Leading When Nothing Is Normal

5 keys to leading in uncertain times

1. Desiring “Normal” Is Human; Expecting It Will Get You in Trouble.

Expecting normal right now is like seeing a tidal wave coming at you and thinking you’ll go surfing. That may be a bit overdramatic, but it’s a good picture. You get to pray for the life you desire, but you must lead through the life you have. I pray every day that God will shut down the coronavirus and heal the sick. But I must lead in the reality of the virus. The big idea is that your leadership will help you create that better reality for those you lead and for you too.

2. Don’t Merely Surrender to a New Normal; Help Create It.

You can have almost anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want. That’s instructive in how we lead, pray, and live our lives. That requires insight and discernment to know how to make the right decisions. There is no value in surrendering to circumstances; if you do, you abandon hope. Here’s a better direction. See your vision for a better life within the reality we live in; then do your best to shape a new reality. You can’t do it all, but you can make a difference. If enough Christian leaders consistently make biblical decisions that honor God and are in the best interest of others, eventually that wins.

3. Get Focused and Fierce About What You Can Do.

You can’t surf a tidal wave, but you can get in the water and make some waves that bring momentum.

• Concentrate on mission-centered small wins. Again, start your leadership thinking and conversation with what you can do. Make a shortlist. Among those options, what is God blessing? What’s working? What could you do to push it across the goal line with a concentrated leadership effort? Do that! And make sure you tell your congregation! Thank God publicly and celebrate the win. Don’t worry if it’s a small win; celebrate it!

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• Practice option thinking. I’m still fond of a leadership expression that says, “No plan B.” I like the spirit of that idea, but I don’t like its lack of reality. Options thinking, sometimes called contingency thinking, is not the same as selling out. It’s not “hedging your bet.” It’s smart leadership.

Options thinking is like playing chess instead of checkers. It’s about thinking ahead.

• Focus on the next step.

When leading in times of disruption, making detailed plans that span a couple of years or so is a waste of time. Your vision should span three to five years or longer, but in this season, your plan is best implemented by knowing a few possible smart next moves, (like chess), and pick the next best step you can make. Then quickly evaluate the results, make any needed adjustments, and make your next best move. Take the next step.

4. Paddle Harder.

When you’re out on a calm lake in a canoe, you can paddle casually. When the water gets rough, you paddle harder to gain forward motion. There is nothing casual about leading right now. Some leaders feel paralyzed because they think there is nothing they can do, so they lead casually or passively. That not only won’t realize any progress, but that approach actually loses ground. Similar to when you’re on the lake, and the water gets really rough, it won’t help if you panic. Desperate leaders often make poor decisions. Paddling harder is still about thinking strategically, not paddling frantically.

5. Remember What You Believe.

When you experience stress, pressure and challenges greater than you know what to do with, remember what you believe. When things are really tough, I take extra time to reflect on and gain strength from my belief in my calling; my belief in the power of the Holy Spirit; and my belief that I’m not alone.

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Executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia (12Stone.com), Dan Reiland recently wrote Confident Leader! (Thomas Nelson) and blogs at DanReiland.com.