LEADERSHIP IN TIMES OF CHANGE:
What We Learn from the Men of Issachar
May 4, 2020
The spotlight is now shifting off of the virus an on to organizational leaders. They are being pressed to make significant decisions with minimal or conflicting information. Some of these decisions have life and death consequences: consequences that are not normally the purview of the typical nonprofit leader. So it is understandable that they will be scrambling for confirmation and guidance in their decision making.
In this context, Christians will be looking for modern day “men of Issachar,” mighty men who know how to best read the “signs of the times and know what Israel should do.” This is a biblical reference to I Chronicles 12:32. David was banished from the presence of Saul and has become an outlaw on the run. Gradually, other fighting men came to his aid as a showdown between Saul and David loomed on the political horizon. It was the dynamics of a slow moving coup. From among all the tribes, men began to quietly join his raiding bands in hiding. Among those who joined him in his time of political and military crisis were the men of Issachar. Issachar was was one of the twelve tribes of Israel and one of the ten lost tribes. The lost tribes were those who were later deported from Israel after the Babylonian conquest and had experience with exile. More than prophetic futurists, the men of Issachar were those with “experience, having knowledge of the world.” It was less that they could foretell the future as provide discernment in the present.
In times of crisis and significant change, leaders need those around them with a breadth of perspective and wise discernment. Leaders are being forced to make decisions that bear on their institution’s survival and their employees' health without having all the data they need to make a confident decision. Such is always the case with military leaders operating in the fog of war. These are the times when the caliber and courage of leadership is most tested.
Leaders should approach these times with humility. Exuding over confidence in one’s decisions only shows that the leader is unaware of the decision making context in which he or she is living. This does not mean that one should not make a decision, only that it must be framed with discernment, nimbleness, and transparency.
Leaders should be willing to live with tension. This means that coming to a quick closure on a decision is often the wrong course of action. Collaborative decisions in the fog of change and uncertainty mean that one’s decisions will often need to be made in the context of competing priorities. Such is the case now as American political leaders weigh the benefits and risks of pandemic health with the need for reopening the economy. Decisions will need to be made in the midst of fog. Thinking it is a black and white decision when in fact it is a time of grey shows a lack of discernment and an unwillingness to live with the reality of tension.
So one must be wary of those who make sweeping pronouncements that they are clear about what the future holds: “We’re not going back to normal.” In times of great change, this is the one thing that we can know for certain, “We don’t know what the new normal will be.”
And so at all levels going forward tensions will have to be willingly embrace. Online learning is not going to be an educational panacea. The future may also include the same challenges and idolatries of the past. The power of the state may expand while local nonpolitical public solutions will need to be explored. Post-pandemic social PTSD will need to be acknowledged while innovation and reframing one’s assumptions will need to be examined. Change may be simultaneously resisted and more change may be needed. No decision should be made without a full recognition of the need to live in the midst of these tensions. What is ruled out in times like this is black and white binary thinking.
So the call for men of Issachar is more than anything a call for realistic discernment and wise humility. Bombast, certainty, and inflexibility are ruled out. It very well may be that the central role of the men of Issachar that surround you now is to remind you of this fact.
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