Developing Leaders – Tom Yeakley

Taking the Mystery out of Leadership

Archive for the tag “Leading change”

Changing Old Forms and Traditions

On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.  After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.  And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed.  They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.   Act 21:18-21 ESV

Recently, while doing a study through the book of Acts on the ministry forms, I was struck by the above passage.  Paul had just completed his third missionary tour and was now back in Jerusalem.  He was updating the leadership about his ministry among the Gentiles.  The leaders affirmed Paul’s work among the Gentiles and also testified to God’s amazing work among the Jews, having seen thousands put their trust in Christ as their Messiah.

But then the elders make an interesting request.  They asked Paul to join in a vow along with four others as proof that he still lives in observance to the law of Moses (see Acts 21:22-24).  And Paul submits himself to this request, joins the four in their purification rights and presents himself in the temple accordingly.

Some observations:

  1. This incident occurs at least 20 years after Paul’s conversion.  Note that the testimony of the elders is that the Jewish converts are ‘very zealous for the law.’  That is, the Jewish background believers were still following OT Jewish customs and forms.  They had become even more zealous of their Jewish traditions and the OT ceremonial law.
  2. Secondly, the elders concern was that Paul’s appearance among these zealous Jewish believers would be cause for a possible conflict.  Note that it was not the unbelieving Jews who were their concern, but rather the Jewish believers.
  3. It was accepted that Gentile converts were not to follow OT Jewish forms and traditions in their new-found faith, other than the few requests established by the leaders mentioned in Acts 15:22ff after Paul’s first missionary tour.
  4. The elders also assumed that Paul was teaching the Jewish background converts who lived among the Gentiles to leave their Jewish customs and traditions and embrace new forms of worship and lifestyle (Acts 10:21).  He did not refute this claim.

It seems that the emergent Church took many years to leave behind their Jewish forms, traditions, and customs and fully establish ‘new wine in new wineskins’ (see Matthew 9:17).  As more and more Gentile believers emerged, new forms also emerged with them.  Gradually, Jewish forms and customs were left behind.  But it was a long process with many challenges.

Bringing significant change to long-held forms or traditions can be arduous and require much perseverance.  Don’t be discouraged by the length of the change process.  “Mile by mile, it’s a trial; but inch by inch, it’s a cinch!”

Timing is Everything!

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…    Ecclesiastes 3:1  (NIV  1984)

Any gardener knows that you plant your vegetable seeds in the spring and early summer, not mid-winter!  There is a right time and a wrong time for certain activities.  And so it is in your leadership.  Timing is everything!

When Jesus went to the wedding in Cana, the wedding party ran out of wine.  Mary turned to her Son and told Him to please do something about this socially awkward embarrassment (perhaps this was an extended family member’s wedding, thus Mary’s insistence that Jesus help).  Jesus replied, “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” John 2:4  (NIV  1984)  Note Jesus’s sense of timing (regardless of the timing, He did help solve the problem).

We observe some three years later at the end of His public ministry, Jesus is praying the night before His crucifixion.  He says, “Father, the time has come.  Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.”  John 17:1  (NIV  1984)  Now, the time was right for the completion of what He came to earth to do.  Timing is everything!

The Ecclesiastes passage above says that there is a time to laugh and a time to cry, a time to plant and a time to uproot.  There is a time and a season for everything under heaven.  As Kingdom leaders, it’s our job to know what time and season we are in and lead accordingly.

Leading change processes are a part of good leadership.  No leader wants to maintain the status quo.  But, those we lead can only take so much change and a certain rate of change.  Push too hard and they will dig in their heels and refuse to move further.  Move too slowly and they will not embrace the change process, for they see no need to truly change.  It’s a matter of timing – going too fast or too slow can bring trouble.  Timing the rate of change is an art form, not a science.

Strategic leadership sees into the future time horizon by faith and seeks to implement new initiatives to move from current reality to the desired future state.  But the sequence on the steps to move from here to there and the timing of the “travel” is key to accomplishing the mission.  Great plans can come to naught due to a lack of careful attention to the timing of implementation.

What time is it?  Do you know?

 

Leading Change – 2

Overcoming complacency and the desire to maintain the status quo is key to leading change.  John Kotter in his great book titled, “Leading Change” gives us the following reminders on creating a sense of urgency for change.

PUSHING UP THE URGENCY LEVEL
“Creating a strong sense of urgency usually demands bold or even risky actions that we normally associate with good leadership.  Bold means cleaning up the balance sheet and creating a huge loss for the quarter.  Or selling corporate headquarters and moving into a building that looks more like a battle command center.  Or telling all your businesses that they have twenty-four months to become first or second in their markets, with the penalty for failure being divestiture or closure.

“Never underestimate the magnitude of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain the status quo.

“We don’t see these kinds of bold moves more often because people living in over-managed and under-led cultures are generally taught that such actions are not sensible.  If those executives have been associated with an organization for a long time, they might also fear that they will be blamed for creating the very problems they spotlight.  It is not a coincidence that transformations often start when a new person is placed in a key role, someone who does not have to defend his or her past actions.

“Bold moves that reduce complacency tend to increase conflict and to create anxiety, at least, at first.  If top management consists only of cautious managers, no one will push the urgency rate sufficiently high and a major transformation will never succeed.”

How’s your personal sense of urgency for bringing about change?  Is there an agreed upon sense for the need to bring significant change from those you are leading?  What needs to be addressed for you to get that sense of urgency embraced by many you are leading?

Leading Change

John Kotter has written a foundational book on the subject of leading organizational change titled simply, “Leading Change.”  One of the primary obstacles leaders must overcome is the sense of complacency that sees little need to change.

Here’s Kotter’s thoughts on how to overcome such complacency.

ESTABLISHING A SENSE OF URGENCY
“With urgency low, it’s difficult to put together a group with enough power and credibility to guide the effort or to convince key individuals to spend the time necessary to create and communicate a change vision.  People will find a thousand ingenious ways to withhold cooperation from a process that they sincerely think is unnecessary or wrongheaded…In this complacency-filled organization, change initiatives are dead on arrival.

SOURCES OF COMPLACENCY
“Nine reasons help explain this sort of complacency.

(1)  No highly visible crisis existed.
(2)  That meeting was taking place in a room that screamed “success.”  The subliminal message was clear; we are rich, we are winners, we must be doing something right.  So relax.  Have lunch.
(3)  The standards against which these managers measured themselves were far from high.
(4)  The organizational structure focused most people’s attention on narrow functional goals instead of broad business performance.
(5)  The various internal planning and control systems were rigged to make it easy for everyone to meet their functional goals.
(6)  Whatever performance feedback people received came almost entirely from these faulty internal systems.  Data from external stakeholders rarely went to anyone.
(7)  When enterprising young employees went out of their way to collect external performance feedback, they were often treated like lepers.
(8)  Complacency was supported by the very human tendency to deny that which we do not want to hear.  Most of us, most of the time, think we have enough challenges to keep us busy.  We are not looking for more work.  So when evidence of a big problem appears, if we can get away with ignoring the information, we often will.
(9)  Those who were relatively unaffected by complacency sources 1-8 and thus concerned about the firm’s future were often lulled back into a false sense of security by senior management’s “happy talk”.

“Big egos and arrogant cultures reinforce the nine sources of complacency. Never underestimate the magnitude of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain the status quo.”

Are you seeking to lead a change process that is finding it difficult to get traction or overcome inertia?

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