Leo Tolstoy once write, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” This, I suspect, is especially true of leaders. After several years of experience in a particular ministry, it is easy to assume that one has seen or heard most everything and that there isn’t much else to learn. The last few weeks have been rather humbling for me, however, as I realize just how wrong I have been about a few things my role as CEO of The Voice of the Martyrs in the areas of leadership and creativity.
The first thing that God has been trying to get through to me on is the fact that I do not have a corner on creativity at the mission. It is so easy to dismiss the ideas of others, especially those who are relatively new to the mission. Having been the “idea guy” for so long, I had forgotten what it was like when I first started, all full of new and crazy ideas. Some of them worked, a lot of them didn’t. But I was allowed the freedom to fail.
I need to give that same freedom to others. When I have, I have been amazed how some of them have actually brought value to the mission’s work, even though I was sceptical to begin with.
And that is the problem that all leaders can have with experience. It can fossilize you unless you are careful. You can start to think that you have tried everything and have a fairly good grasp of what works and what doesn’t. In the process, however, you can stifle creativity. And that is the very opposite of what it means to be a leader.
Secondly, I have been learning that others can do some of my old tasks as good or better than I can. Again, experience can sometimes bring stagnation to an organization if the leader is not prepared to pass on the baton (and I mean really passing it on and not running alongside, clinging on to the baton). This is sometimes hard for me to do, especially in areas where I have specialized and seen success. But if I have trained people correctly in our mission, values, purposes, and procedures, then the issue of trust is my problem, not theirs.
Thirdly, God has been teaching me that sometimes what used to work, then didn’t, now can. “Say what?” you might be asking. Let me give an example. For several years when I first started with the mission, we participated in Missionfests across Canada. They worked fairly well for us for a few years but then the results we were looking for seemed to drop off. It soon became clear that it was not worth our while to participate and so we dropped them. A few more years went by. Last year, some of our newer staff began to push to get us involved again but I resisted. “We’ve been there, done that,” I’d say. “Waste of our time.” Finally, our Events Team agreed to try participating in three of these events where we had strong volunteer or staff presence. I was sceptical. But low and behold, we have seen response far beyond my expectations from our presence in Edmonton, Halifax, and Toronto. I was wrong. What used to work, then didn’t, now does.
Another example would be our participation in homeschool conferences. Early in my time with VOMC, we were invited to one where I was to give a seminar presentation and put up a display. The event was an abysmal failure. Only a handful showed up for the seminar and hardly anyone came to the display. “Never again!” I thought. But thanks to some persuasion from Floyd Brobbel (VOMC’s present COO) several years later, we are now participating in several such events across Canada each spring and have found them quite beneficial in raising a voice for the persecuted. It helps, of course, that now we have a number of excellent resources for children and youth that we didn’t have in the beginning, but I am inclined to think that it was more a matter of God’s timing.
I can’t say that these lessons have been easy for me to learn or that I have perfected them. My staff could set you straight on that account, if they weren’t so gracious (I really don’t deserve such a great team!). But by God’s grace, I believe that I am on the path to being a better leader who will empower his team through his experience to greater creativity rather than being an obstacle to it because of it.