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Leadership Development for a New Era

Our local and global communities are continually seeking leaders to provide direction and purpose for a variety of asymmetrical, rapidly changing situations that require a repertoire of old and new skills. Many such situations were a direct result of the upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic beginning in the winter of 2019. The multifaceted impact and loss of life in our global community continues to be substantial as I write today. In the North American context, some have referred to our experience over the last two years as a “syndemic.” This term indicates the intensity of the global pandemic that exposed a variety of health disparities between minority and majority populations, and the racial trauma experienced by all of us who were directly and indirectly affected. In these situations, we need leaders to help teams, organizations, congregations, and academic institutions maneuver forward.

One unique characteristic of the syndemic was the amount of time that was spent watching television, following the news, and searching for global information.1 The increased time spent consuming information in turn increased the visibility of decision makers. We had front-row seats to watch the way leaders within churches, businesses, and politics all expressed different ways of coping with the reality of the global pandemic. Some leaders denied science and scientific facts that required a change of course from their limited understanding of the situation. Some leaders decided to make sequential decisions that were conservative, cautious, and based on perceived support from specific constituents. Some leaders used key decision points and decision trees to guide their process through self-selected decisional thresholds. Some leaders did nothing, or little, and attempted to live life as if the world was not sinking deeper into crisis. The scope of this article is not to critique how leaders made their decisions, but that decision-making was notable and should be considered.

As academics, Christian educators, and leaders, it is imperative that we learn from these pivotal experiences. It is also important because many of those who are reading this article have the privilege and responsibility of developing leaders who will become the providers of solutions for the future. In these historic moments, leading with character, competence, and emotional intelligence is a necessity and requires a great deal from leaders and those who are charged with developing those leaders.

During the syndemic, there is one question I have continued to ask myself: “Why would they do that?” Specifically, why did Christian leaders respond in this way, and what type of leaders are we producing that decided to make certain decisions? Moreover, during the next era of Christian formation, what type of leader will be needed to make salient decisions in and for the future? For years, Christian leadership formation in educational settings has emphasized the virtues of humility. Those qualities are essential in life with God and will need to be sustained in a life of service to the global community.2 But is that enough for effective Christian leadership in the next chapter of church and society?

We have seen plenty of unfortunate examples of what’s not working in Christian leadership. Some of these recent blunders, especially those that were more visible, have contributed to the current reflection and re-evaluation of Christian leadership. Whether it’s megachurch pastors who demonstrated questionable integrity and ethics, or leaders who not only excluded others but remain obstinate in their position toward inclusive practices, there have been failures. Yet many of the leaders we’ve seen in these prominent positions of authority have actually been a result of archetypes constructed out of the Western collective unconscious of what it means to be a leader or influencer.3 The psychoanalyst Carl Jung contended that many of the images propagated in society are the result of archetypes that precondition people’s expectations. This could form biases in what a leader is “supposed to” look, talk, act, think, vote, include, or exclude. Unfortunately, when our collective unconsciousness is not challenged, leadership competency and capability can become confused with the person with the loudest opinions, the person who is favored, or the person who holds privileges that give them more emotional space than is merited.

One example of a problematic leadership archetype was seen in the responses to racial injustice that came to the surface (for some; for others this is always on the surface) in the spring and summer of 2020. The stoic leader archetype is a person who is steady, unmoved by pain—even the pain of others. For many leaders, their initial responses to events and protests in the summer of 2020 were to hope that things would blow over. Not only irresponsible, this stoic “strength” can actually be seen as calloused or weak leadership.

Another archetype for Christian leaders is the person who is “all things to all people.” Some have used this type of language in an attempt to remain neutral in the face of social issues or current events that spark discord and debate. But such a neutral stance is not rooted in following the teachings of Jesus; rather, it’s guided by the fear of being perceived as radical or forthright. This type of leadership attempts to delegate authority and responsibility, which cannot truly be delegated.

Still other pastors have taken the stance of being the smooth communicator. The problem with the communicator as an archetype for Christian leaders is that excellent communication does not equate to leadership. Communication is a component of leadership, but it cannot be more heavily weighted than humility, trustworthiness, and intestinal fortitude. This archetype has continually been proven ineffective in situations that require more action and fewer words.

Reflecting on the common leadership archetypes and styles that do not work in today’s world, we come to more pressing questions of leadership: What is needed in the development of leaders in the next era of Christianity? What is uniquely different about the vocational and educational environments right now that requires a specific skill set to effectively establish necessary leader development and spiritual formation principles? These questions become even more salient for me, as a psychologist and Christian educator,  in determining the substantial amount of needs and expectations carried by leaders. I contend that there are two leadership principles that organizations would benefit from emphasizing in leader development and formation for Christian leaders in the next era. Those behaviors are multicultural competence and adaptive decision making.

