’s transition from broadcast radio to satellite. Letterman asks why Stern changed the entire show when he moved to Sirius.
“Bad radio is when you don’t somehow change it up constantly,” Stern says.
“Yeah,” Letterman responds. “You wouldn’t be successful if you did the same kind of radio now as when you first came to New York.”
As Howard Stern points out, change is necessary. If things don’t change, they go bad and quickly lose all relevance. Great leaders must choose between creating “bad radio” or evolving into something different. Stern chose evolution.
That’s not to say Stern changed his principles or his foundation. He might have changed the method of delivery, but Stern always stayed true to his focus. While great leaders evolve, they must stay true to their principles.
The various summer trips I offer teenagers provide tremendous opportunity for growth and personal exploration. This is an extremely valuable foundation that will not waver. Yet the current schedule, which is the same as it’s been for years, is ready for an evolution.
Great Leaders Face Evolutionary Skeptics
Evolution is a natural part of life. It’s the reason you and I are walking upright and made up of more than a single cell. Without evolution, life on earth would be limited to a few select organisms.
Despite overwhelming evidence, there are still skeptics who outright oppose evolution’s role in our world. Likewise, there are people who oppose organizational evolution, too.
The church world, the world I work within, has largely remained unchanged for half a century. Churches, like many people, are fearful of the unknown and stick to what is safe and familiar. These people mean well, though their fear of evolution can cause undue opposition for leaders.
Once a great leader sees the potential for evolution, they must help skeptics understand the vision. This is never easy.
The church I serve is a three-story downtown building. For years the third floor was unbuilt and used as storage. A small team of people developed a vision to provide space for teenagers and fitness classes. The team created plans, took bids, and met with many people who were excited, but unsure.
Through multiple years and fifteen committee votes, the group reiterated the vision until the church agreed to complete the build out. Today, the third floor houses fitness classes, a children’s summer camp, and a place for teenagers.
Leaders must be firm in vision, outline the need for evolution, and move forward. There will always be skeptics, however leaders cannot be deterred.
Great Leaders Evolve Despite Unknown Results
Evolution is easy to see over millennia, yet up close is nearly impossible to spot. Likewise, we can’t always see the ways organizations and programs we lead need to evolve. Sometimes we know there is an evolution needed, but the direction isn’t clear.
We’re at the midpoint of the summer and I know the new school year will look different. It needs to look different. I’m just not sure exactly what different looks like yet. I’ve got ideas and am exploring possibilities, but the exact direction is not yet set.
“How are you doing?”
I’m again in the massage therapist’s consultation chair after returning from yet another trip. There’s still one remaining this summer. I’m tired, yes, and my hip is out of alignment from sleeping on the floor, but I’m no longer exhausted.
On the contrary, I’m energized. I’m excited for the coming evolution of the program, whatever it may be. Sure, there’s another trip this summer but my eyes are focused on what’s ahead. While unknown, the future is bright.
Evolving into an unknown future is risky. It might fail. However, changing things up might just work. It might even thrive. All it takes is a little evolution.
“I’m great,” I respond to the massage therapist’s question. “My hip is out of alignment, but sometimes that’s just how it goes.”