As I sit in my hotel room in Vientiane, Laos and reflect on yesterday's activities, I am impressed with how much I learned about leadership, organization, and management in 24 hours. I learned it in the most unlikely places and from the most unlikely teachers.
It does not seem to matter whether you are the leader of a US-based ministry or organization, the administrator of a 403(b) or 401(k) plan, or a headman of a small tribe of Laotian people, the basic issues and needs for leaders remain the same.
Here are at least some of the basic leadership lessons I learned:
- The capability to see and cast a vision people will follow
- The ability to articulate the expected results of that vision in a way that stirs followers minds
- A team of dedicated supporters
- The willingness to risk
- The resources to implement
- The organizational skills to “see it through”
- Putting replaceable systems in place to support ongoing growth and achievement of the vision
- The faith the see it through, even during the hard times
Wow, all that in one day?
Well no, the essentials have been learned through a lifetime of experiences, but I was clearly reminded of them because of what happened yesterday.
Here is the context:
The country of Laos has a long and storied past being landlocked between 5 surrounding countries: Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, China, and Myanmar.
Each time I look at the map and see Laos as a connecting point for South East Asia, I am reminded of the strategic location of Israel throughout recorded time. Both Laos and Israel are a pathway to get to someplace else, and a connecting point between strategic powers. Consequently, a location of strategic importance.
Laos is made up of some 47 tribes, each with their own language or dialect. Lao being the largest tribe, while tribes such as the Hmong and the Cur are spread out not only in Laos, but some in Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Why is this relevant to a discussion about leadership and organization?
Well, when I think of all the different pieces to the organizational puzzle that we deal with regarding 403(b) or 401(k) retirement plans and the associated services, the situation in Laos is not dissimilar. Each and every organization has multiple systems and groups of people that need to be addressed in order to accomplish any organizational or ministry goals.
It is our job as leaders to understand, appreciate, organize and lead these disparate parts to a visionary goal.
The Capability of a Leader to See and Cast a Vision People Will Follow
Because Laos is a “closed”, communist country, I will have to speak in euphemisms.
The vision is to bring “hope” to the people of this region.
The strategy is to raise up leaders and supporters in each ethnic and geographic area united around a single vision of ‘hope.'
In order to accomplish this grand vision, and then assist each area to support the vision, will take a miracle.
This is where faith comes in.
As we know, planting a common vision within a small ethnically or focused group is hard enough. Bringing that vision and having it embraced and then implemented is hard. Under a corporate or spiritually focused umbrella is “humanly” impossible.
Even though it will be difficult, engagement with “hope” for millions of South East Asians, particularly in the 6 countries mentioned before, is the vision.
During discussions about how to implement the vision, we raised the issue of sustainability. If the leaders at every level are not in economically sustainable life situations, the likelihood of the vision being seen through to fruition is nearly zero.
So the term, Sustainable Vision was born.
The Ability of a Leader to Articulate the Expected Results of That Vision In A Way That Stirs Followers Minds
After a day of visitation and dialogue about the vision, concrete steps were being taken to provide support for family. Steps were also being taken to provide sufficient resources to leverage the activities that will bring “hope”. In the midst of all this, I was impressed with the practical similarities between our vision and the circumstances of the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as they left Egypt en masse.
When they left Egypt there was one leader in charge of a million diverse, yet interrelated families. No organization, no structure, perhaps not a clear understanding of the long-term opportunity, vision, and defensive mentality of leaving. There was no clear understanding of goals and objectives. If you are familiar with the story, that observation will make sense.
At the same time, a similarity that because of the amnesty of the vision, and the lack of skills and resources to implement or reach or sustain the vision, the need for a huge amount of faith without “human” resources is palpable. The idea of a journey towards a vision of hope for many different people in physical juxtaposition but miles, or kilometers, apart culturally and economically.
What an opportunity for our “higher power” to demonstrate capacity, wisdom, and capability.
Other Elements Needed
As I sat eating Tilapia grown on a local fish farm, and talking about this vision with 3 local leaders, the main man with the vision, looked me in the eye and said: “You know, that we are a people with little sustainable “business” and economic skills. We need to learn these skills so our vision is sustainable. We need curriculum - what to learn, teachers - to teach us, and coaches - to help us become the best at this. If we do not find these things, we will not succeed. We have faith that they are available and that He will provide them.”
And then he said, “Will you help us”.
"If I Call, Will You Go?"
Here I sit the following morning with a lump in my throat.
The last time I heard such a clear call was almost 30 years ago. That time I ended up in Timbuktu, Mali. Certainly, another remote location that many people had heard of but where most could not find it on the map.
Such is His call.
Items 3 through 8 on the list above are all important. For leaders, however, the vision comes first and the willingness to both lead and be led comes next. The skill sets are then needed to make the Vision a sustainable one.
Is there a role for you in this vision?
As I get on the plane to head back to Colorado Springs I’m thinking about how this vision can be made sustainable, and what my, maybe your role, in it could be.
Certainly, lots more to think about, and to think about deeply.
You know, for some of us this may be the Future-Funded Ministry that we talk about so often. It is certainly in the Future, will change people’s lives, takes prior experience and skill, a willingness to stretch, grow and give back, and certainly takes faith.
I pray you will be encouraged by this current story, use it to reflect on your leadership opportunities, and be blessed with His challenges to bring “hope” to the world.
Come take the journey with us, Trusted Advice along The Way.