THE OFFICER: LEADING IN THE 21ST CENTURY

ipod NanoTHERE I sat in my living room, surrounded by gadgets. My laptop balanced on my knees. My BlackBerry rested on the arm of the chair. The Kindle e-book reader lay within reach. My cordless phone waited nearby and my newly-purchased iPod Nano nestled in my hands. I was trying to figure out how to download music on my new iPod – not much bigger than a postage stamp – while not missing my emails or a phone call.

Several years ago, when researching material on leadership, one piece of advice changed my attitude towards computers. It basically said that to lead in the new century one must keep up with new technology. Let me assure you I am no expert. The intricacies of modern technology I leave to the ones who are. But as leaders we ignore the modern means of communication at our peril if we expect to relate to people in the 21st century.

Yet while means and methods change, the way we lead still bears the marks of our life experiences. Of course it has also been honed through conferences attended, formal study, books read and advice from our mentors. But reflecting on what I do presently, I realise that it is not much different from what I did as a corps officer. The circle of influence has increased dramatically but the tasks and relational challenges are not dissimilar.

More than 40 years ago, I chaired corps council meetings where we discussed programme, strategies and business. Census board meetings related to personnel matters. Now I chair our International Management Council where policy and strategising the vision occupy our time as leaders. International Appointment Boards are all about personnel.

Leading in the 21st century has increased the need for a team approach and a missional mindset when dealing with vital matters at our decision-making boards. How grateful we should be for years of valuable experience in this regard in our various appointments! Reading about effective leadership of boards is one thing. However, nothing beats the consistent practice of sound and tested principles and the group dynamics by which decisions are made. Central to our discussions and conclusions is our mission.

Effective communication will never be out of style whether we are writing, preaching, teaching or simply talking to someone. Knowing how to formulate ideas and present them concisely with clarity and conviction is a necessary and invaluable skill. Again, thanks to the diverse ministry opportunities received from the Lord, we usually get plenty of practice.

People-oriented ministry is the priority. It has always been so. It will never change no matter when and where we serve. All of the above leadership skills are very important and we could even conclude that at their best, they are all about people. But we are on dangerous ground if we think that technology, board discussions, articles or pulpits are the most effective means of touching people’s lives. Recently I received a pencilled note from a homeless man. He wrote of the impact on him of an officer’s personal touch. She knows his name. She prays with him. Then he wrote, ‘and she washes our feet’.

As officers, personal contact is crucial and is integral to our ministry whether it is as preacher, teacher, or administrator. We need to constantly remind ourselves that ‘the Word was made flesh’ (John 1:14 KJV). If we need to see God in flesh, in our neighbourhoods, then our people need to see us in the same way. The God who is with us wants us to be with people, never at arm’s length.

To give spiritual leadership in the 21st century, we need to be people with spiritual depth and credibility. This does not come by techniques or formulas. Authenticity unwrapped is perhaps best described as the fruit of the Spirit. And that comes through the daily walk with God in intimacy, honesty and integrity.

What an amazing time to be leaders! So much has changed. Yet so much has not. We still lead as officers for him, for them, for life!

First published in The Officer, May 2012

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