Sometimes, I wish I had a job that was a little easier to explain. A pilot. A mechanic. A doctor. A teacher. We know what these people do.
But when I’m asked about what I do for a living, and I reply – “I help businesses understand and improve their innovation” – I get a lot of quizzical looks. A lot of the time, it’s because businesses don’t know they can understand their innovation performance, and so I start to explain how I can help.
At the core of how I help is a specific tool – called KEYS – that measures a businesses innovation environment. It’s remarkably simple. The employees and managers fill in a survey. The data gets crunched and compared to a massive dataset at Harvard University. It comes back to me. We get insights – and start planning improvements.
This is a tool, or a technique. I began using this as a nervously-knee-knocking 25 year old studying towards his masters. After a brief training – all done over the Internet – I began distributing the survey, analysing the results, and creating reports.
And, it worked! Businesses reported new insights, greater breakthroughs, more ideas and innovation execution, and stronger involvement from their employees.
But – at the end of the day – the value is in the tool. Harvard University have studied, refined and tested their algorithms – ensuring that the outcomes are as accurate and useful as possible. The tool doesn’t really care who is facilitating it – it just does what it was created to do.
Tools and techniques are helpful. They can reduce complexity, provide us with a simple solution, and are often easy to begin using. Tools also don’t care who’s operating them – a traditional gun will fire whenever anyone pulls the trigger. A car starts regardless of the driver.
The problem arises, however, when we start to apply tools and techniques to all areas of life. We assume that every problem is awaiting a technique to fix it – and naively buy into the latest technique that’s coming through.
Think of most blog-article headlines these days. Seven Steps to a Healthy Marriage. Nine Steps to Growing Your Church. Four Steps to Discipleship.
This is the language of technique. The hidden promise is in the title – follow these steps, and you’ll receive these results.
The problem is – techniques are not designed for mystery, uncertainty and difference.
The Way of Wisdom
When I work with an organisation, I also spend time interviewing a range of employees. I try to sit with the most senior and junior employee in the organisation – having coffee with a cleaner, and the CEO. I ask them to share their stories of leadership and innovation, to discuss their perceptions within the organisation, and to identify what they think needs to be improved.
The tool I use provides me with a useful picture and overview of the business. But it’s in the stories, and sitting with people, that the true insights emerge.
And as I discuss with them, I begin to notice habits, words, emotions and gut-feelings about the business. The more I do this – the better I’ve become. Tips from books and articles nudge into my mind. Advice from other consultants, experience from other engagements – they provide moments of value.
Admittedly – I’m still at the beginning of this journey, but have recognised that these insights cannot be taught. No technique or tool can be used to capture a gut-feeling. Instead, this is the way of wisdom – something that is learnt through training-over-time.
Last week, I talked about how we were designed to live under the authority of others – and for Christians, this is particularly under church leadership. I also noted how many of us shrink back at this idea – we don’t want our lives under the scrutiny of others.
Part of this is due to our world’s fixation with the individual – and with the idea that I am in charge, and all is well.
But part of this as well can be laid at how we’ve tended to develop leaders within the church. We have tended to focus on technique and tools, and ignored the way of wisdom. Much of our learning has been borrowed from corporate leadership strategies – and there has been less reflection on what it means to be a wise leader, following Jesus.
I see this in myself – as well as in the gamut of church leaders I’ve met with across my years. The majority are happy to run a training session on discipleship – but struggle to disciple. They can discuss the techniques and tools of pastoral care – but struggle to bring the necessary wisdom to the mysterious, ever-changing life of people in need.
Techniques are useful frameworks, and helpful guides – but they fall short of the human need. When I meet with a leader for guidance or care, I am not often wanting the application of Seven Steps to Care for a Young Adult. I want loving, truthful, Spirit-led wisdom.
And, unfortunately, this is an area where the church – at large – is painfully lacking. Many leaders are painfully awkward in discussing sin, temptation and restoration. A wide range are more comfortable in a meeting room than they are meeting people. Many – myself included here – are slow to listening, quick to speak, and adept at providing pithy advice – rather than prayerful listening, and slow, Spirit wisdom.
A Shining Light
I remember one mentor I had who was a shining example of what this leadership could look like. This man listened carefully as I spoke, asking insightful questions, and provided insight that was soaked in Scripture. He would pray with incredible specificity, listening to God and asking for His wisdom. He would share his thoughts, advise what was his ideas and what was others, and created a space that was full of grace and truth.
And – I looked forward to my meetings with him. I was willingly placing many aspects of my life under his wisdom – and saw them flourish under his guidance. He was never rushed, never shallow in his application – and grounded with a God-centred depth.
I notice in Jesus, too, a focus on wisdom in his leadership of others. When you read the gospels – you never quite know how Jesus is going to respond. In one scene – he’s throwing tables and yelling angrily in the temple. In another, he’s quietly kneeling and writing in the dirt. He meets quietly and caringly with a leader of the Pharisees – a group that wants no part of Jesus. He provides scalpel-like-truth to a Samaritan woman. He speaks in stories to masses, and in straight-shooting statements with his friends.
Jesus way of leading was led by the Spirit. It was not in the application of a single tool or technique, but was developed through a lifetime of prayer, faith and Scripture.
But perhaps the greatest indicator of this was Jesus’ comfort leading real people. Jesus never appears awkward – whether with religious elite, or with children. Heck – children wanted to be with Jesus! Prostitutes, terrorists and criminals – and business men, community leaders and rich families – wanted to spend time with him. And he was OK with this.
When church leaders are uncomfortable with real people – from all walks of life – it is difficult for the church to place their lives under their authority. A focus on technique and tools only widens that uncomfortableness – as we become more familiar with models and theories, than with people-with-heartbeats.
I Know I’m A Noob
As a 31-year-old beginner in leadership, I recognise part of this post comes from an idealistic place. I also recognise that to suggest a technique to improve this is ironically tempting, yet foolhardy.
Instead, I would simply note that Jesus’ life was characterised by three key rhythms.
Jesus prayed. He prayed a lot. He was familiar with the Father, was friends with the Holy Spirit, and invested in these relationships. Jesus never pretended he could lead on his own wisdom. Nor did he appeal to a tool or technique developed before him. Instead, he disciplined himself into constant prayer.
Jesus was soaked in the Scriptures. His words and actions were profoundly prophetic, shaped by the words of the Old Testament. His advice was grounded in the whole canon of the Torah, and his behaviour and actions were guided by these words. He did not just study the Bible – he sought to live by the call on his life that it demanded.
Jesus had meals with people. Throughout all of the gospels, do you notice how much time Jesus spends eating with people? He doesn’t have extensive board meetings. Instead, he meets with people – in their homes, in pubs and restaurants. He learns to love and listen to people vastly different from him. He provides wisdom with wine.
Prayer. Scripture. Food. What could leadership look like if it were governed by these three themes?