Are you getting anywhere? Most of us work in an annual cycle, which moves focus away from the big picture. In churches, it includes church holidays like Christmas and Easter, punctuated by educational programs and stewardship. In schools, it’s September-June. Businesses have quarterly and calendar year cycles. You can easily spend most of your energy meeting the challenges of the cycle. Something’s got to happen in church on Christmas Eve. The budget has to be ready for January. School doors have to open in September. Taxes have to be filed in April. If these things don’t happen, or are done poorly, you face important consequences. You’ve got to be ready. And you breathe a sigh of relief when you get through a phase of the cycle.
Ideally the activities within the cycle are aimed at something bigger and long-term. The cycle is a given, but leadership is more than successfully navigating the cycle. The best leaders are able to see above and beyond, and chart a larger direction for themselves and for the group. They ask questions such as, how do our activities for this year’s Christmas Eve fit into the larger plan? What might we do next year that will be better, or keep the momentum going?
You’ll do better over time if you can get your head above the fray, and look down the line. Perhaps this means a personal retreat (even a morning) in the New Year to clarify your own thoughts. It may also mean a session with key staff and other leaders to ask questions like, “How does this budget reflect our wider goals?” Or, “we keep saying we want to support families. What can we do this year to make that happen?” As always, the clearer you are in your own thinking about direction, the easier it will be to begin a conversation with others on these important matters.
Now realistically, there are times when personal and organizational life means getting through the cycle is all you’re able to do. Most of us won’t be spending a lot of time on long-term plans this holiday week. But as the next round of activity heats up in January, what can you do to take a longer view in 2008? How can you get your own thinking clear? And what are the resources you need (time, imagination, and people on the inside and outside) to develop and implement a modest plan for moving forward?