This season requires something different from you as a leader.
There is little about life that is easy to navigate right now. You face tough decisions every single day. And as a leader, you’re not only facing your own decisions, but you’re also navigating the decision making for your entire team and organization.
One of the perspectives that we must embrace in order to lead well in any season, especially in our current reality is this: Tension is where leaders live.
We live between what is and what could be.
We straddle the known and the unknown.
We wrestle the probable with the possible.
We balance the status quo with innovation.
We have to understand where we are and yet convince our teams to keep going.
There are numerous tensions great leaders navigate each and every day. And living with these tensions is a tension in and of itself. This constant pull stretches you to either expand and grow or snap under the stress.
If all of life were clear shades of black or white—if there were no difficult decisions to be made—there would be no need for leaders. That’s the game-changing reality for us.
The great tension and the great responsibility of leadership means navigating the complexity our circumstances present. That’s what we do. It’s who we are.
Your willingness to engage the tension is what defines you as a leader.
Leading through these tensions is at the heart of what extraordinary leaders do. The very purpose of leadership is to effectively navigate the tensions our organizations, our teams, and we as individuals are facing.
Leaders emerge most prominently when things are confusing and chaotic. Great leaders lead the way, and I think you’d agree: we need great leaders right now.
One of my favorite leaders in the Bible is Nehemiah. Nehemiah led the Jewish people to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem that had lain in shambles for seventy years. No leader before Nehemiah had the clarity of vision and the influence to overcome the obstacles in order to accomplish this monumental task.
As you read through his story, you quickly see that Nehemiah understood the complexity of the leadership task before him. He recognized that there was a problem to solve and that no one else was stepping up to solve it. He identified the leadership vacuum that existed, and he felt called to help lead through it.
2 Things Nehemiah Knew:
1) Leadership means navigating complexity.
2) Confusion always hinders momentum.
5 Things Extraordinary Leaders Do to Lead in Chaos
1. Make it personal
The first task of the leader is to define reality, especially when a complex problem lies between where you are and where you desire to go. Nehemiah developed a personal passion for a wall in ruins that symbolized a lack of hope, a lack of strength, and a lack of direction for God’s people. From that passion, a vision of hope for the future was born. While he identified a problem, he also caught a vision for the possibilities. Nehemiah owned it. It was personal.
It’s too easy for us as leaders to become disconnected from the issues that matter to those we lead. You can’t lead others to places you haven’t been to. If it’s not personal, you can’t authentically lead through it.
2. Make it prayerful
One of the internal tensions that many leaders face is to rush to action rather than rush to prayer. As an A-type, driven, achiever this is one of my greatest challenges. More often than not my lack of prayer has only created more confusion and chaos.
Nehemiah 1:4 tells us that Nehemiah wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven. In fact, he spent four months praying before he took any action.
Before we rush to action, we must rush to prayer.
3. Make it Courageous
Embracing the tensions of leadership doesn’t mean we don’t face fear. In the complexity we face some of our greatest fears—fear of inadequacy, fear of failure, fear of criticism.
Often the difference between success and stagnation is confronting a fear. You must muster the courage to confront your insecurities. You must face your fears. You must choose to face the loneliness of being the only one who sees the potential clearly. You must fight through. You must push through so you can lead others through. And once you lead them through the tension, you will get the privilege of seeing your team experience the joy of a clear moment and a realized victory.
4. Make the first move
Embracing the tensions of leadership means being willing to go first. It requires the bravery of a first step.
When we as leaders choose to take the first step, those we lead can see and draw from our confidence and faith. We can’t rush ahead or get impatient. We must give guidance and coach passionately. Extraordinary leaders lead through the tension. They don’t get lost in it. They don’t get bogged down by it. They push through it to find clarity and provide the next step for others.
5. Make it hopeful
Extraordinary leaders offer hope in the midst of intense circumstances. They are aware of how unsettling complexity is to their teams, and they continue to motivate and encourage them through the process. The complexity of leadership is all about seeing through the chaos and casting a compelling vision to lead people through it.
Nehemiah knew he couldn’t do this alone. He needed others to help him accomplish the vision of restoring the wall and he provided hope-filled motivation every step of the way.
Embracing the Tension
What gives leaders the courage to lead through a seemingly impossible obstacle?
When we fully embrace the reality that complexity is our playing field as leaders, it becomes a game-changer for how we approach our leadership. We no longer see complexity as frustration. We see it as an opportunity.
Complexity is where our best leadership happens.
Deciphering complex moments of leadership is not an exact science. It’s as easy to get wrong as it is to get right, and you’re not always going to get it right. In a season like we’re leading through right now, leading through the complexity and chaos we’re experiencing is a daily commitment to the next step. You’re not going to see the entire plan. We just need you to define the next step and bravely keep showing your team the way forward.
Extraordinary leadership takes courage, intuition, discernment, and prayer. It takes energy, patience, hope, and determination. Extraordinary leaders step up to help make decisions and to guide the way, especially when circumstances are complex.
What leadership tension do you need to more purposefully engage right now? Is there a way you can take the first step for others?
This post is adapted from my book, The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.