Monday, January 12, 2015

The important role of wisdom and discernment in leadership

I have met leaders in the Christian arena who are deeply political and find ways to negotiate their agenda by alliances and tactics that would make Washington proud. At the other end of the spectrum are leaders who have rejected that approach and simply believe that if they do the right thing (sans politics) that they are leading well, no matter what the consequences. 

I would like to propose a third alternative: Leading in wisdom and discernment. As was said about David in Psalm 78, "David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them." Skillful hands refers to a leadership that was rich in wisdom and discernment. 

Political leadership is maneuvering, manipulating and plotting to get one's agenda. Wisdom is about discerning how to move forward in a way that is productive while understanding the dynamics of organizational leadership and people but without manipulation or coercion. 

Wisdom and discernment does take into account potential individuals or groups who may not want to play ball or cooperate with a leader's decision or direction because that is wise. The difference is in how we seek to achieve our agenda. By manipulation and outsmarting or through discernment and wisdom as how best to proceed? It is being in the words of Jesus as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." This can mean understanding the political agendas of others and responding appropriately without being political or manipulative ourselves.

Too many Christian leaders get outsmarted by people who have ill motives and personal agendas because we cannot believe that someone would play dirty: they are naive. That is where shrewdness comes in - understanding where others are coming from and what their agenda may be. Innocence comes in when we don't respond with the same tactics. While I don't want to stoop to unhealthy tactics I also want to be highly discerning about the actions and motives of others who can and sometimes do hurt ministry.

Wisdom and discernment require time to think and ponder key decisions that we are thinking about making. Is the timing right? How will they be received? Who is going to push back and why? What are the potential unintended consequences? Whose agreement would it be wise to have on the front end? How do we communicate the decision? And so on. In fact, as a leader I want to be one step ahead of others rather than one step back. That is discernment! And wisdom.

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1 comment:

J Mills said...

Thanks, T.J. for this insightful article. I have been working on a Bible study about 'how to be a better Pharisee' since they seem to be the political manipulators of the N.T. In Mark 3, they object to healing on the Sabbath, but it's okay for them to plot to kill Jesus.
Over the years I have served as Pastor I have observed both those who work the system politically, and those who consider such machinations wrong. I think you are astute to point out that wisdom is aware of the political angle while choosing to act without covert manipulation.