Multicultural Competence

Multicultural competence is defined as understanding your own and others’ cultural identities and effectively employing cultural skills during cross-cultural interactions.4  Leadership development curriculum in the Christian context would benefit from emphasizing the cultivation of multicultural competence in leaders. Researchers have laid out an argument stating that developing multicultural humility, taking a position of curiosity towards others and welcoming opportunities for learning, and implementing a distinct set of cross-cultural skills are essential for gaining multicultural competence.5 

Multicultural humility is the act of self-reflection. It means exploring one’s own values and how those values have contributed to one’s beliefs, prejudices, biases, and behaviors with others who may or may not share one’s cultural identity. For example, I am a cisgendered, able-bodied, Black, male psychologist who grew up in a relatively rural community in the Midwest. This experience has shaped me and my understanding of others. A question that is inescapable for me (and all of us) is: How has it shaped me? The biases I carry have unconsciously, and perhaps consciously, cultivated who I am and how I respond to others, and it’s essential to multicultural humility for me to become increasingly more aware of those biases.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to self-reflect. Moreover, we should be the first to explore our own cultural identity development and recognize the impact it has had on our work and relationships. Taking the time to review our psychosocial development can model reflection and contemplation as crucial aspects of those who serve and lead.6  Perhaps this type of self-reflection contributes to the facilitation of a contemplative life and spiritual formation, which in turn nurtures healthy leadership even more.

Taking a posture of curiosity toward differing perspectives can also provide opportunities for learning and growth. Andy Crouch discussed the important difference of gestures and postures in the context of culture.7  In his definition, “gestures” involve taking a position of curiosity or exploration once in a while, versus “postures,” which signal a complete dispositional change that requires more of the individual. When we help leaders take a posture of curiosity toward other cultural perspectives, we invite opportunities for advanced learning and understanding, which enhances the likelihood of multicultural competence during cross-cultural interaction in the midst of significant societal or
vocational moments.

The final component of multicultural competence would be the implementation of a set of distinct interpersonal cultural skills. Conflict management, organizing the expectations of a remote team, developing leaders in multigenerational teams, and addressing LGBTQ+ questions or concerns in faith communities are all examples of skills that must be approached proactively with multicultural competence. Rather than being reactive as many leaders have been in the past, I recommend a proactive stance to address ever increasing questions and realities. Perhaps for some, these types of situations elicit strong emotions or fear. In my experience, however, developing cross-cultural skills does not have to be an adversarial process, but invigorating and mutually enlightening.

All of these components of multicultural competence help individuals develop into leaders who deliberately implement principles that govern their behavior and human interaction. The responsibility of leaders of leaders, such as academics and Christian educators, is to willingly prepare them to engage in this distinct type of rigorous, yet necessary, formation. When we choose to emphasize the importance of multicultural competence, we are actively cocreating leadership development that is restorative to our local and global communities. Multicultural competence is not a buzzword. It is not a political statement. It is a component of leadership development that is a beneficial step toward Christian formation that will continue to be required in the future of the church and society.

Adaptive Decision-Making

My entire adult life I have served in the military in some capacity, on active duty and currently in the reserves. Over the course of this 19-year career I have had the privilege of teaching the military decision-making process (MDMP) to soldiers. During that time, I have seen how learning to make rapid decisions in rigorous training environments prepares one to make rapid decisions in operational or high-stakes environments. In addition to being multiculturally competent, today’s leaders need to possess the ability to make quick and correct decisions. Specifically, they will need to be skilled in adaptive decision-making skills, defined as the mental process of effectively reacting to a change in a situation.8 

The United States Army’s premier leadership school is Ranger School. When I attended Ranger School I had already been in the military for years and had completed a combat deployment, but I recognized there was still much more I could learn from this experience. I wanted to learn how to make better decisions in stressful situations, and rapidly. During the course of the training, I had a lot of practice doing just that. Every day we had to make decisions that contributed to the overall success of the team. I was especially impressed with the course design that made adaptive decision-making a part of the rubric to pass the course. This type of assessment and evaluation helped everybody see the importance of making such decisions. Cultivating adaptive decision-making in leaders, specifically Christian leaders, requires this same understanding and belief in the potential value of each decision they make. 

The reality is that adapting to new situations is not a skill that comes naturally. It takes education and repetition. It also takes creativity in predicting behavior and engaging in risky actions when responding to novel situations.

