During my presentation to our Board of Trustees which initiated our current presidential transition, I opined many older leaders often confuse vision with momentum. What does this mean and why is it an organizational problem?
Effective ministry leaders cast compelling vision for their church or organization and their constituents are enthused by that vision. The word enthusiasm rests on the root en theos which means in God. Vision draws people toward its fulfillment, like a magnetic force of leadership energy. Vision is a powerful spiritual motivator, assuring vitality and providing direction for a church or ministry organization (Prov. 29:18). For many years, my vision for Gateway’s future has done this for us. Vision creates momentum, and we certainly have that as our school is thriving.
The temptation is to ride that wave, enjoying God’s blessing and the fruit of past labors. But, as I told our Board, that would be a disservice to the seminary and a self-serving abdication of my role as president. The seminary needs visionary leadership from someone who envisions the next decade (or more) of the seminary’s progress, communicates those dreams in compelling ways, and takes concrete steps to make the vision a reality. I am willing to admit that’s no longer me.
This is a common mistake some older leaders make. They make claims like, “I am just as energetic, committed, and effective as ever to leading us into the future.” They are deceiving themselves. With rare exceptions, they are riding the momentum of their past decisions and mistaking it for visionary leadership. They are still effectively leading – in the moment – but their organization is slowly starting to wind down because of a lack of visionary leadership.
Admitting this is hard for older leaders. We enjoy the work we do and we are generally still good at it. We enjoy the compensation and other respectful treatment we receive as rewards for our past successes. But those laurels are poison pills of organizational decline. When we make decisions based on our needs or comfort, we have lost focus on making decisions to benefit others – which is the core demand of servant leadership.
Gateway is healthy today – at least in part because of my past leadership decisions. There is no compelling reason to change presidents – except for one. We need visionary leadership – a man who has a passion for shaping leaders for the next generation, sees the possibilities of how that can be done, and is willing to expend himself to lead the seminary for the next decade and beyond.
Momentum is not the same as vision. When an organization is healthy (riding the momentum of past visionary decisions) is the best time to change leaders. Waiting until decline starts or some unforeseen circumstance prompts a sudden change is not the best model for healthy transition. At Gateway, we are healthy, enjoying the momentum of past leadership decisions. This is the best time to initiate a leadership transition.
There is a tendency to overcorrect during leadership transition. Dr. Iorg encourages a more balanced approach in order to make needed adjustments, without the whiplash felt from overcorrecting.
When the Bible warns the rich about misusing their resources, it is speaking to many American Christians.