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Got a Challenge? Try Leaning In

Welcome back to our blog! No matter where you lead, whether it’s in a church, a non-profit, a business, or at home, leadership takes a lot of practice. My hope is to offer practical insights into leadership and help you lead wherever you have influence.

Practicing leadership means engaging the hard topics, the difficult decisions, and the unknown questions. Practicing leadership can feel uncomfortable but also invigorating at the same time. When I first started leading, I had a lot of book-smarts but very little experience. Wading into the tough stuff made sense in my head, but I had no idea practically how to do it.

How do you lead through challenges and problems? What do you do when you don’t know the next step?

My guess is your organization has significant challenges. The pandemic exposed and exacerbated those challenges. As a leader, you know leading is hard. If we’re honest, we don’t always have a solution. Sometimes our best practices don’t work. Leading today requires new skillsets and tools. These situations are known as adaptive challenges.

An adaptive challenge is different from technical challenges. Technical challenges have known solutions, answers, or strategies. We can apply our current knowledge, skills, or tools to solve a technical problem. When faced with a technical challenge, you are the expert, and experts have the answers. Some problems can be fixed. So, we should fix them.

Some challenges, though, haven’t been solved yet. You know you’re facing an adaptive challenge when what you used to do no longer works. Adaptive challenges can’t be solved with existing knowledge, skills, or tools. This means we must shift our behavior, confront competing values, and embrace new learning. Leaders must become learners, experimenting to new learning.

Here's a first step to leading through challenges and problems. Lean in! Lean into your biggest challenges with a process I’ve found helpful: observation, interpretation, and intervention.

Observe – When you don’t have the solution to solve your biggest leadership challenge, make observations. Describe what you are seeing in your church, organization, or family. Say things like, “I see” or “I hear.”

Interpret – Then, interpret what you observe. The first one may be a good start, but it probably won’t be the best interpretation. Gather diverse perspectives. Say things like, “I wonder,” “I wish,” or “I think.”

Intervene – Once you’ve observed and interpreted your challenge, design playful interventions to learn new insights. Interventions are like small experiments. The goal of experiments isn’t to ask, “Did it work?” Rather, the goal is to discover, “What did we learn?” Say, “Let’s try…”

Leadership is about new learning along the way, even when new learning means discomfort. So, keep leaning! New learning just might turn your challenge into adventure.

I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email. What are your biggest leadership challenges?