By John Hebert, Louisiana Baptist missions and ministry team leader
ALEXANDRIA, La. (LBM)—Flexibility and adaptability are essential traits each leader needs to develop.
Academic training prepares the mind about broad concepts and specific ideas and strategic planning creates consistency and cohesion among diverse units on the battlefield.
But, it’s all about being able to adapt to situations as they actually exist that makes all the difference, whether on the battlefield or in the boardroom. It’s about being flexible in situations in real time in the real world that require real action without which defeat or setback would occur.
When I was a youngster enjoying my summers, I had friends who would come to our house after church on Sunday nights. Bobby and Ruby Ulmer were members of our church and had a family of five, the same as my parents, and kids about the same ages as my brothers and my sister and I.
Our parents would not let 10 kids share the house with them while they were visiting, so they made us play outside…at night…in the dark. But, that was fine with us. We played active games like “Chase” and “Hide and Go Seek” in the dark.
At first playing in the dark was very challenging simply because it took time for your eyes to adjust.
But over a number of minutes your pupils would enlarge, letting in more and more of less and less light, until suddenly, you could see!
There are a lot of biological processes involved, but in common language, your eyes just adapt to the darkness. Sometimes it was as if it was broad daylight.
Being adaptable is just like that — like walking into a world that is pitch black at first but after time visual adjustments allow you to see.
Like many skills, being flexible and adaptable comes natural for some leaders, but in others it is a learned skill.
Some think they are gifted in this area, but in fact they aren’t.
Some dismiss the ideas of adaptability and flexibility as poor substitutes for strong planning skills.
Some people just like to “fly by the seat of their pants.”
To make things worse, those who do not plan and try to just be adaptable not only discourage those around them but often fail to achieve any success. Their ministry has no continuity or destination. They find themselves struggling all the time.
Being flexible and adaptable “expects the unexpected,” “plans for disruptions,” and, “stays on course in spite of developments that do not go as anticipated.”
Adaptability means you must keep an open mind about the plans you’ve made especially with regard to the situation you actually will encounter. When you face different circumstances than you prepared for, you must adapt to the situation quickly.
The vision must be the guide. If you know the vision, and stay focused on it, you can adapt in order to achieve the ultimate objective.
In war the relationship between sergeants and officers (decision makers) is so important. Sergeants know the situation on the ground and officers make decisions about resource allocations and strategy to fight the battle, which the sergeants can then carry out. This relationship is so important that it is said that sergeants run the army.
Leaders must be connected to the fulfillment of the objective in the same way. They must be close enough to the activities to either observe or otherwise be informed about the actual circumstances encountered in order to adapt the strategy for the best effect.
In most cases, success largely depends on being flexible and adaptable. That is why so much emphasis is placed on these two traits.
During the cold war the United States and the Soviet Union were the world’s only super powers. They constantly prepared for combat against each other. For both, “war doctrine” was the key.
Each country had extensive plans for conducting war in air, land and sea. The Soviets were taught to stick to the plan conceived by their leaders or pay a personal price if they deviated.
S. Commanders were taught differently. Doctrine was important, but situational analysis would allow for adapting the plan to actual developments during battle. U. S. doctrine actually encouraged ongoing analysis and adjustments.
We later learned the Soviets feared most that America’s war fighters were taught to be flexible and how to adapt battle plans as needed. They feared our adaptability. They knew what our plans were, but they didn’t know what to expect.
Being flexible and adaptable is a winning skill. Make plans for ministry activities, for people gathering, for evangelism, and every other aspect of ministry, but also be ready to make the necessary adjustments needed to win the victory.