Years ago, I spent some time on the bridge of a U.S. Navy destroyer, operating in waters stretching from San Diego to the coast of Somalia, with lengthy excursions in the South China Sea and Tonkin Gulf on the way. Often, other very large ships moving a high speeds often on moonless nights were steaming close by, at times within a few hundred feet if engaged in underway replenishment. The concept of “relative motion” became an ever-present life-and-death reality. If a bridge team could not calculate all the nuances of all the movements of all the other big vessels nearby and approaching, changing every minute, collisions were sure to come along. When over seventy thousand tons of steel goes bump in the night sheer terror is the only human response.
My guess is that today high-speed laptop computers and “heads-up” displays handle all of this, but in those days we plotted relative motion constantly from radar and visual fixes on paper pads called maneuvering boards. In a later life I flew police helicopters at 800 feet above heavily-populated Southern California urban areas at 3:00 in the morning. It was a bad time to lose situational awareness and get your head stuck inside the cockpit; this quickly created large and burning holes in the ground.
Our new leadership world calls for decision-making maneuvering boards and constant situational awareness. We need a way to envision all the complex levels of interaction at play and then to respond appropriately and wisely. Some organizational catastrophes can seem like tens of thousands of tons of steel crashing into lives and those of our followers. Others involve “augering in” to the ground.
Global positioning systems [GPS] are coming into their own. How can we apply this technology to help leaders navigate their way clear of organizational reefs and shoals?
The term “missional” emerged in faith circles in recent years as sort of a word of art, but could perhaps be more broadly defined for both churches and social sector organizations. So anything pertaining to the purposeful, intentional engagement with, focus on, oft-mentioned and execution of, specifically-framed mission, by people in an organization, would be missional, as I am now going to use it. (apologies for all the commas).
Global Positioning Systems – currently all the rage with certain gadget-crazed males in wealthy economies – are commonly termed “GPS”. It takes uncommon courage to wander through any strange city in the developed world without one. [We should mention that the comforting voice of a female guide in the audio function does drive some wives into a frenzy however.] GPS updates constantly, microsecond by microsecond. We know instantly – always – where we are, (unless the battery dies). Advanced models show colorful street maps, keep our direction of travel always at the top of the screen, and even warn if the traffic ahead is getting congested, then suggesting detours. (This can create a whole new set of problems however, when our “situational awareness” disappears while fixating on a GPS display. Some leaders lose their situational awareness and then wonder what went wrong. See “augering in” above.)
To manage the core requires missional GPS. The missional part is covered with a legitimate destination in mind and an appropriate course established. GPS then provides constant updates, pictures and congestion warnings, whether the weather is good or not, foggy or clear. It sounds like a clever metaphor, but how can a leader make it work?
The process builds on a few questions:
- Who are you? (What are your strengths? What [if not all] weaknesses should be made irrelevant?)
- Where are you? (do you have a map and compass?)
- Where are “they”? (they may be the organization, other organizations, those you serve outside your organization, customers, students, congregants, or whatever…)
- Where are you going? [scanning, defining reality]
- Where should you be going? [places of realized potential]
Unless you want your organization to “go bump in the night” better give some thought to these things…