How to Cultivate Leaders Who Can Solve Cross-Cultural Dilemmas

When we executives pick leaders across any Christian or secular field, we often look for the visionary, the organizer or the driver. These are great. But among leaders of cross-cultural missions that traverse national and cultural norms, I find that the key common denominator is that they are creative mavericks addicted to spanning boundaries.

These boundary-spanners like to stake themselves where several cultural boundaries collide, and they demolish stone walls to make cobble pathways. They blow up the boundary lines until what-is-yours and what-is-mine blurs. Boundary spanners repaint solid lines into dotted lines. They do not think or do things always within the set processes of the organizational manual. Rather, they design in the gaps and white spaces and, in doing so, they often step on your toes and mine. They sometimes frustrate their colleagues, and they can bring me to my wit’s end.

But this is exactly the kind of global leaders we need: creative mavericks and boundary-spanners who can solve cross-cultural dilemmas. They keep our organizations spiritually ventilated with fresh inspiration.

In what I have observed in my time leading, there are three keys to raising up global leaders in our organizations who can create solutions across boundaries:

1. We need to provide room for mavericks and spanners to roam, create and be heard.

For example, although we have our time-tested flagship missions and church planting training, each of our sending hubs are innovating their own modules and deliveries with hip names relevant to their contexts. Yet these creative trainings are hitting the bullseye of our vision and core mission. Contrary to our worst fears, innovations create new expressions to prevent mission drift, keeping mission adaptable and relevant.

2. Innovative solutions must percolate up from the grassroots, not be mandated from executive suites.

Maverick ideas are birthed when drinking tea together on the front porch, chatting on a trail, and concocting a fusion dish in the kitchen. In Europe, where church planting is difficult, one of our multi-national teams living among the Muslim diaspora formed language incubators so that American, Asian, and Muslim newcomers could all learn the host language together. As a result, neutral communities and genuine relationships have been formed, and now their Muslim friends are following Jesus.

3. The most effective and innovative solutions are simple, accessible and reproducible.

Innovations that help finish the Great Commission must be able to make a difference from one nation to another, from one culture to another, and from one social class to another. Therefore, they must be easy to learn and teach, accessible with the resources at hand, and transferable from your culture to my culture. For example, to bring sustainability to our indigenous church planters in our church movements, we use oral-based business training that is conducted in pictures, skits, and group activities, followed by mentoring. As a result, our local workers among the unreached have started and multiplied businesses, and in turn are training other church planters to start and run businesses that can provide for their families. Innovations that cannot be easily transferred, adapted, and multiplied will not be able to cross nations.

Yesterday, I came back from a conference where several people commented on how our organization is constantly innovating new mission products. Although it may ruffle my feathers a bit less to have “yes Mary” teammates, I’m happy and challenged to lead a team of creative mavericks addicted to spanning boundaries!

This article originally appeared on and is reposted here by permission.