Making Change from Within
The other night I got to have a great conversation with a student who is passionate about her faith, broken over what she sees at her school and how people are content to live without Christ, and frustrated at a student organization. While she was sharing about what all is going on, one thing turned our conversation, when she said "I'm just so frustrated I think I'll leave and next year when they need leadership I'll jump in and take over." I have absolutely no doubt that when she becomes a leader, she'll make things happen, but my counsel to her was to wait and stay and try to change things from within.
We've probably all been there, where we've been in a job or organization or club and things were so frustrating that we wondered if the best thing to do would be to walk away. And that's a perfectly fine option for most people, if something isn't going the way you thought it would or what you had expected, sometimes the best answer is to walk away. But not if you want to see things changed. That's where you have to stay and work for change from within. The best change catalysts come from those who have been there, invested the time and energy, and been willing to be patient for when their time comes.
First, check your motives. Are you interested in making change to an organization because it doesn't match your preferences, or are you interested in making change because you want to see the organization transform into something healthy and effective? Here's the thing, leaders don't get their preferences. Leaders don't get to make things comfortable for themselves. Leaders have to be willing to sacrifice their preferences and their unique taste for the sake of the group. On the other hand, if you're more concerned with health and effectiveness, and you're willing to put your own comfort aside, great things can happen.
Second, learn everything you can. Each organization, whether it's brand new or older than dirt, has a history and culture. Those are summed up in what the organization values, does, and who they attract. Find out why the organization was started, get to know the people who are involved in it, discover what they love and value. If an organization has plateaued and is just in "maintenance mode," chances are someone is there who remembers when things were functioning. Lean on them and find out what the vision was.
Third, be a servant. God's design for leadership is different than the World. In God's design, leadership authority is the direct result of humility and service. Leaders who want to be God's change agent cannot assume they can walk in and take over. Leadership comes through serving others, being humble, and making yourself available to do whatever jobs are necessary. One of the best lessons on leadership came from my mentor in college and grad school, who had a requirement for anyone who wanted to be a public, visible leader: they had to be willing to arrive early and set up chairs. It was a test for those who truly wanted to be a servant leader or who just wanted to be the center of attention.
Fourth, have a plan. When Nehemiah was brought into the King's presence with a plea to rebuild Jerusalem, he didn't make it up as he went. He went in with a specific plan. If you want to be a change agent, you need to set the course. You can't travel somewhere without having a map with a plan (or a GPS). So if you want to be a catalyst for change, know exactly what you want to do different and how you'll do it.
Fifth, build a team mindset. Making needed changes and building something special means gathering a team around you. Teams are built around a common vision and purpose, which is communicated and developed by you as the leader. When you're building a team, you're looking for people who can carry out what you'd like to see happen based on their gifts and abilities. One thing I did when I was looking to transform our student ministry was surround myself with people I could trust and who would be faithful. Those were two values I treasured. From there we could communicate what we were hoping to accomplish and I knew I could count on them to make it happen.
Leading change is never easy, it is often a difficult and rocky road. But if it's for the right motives with the right intentions and the right attitude, it can be a really special thing. The great thing about being the catalyst is that even after you've moved on or graduated, the transformation is still happening. So rather than making surface or superficial things the most important thing, let's aim higher for transformation.
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Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.