Notes on Ben Sherwood’s talk at GLS2019, “Leadership in Disruptive and Changing Times.”
I can confidently say that we, in the Church, and we, in the Nation are in disruptive and tumultuous times. It takes a bold, courageous leader to lead in this kind of perpetual turmoil.
What is required to be a bold leader? Consider the story of David and Goliath. All the odds were stacked against David. But his strategy, using a stone to kill a giant, was so unconventional that even though Goliath had the greater strength, he lost. David was an innovative leader. From him and many others we learn that to be a bold leader requires the ability to innovate.
Why is this important for an ecclesial leader? The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a radical way to live. Shouldn’t the parish reflect some of that radicality? And if it is going to reflect Jesus’ bold, back to God’s plan leadership, then the current ecclesial leaders must be bold and innovative as well. It’s what Jesus intended.
How do you become a bold, innovative leader? Sherwood offered these steps:
- Seek the unconventional. Unconventional, innovative tactics surpass the side with the greater power.
- Generate ideas. An abundance of good ideas helps to make a bold leader. And generate a LOT of ideas. The quality and quantity of ideas will make all the difference. Somewhere in those ideas is the one(s) that will move you forward. Where do these ideas come from? From leaders who are continuously curious; from leaders and teams who don’t keep looking back at what was, but instead look ahead at what could be; from leaders who believe in magic, or as Catholics would say, the mysteries that arise when the Holy Spirit is in charge. As Pope Francis reminded those gathered for the Synod on the Amazon, we are “walking together under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the principal actor of the synod. Please, let us not throw it out of the hall.” The Holy Spirit is also the principal actor in each parish, the inspiration for an abundance of wonderful ideas.
- Be all in. Sherwood encouraged, “When you believe in something, believe it all the way.” Leaders must be as convinced of the power and potential of the idea as Jesus was of his mission. Believe all the way! Go to the mat for the idea. Do what it takes to make it come to life…even the hard stuff.
- Maintain your bearings. In a crisis, maintain your point of reference, your beliefs. What are you doing to keep in touch with the vision and mission of your parish? How are you assuring that what you are dong with the parish’s resources is actually moving toward the mission? And what are you as the leader doing if you discover that what you are doing contradicts either the vision or the mission?
- Be patient. Wait for the sudden and violent motion that bold leadership starts to stop. Let things settle and stay calm. Jesus calmed the stormy seas then and he will do the same again, if you are living through the kinds of storms that arise when you are as bold a leader as he was.
- Practice realistic optimism. Be ruthlessly honest about the challenges you face. But at the same time, be persistently optimistic that with God, all things are possible. With the Holy spirit, you can and will do as Jesus did, and greater. There will be costs…tremendous cost. Jesus showed us that on the cross. But there will be amazing grace and astonishing new life as well. He showed as that as well.
- Get started. Sherwood profoundly stated, bold leaders get started by getting started. Stop overthinking, don’t get into analysis paralysis or waiting for the perfect time or the right amount of money or a fully developed plan. Get started. Energy begets energy. Inertia begets inertia.