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Making Decisions as a Leader

Decision making is far more than listing down the Pros and Cons. It involves more than thinking through the options and seeking godly counsel. It is more far reaching than being able to meet a dateline and therefore moving on to the next thing.

As a leader, decision making is a discipline, a process, and an exercise in personal growth, leadership responsibility and corporate accountability.

The leader’s decisions, after all, impacts many other lives.

Yes, it is a fearful prospect and many of us are paralysed into quasi-decision making; where we tilt towards a certain direction and then let the circumstances play themselves out.

But in fact Scripture gives us many models of decision making and the impact of the leader’s decisions.

(I) decision pertaining to personal calling

Abraham had to make decisions in response to God’s clear leading and his decisions affected his family directly. Sarah was put into a position of great risk because Abraham wanted to save his own skin. This choice reflected a lack of thorough commitment to the covenant God made that the promised heir will come through Sarah.

(I I) decisions pertaining to the formation of a nation

Joshua had to make many hard decisions in order to secure the perimeter of the Promised Land. Each battle required him to be sure it was sanctioned by God and that the people would be assured of victory.

(III) decisions pertaining to specific instructions

Jonah was told to go to the Ninevites. It wasn’t something within his comfort zone at all and he made the decision to avoid obeying the instruction. His decision led to an innocent group suffering a stormy gale and losing precious cargo.

 

While these stories highlight for us the humanity we all share; it is important that as leaders we do not gloss over the repercussions of decisions poorly made.

Of course, precisely because our decisions impact others; we want to be careful. But how can we proceed without letting caution overtake faith?

St Ignatius of Loyola probably developed the most demanding grid and process for decision-making. The word used is ‘discernment’. In fact, this is a far better word for spiritual leaders.

Decision-making posits agency upon us; discernment changes the tone: we are seeking to see God’s hand and sense God’s work – and flow with it.

Ignatius’s elaborate and methodical ways of developing discernment especially for one’s sense of vocation is something we need to recover today.

But for now, I want us to consider 3 aspects that we need to include as we discern and decide.

Being aware of these aspects will help us to recognise that our perception, judgement and therefore decisions are often coloured and therefore the need to exercise due care so that we can arrive at better (not perfect) decisions as leaders.

A) Being aware of how we learn and process (epistemology)
Here I am not speaking of whether we are visual learners or audio ones. That is a helpful thing to know too; but I am rather thinking of knowing our own bent. Some of us take a long time to include new and contrary information, yet many times; these kinds of information is needful for a good, sound discernment. After all, the Lord puts diversity in the body to give it strength. Others of us have not developed the habit and discipline of thinking issues through to their theological and teleological conclusions. This accounts for why we follow fads and lose steam with sticking with our once zealous convictions.
Making sound, solid, thorough decisions after sensing what the issues, implications and motivations are take time. This leads us to the next aspect.

Good discernment and decision-making takes into account how the leader learns; and he/she should be learning more about him/herself, theology, the world, and ministry with each decision.

B) Being aware of our own spiritual hang ups and strengths (spirituality)
It is well known that our strengths are often our weaknesses too. Good, responsible leaders keep this in view and find a way to have themselves checked so that they are not leaning too much into something that boosts their ego, promotes their safety or reinforces their position. Very few of us are so surrendered and set free as to harbour no selfish ambition.

The famous Johari’s window reminds us that we all have blind spots – areas that others can see but we are not fully aware of. Good leaders seek out the insights and care of others to minimise this, because they know their decisions impact other lives – sometimes very severely.

Leaders need to be aware of what they tend to lean into and sometimes intentionally go against the natural bent so that the decisions are made more from faith than fear.

C) Being appreciative of the community (ecclesiology)
It is a sorry development that we have chosen to place the full burden of decision-making on the leader. This reminds us of the story of the early Israelites in Exodus, who chose to stay at a distance and let Moses deal with God on their behalf. With the giving of the Holy Spirit to each believer and follower; the community now plays an important part in our lives and choices. There is wisdom, support, caution, intelligence, and resources that God would provide. This is such a strong theological sticking point for John Calvin that he moved the church away from an ecclesiastical structure of the episcopacy to the presbytery. (We can debate this another time). But suffice to say, the New Testament insistently situated the individual in community; and the leader is no exception.

Leaders must learn how to leverage upon community maturity, dynamics and season for decision making. A great decision becomes a poor one when the community isn’t ready for it – the most common lesson we learn in change management.

In the end, our decisions are like points on a Long trajectory. We need to hold to the tension of their importance and take a longer view of how they will play out with time.

Sticking to our convictions..what Paul can teach us.

Leaders make loads of decisions. People expect them to. They need to.

But leaders also make many personal decisions.

Paul made a decision to go to Jerusalem. At this point, he has made significant impact all through West Asia and Southern Europe. We read in Acts that his decision was called into question twice.

Fellow believers in Tyre “through the Spirit” urged him to abort his plan (Acts 21v4). Later in Caesarea, a prophet named Agabus shared that Paul would be captured and subjected to godless men. Again fellow believers tried to dissuade Paul but he refused to budge so that they had to admit, “The Lord’s will be done.” (Acts 21v14)

The rest of Acts is a record of Paul’s tumultuous trip to Jerusalem, the severe troubles he faced there which led to his arrest first in Jerusalem then to Caesarea; and finally to Rome after a two-week long storm. The episode ended on this note:

“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Did Paul make a mistake by insisting on going to Jerusalem? He had consistent trouble with Jews who saw the gospel as an aberration and threat to the Jewish faith; but to walk into the headquarters of Jewish religiosity seems foolhardy. We can speculate about what greater good would come about if he continued with his missionary efforts rather than wait around for justice  – first under Felix’s, then Agrippa’s charge. More than four years of waiting for a proper trial.

But many scholars believe that it was this last period of house arrest that afforded Paul the time to compose his many epistles. In the letter to the Christians at Philippi, Paul refers to the many he talked with while under arrest; including members of Caesar’s household.

We do not know for sure what happened to Paul.

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William Barclay in his commentary:

And so the Book of Acts comes to an end with a shout of triumph….Now the tale is finished; the story that began in Jerusalem rather more than thirty years ago has finished in Rome. It is nothing less than a miracle of God. The church which at the beginning of Acts could be numbered in scores cannot now be numbered in tens of thousands. The story of the crucified man of Nazareth has swept across the world in its conquering course until now without interference it is being preached in Rome, the capital of the world. The gospel has reached the centre of the world and is being freely proclaimed…. (“The Acts of the Apostles,” 193)”.

The grand narrative of God’s Kingdom pushes on forward. Paul’s personal narrative is part of this. We may never know how things would turn if Paul listened and changed his mind. But God’s grand narrative will march triumphant on.

As leaders, we sometimes follow our convictions and find ourselves in hot soup. We may even struggle with shadows of ‘what-if’ and wonder if we have listened to all counsel etc.

Our hope lies not in our ability to decide with full accuracy, for it is not possible. However, we can learn from Paul that choices require conviction, and sometimes others may not support our convictions. We also learn that our choices and decisions – when it is to obey God – can take us to surprising and hard places. But our heart’s desire must remain unmixed, and we must not waver: we must continue to proclaim the Kingdom.

This means it is good that we do not fixate on our decisions and choices as much as we watch our hearts to stay committed to the core of our calling. If we are faithful, we shall be fruitful.