What Kind of Leader Is Needed for This Moment?

Excerpted From
Leadership for a Time of Pandemic
By Tod Bolsinger

When an organization faces the unknown, they must immediately begin to wisely adapt their mission and responses to the changing environment or circumstances so that new possibilities arise for understanding and facing their challenges with new actions. Just as an organism must adapt in order to thrive in a changing environment, so organizations need to adapt to the changing world around them without losing their fundamental identity, their reason for being, and their core values and purpose. This kind of leadership is complex and fraught with loss, fears and anxiety, which cause us to feel off-balance and insecure. But this is the essence of leadership in a changing world.

For most organizational leaders, this vulnerability and disequilibrium is itself unfamiliar and deeply distressing. We become leaders because we were once accomplished contributors. Most of us were promoted to leadership because we excelled in certain tasks and achieved certain educational standards. Many of us have master’s degrees, and we who became lead pastors did so because we demonstrated skills in preaching, teaching, program management and administration. Those of us who are executive directors of nonprofit and mission organizations were chosen because of our talent for vision casting, strategic planning and fundraising. In other words, we had technical competencies that gave us credibility and relational and personal character qualities that led people to trust us with the very mission that has brought us to this most challenging moment—when a new kind of leadership is needed.

What does a transformational leader look like? What is the combination of capacities and character that is necessary for leadership in this changing context, and even more specifically, what does church and nonprofit leadership for an uncharted territory require of us who are called to lead?


Transformational leadership for uncharted territory lies at the intersection of three overlapping leadership components: technical competence, relational congruence and adaptive capacity.

These three spheres indicate the different ways that leaders function in an organizational system in order to bring transformation. And function is a key word. It’s an obvious but often overlooked truth: Nothing changes until there is a change in behavior. Nothing has changed until people start functioning differently. If missional leadership is about the transformation of an organization so that they, collectively, can fulfill the mission they, corporately, have been given, then leadership in a disrupted context requires different ways of functioning than the old list of preaching, liturgics, pastoral care and running meetings. In this model, each component is essential:

Transformational leadership begins in technical competence—that is, the skills and abilities that serve and manage the current needs of the organization. In this sense, leadership begins in management or stewardship—taking care of those tasks, priorities and relationships that protect and preserve the organization.

Transformational leadership is validated in relational congruence—that is, the character, care and constancy that create the necessary health and trust in an organization that enable it to let go, learn as you go, and keep going. When leaders function with relational congruence, they strengthen the bonds, deepen the affection and create the wellspring of trust needed to go off the map.

Transformational leadership becomes transformational through the integration of adaptive capacity—that is, the ability to lead the process of shifting values, habits and behaviors in order to grow and discover solutions to the greatest challenges brought on by a changing world. It is absolutely dependent on the leader’s own commitment to personal transformation.

For Christian leaders, while the urgency of transformation is made evident by the reality of our circumstances, the energy for transformation is inherent in our call and identity as followers of Jesus. We are not adapting just to survive but to thrive! We are called to adapt to a changing world because we are called to reach that changing world. We participate in Jesus’ mission to reestablish the will of God “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10) while becoming more and more “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29) to the glory of God.

This dual vision of transformation is the very reason for being for our churches. We exist to reveal the presence and character of God in the world, being transformed as we participate in God’s transforming work in the world. Leadership requires a commitment to transformation, and transformation is the goal of leadership. To put it another way: leadership into uncharted territory requires and results in transformation of the whole organization, starting with the leaders. Only as leaders are transformed and grow in competence, congruence and adaptive capacity do they have the ability to face the challenges of a new day, a new geography, a new set of circumstances and a rapidly changing world.

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Excerpted from Leadership For a Time of Pandemic by Tod Bolsinger. Copyright (c) 2020 by Tod E. Bolsinger. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. IVPress.com

Tod Bolsinger
Tod Bolsingerhttps://bolsinger.blogs.com/

Tod Bolsinger is a speaker, executive coach, former pastor and author who serves as associate professor of leadership formation and senior fellow for the De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Seminary. He is the author of Canoeing the Mountains and the forthcoming title Tempered Resilience (both IVP).