What Story Will They Tell?
Originally published in Outcomes Magazine by the Christian Leadership Alliance.
“Our board would like you to come fix our Millennials.” The administrator of a small nonprofit was on the phone explaining that her organization established a “junior board of Millennials” as part of their succession plan. The Board of Directors, composed of Baby Boomers and Traditionalists, wanted these Millennials “fixed” to embrace the organization’s mission and operational strategy their way. The catch: board members didn’t want to invest their own time or resources in the fix. You can guess what happened. Every invested Millennial volunteer left that organization – and they left with a story.
What story do your team members tell about your ministry? What story do you want them to tell? Is there a gap between these? That may be a good place to start.
We have more generations represented in today’s organizational teams than at any time in human history. My own global organization is structured in intergenerational, intercultural teams. Each team member is telling a story.
It all starts with the stories we tell ourselves. Many organizational leaders tell the story that they need younger team members for succession planning. They want to cultivate a pipeline of ability to lead the organization into the future. You may feel the need for older team members to hang around because their departure would be disruptive. Maybe you don’t think you need them at all.
We’re better together
Here’s a different story. We’re better together. Not someday. We’re better today. The diverse perspectives and practices of intergenerational team members make us better at mission and ministry now. Just as Paul’s beautiful narraphor (narrative metaphor) of diverse members of the body working together, we need each other now. (1 Cor. 12) That’s a story worth imitating.
During this health crisis, we both desire and fear human connection. I went to the grocery story last week – sporting my mask. People averted their eyes from one another as if eye contact meant contamination. I smiled (our eyes smile when we smile) and asked the gal at the register about her day. She was clearly startled – and delighted. She smiled back, over her mask and through the glass partition. What if our ministry teams become life-giving communities – places of belonging where team members contribute and receive value, and smiles, even during seasons of physical distancing?
Research reveals five competencies of extraordinary leaders – and extraordinary teams: 1) Communication, 2) Collaboration, 3) Creativity, 4) Critical thinking, and 5) Cultural intelligence. Let’s look at these five competencies through the lens of the COVID crisis.
A crisis often reveals something that already needed our attention. It’s never been more important to communicate well – or more obvious that we don’t. Ask more questions. Lean in. Listen. Use audio and video. Communicate with confidence and compassion. Communication is the essence of our team story.
Communication opens the door for collaboration. This is the real test of diverse, dynamic teams. “Us and them” thinking and acting is damaging. Collaboration allows us to propose, question, argue, wrestle, design, construct, deconstruct, and build consensus. The collaborative team’s storyline becomes “we are better together.”
Collaboration infused with creativity invites us to innovate in our ministries. The first question creativity asks is: “is it safe?” Environments where it is safe to propose, question, try and fail become the most innovative. Creative teams tell a story of being seen, heard and valued.
- Critical Thinking
Empathic communication and collaboration in diverse, safe, creative environments catalyzes critical thinking. The story the critical-thinking team member tells is one of seeking opportunity within every obstacle. One COVID gift may be discovering how God invites us to partner in new ways now.
- Cultural Intelligence
At the heart of cultural intelligence is curiosity. The simplest way to become a culturally intelligent organization today is to work in and through intergenerational teams. The culturally intelligent team tells a story of diverse, shared contribution. Every member is valued – not in spite of, but because of their differences.
People don’t join missions. People join people on a mission. And people don’t leave the mission. People leave people. That won’t change. What can change is the story they tell.
The COVID story may speak of limitation, loss and grief – but what if our organizations have a larger story? A story of generative contribution by transforming ministry teams, a contribution first into each other’s lives and ultimately together into the world we serve.
Dr. Teresa M. Moon is President and CEO for the Institute for Cultural Communicators. She empowers extraordinary leaders globally to influence culture. Her mentees have spoken at the White House, G8 Summit, United Nations, throughout the United States and in 20-plus additional countries. She is an internationally recognized speaker, author and leadership coach.