I have often wondered what qualifies a pastor, educator, or ministry leader to actually lead organizations. I’m sure I’m not alone in this question. What training are we providing for individuals pursuing this calling? Moreover, are we emphasizing the importance of adaptive decision-making in that training? My assumption is that many Christian leaders have found themselves learning on the job or ad hoc, much like I did as a young college pastor. Is this sufficient? I don’t think so. If we want to see changes in our organizations and our teams, we need to equip our leaders in a way that is more robust, more focused on skill development, in order to help them become capable of adapting to a world that is changing at a fast pace. At the very least, we need to develop training that helps individuals make rapid changes and adjustments, and at best, that training would teach leaders to anticipate complex changes, then initiate a decision-making process rooted in heuristics and relevant decisional thresholds.

This level of detail in adaptive decision-making is not solely meant to be used as a knowledge point, but must be evaluated in real time during training and education. Emphasizing this type of in-basket learning continues the evaluative process by providing instant feedback and guidance to soon-to-be leaders. Not only is this helpful for the person receiving the individual instruction, it is helpful for the observers as well, since they have an opportunity to bear witness to the decisional successes and improvements. Emphasizing adaptive decision-making for the next generation of Christian leaders is simple, but not easy. It is not a new idea, but perhaps the delivery of this type of training could be shifted from information and knowledge to a more embodied practice.

The Now of Next

As a young man in the year 2000, I watched an ESPN documentary called The Season.9  The film followed the 1999 football season of the North Penn Knights. I can distinctly remember the team’s motto: “Next Season Is Now.” It was their way of motivating players to engage in physical conditioning and enhancement while they were out of season. That motto has always stuck with me. During many ventures in life, I have found myself reciting the importance of “next           ” being right now. Whatever I am hoping for in the future must be cultivated in the present. This reality is similar to the proverb of sowing and reaping, which was also a mantra in my family of origin. So how does this relate to Christian education and leadership?

The time to begin thinking about the future of Christian leadership is always right now. What is next will be driven by what we decide to do at this moment in our churches, our institutions, our classrooms, and in our private lives. The decisions and emphases in those domains will have critical implications on what the global community experiences of the Christian community. Christian leaders will operate in austere environments that require them to think independently, respond expeditiously, and have an acute understanding of the complexities of ethical leadership in a world with paradoxical ethics.

Those current and future environments also require a great deal from those who are training students to be tomorrow’s leaders. As a military officer, I understand that writing to a Christian leadership audience is different from speaking to a group of new officers, but the lessons learned are transferable to leaders who operate in any environments that are asymmetrical and encompass components of the psychosocial and spiritual landscape. The 21st-century Christian leader who is called into the task and opportunity of leading churches, organizations, and institutions will need to possess the ability to be multiculturally competent and adaptive in their decision-making process. The “how” will continue to get worked out, but my hope is that the “why” and “what” have been answered.

Written By

Cedric Williams is assistant professor of marriage and family therapy and program director for Fuller’s new Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy (DMFT) degree. He received his MA in Theology and PhD in Clinical Psychology from Fuller, as well as his MA in Spiritual Formation from Lincoln Christian University. He serves as the diversity, equity, and inclusion chairperson for the American Psychological Association, Division 13, Society of Consulting Psychology. He is also the founder and chief executive officer of Legacy Consulting & Research Group LLC, where he helps individuals, teams, and organizations cocreate positive change through a variety of consultation services. In addition to his work as a psychologist, Dr. Williams has served in the United States Army (active and reserve) since 2002.

Our local and global communities are continually seeking leaders to provide direction and purpose for a variety of asymmetrical, rapidly changing situations that require a repertoire of old and new skills. Many such situations were a direct result of the upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic beginning in the winter of 2019. The multifaceted impact and loss of life in our global community continues to be substantial as I write today. In the North American context, some have referred to our experience over the last two years as a “syndemic.” This term indicates the intensity of the global pandemic that exposed a variety of health disparities between minority and majority populations, and the racial trauma experienced by all of us who were directly and indirectly affected. In these situations, we need leaders to help teams, organizations, congregations, and academic institutions maneuver forward.

One unique characteristic of the syndemic was the amount of time that was spent watching television, following the news, and searching for global information.1 The increased time spent consuming information in turn increased the visibility of decision makers. We had front-row seats to watch the way leaders within churches, businesses, and politics all expressed different ways of coping with the reality of the global pandemic. Some leaders denied science and scientific facts that required a change of course from their limited understanding of the situation. Some leaders decided to make sequential decisions that were conservative, cautious, and based on perceived support from specific constituents. Some leaders used key decision points and decision trees to guide their process through self-selected decisional thresholds. Some leaders did nothing, or little, and attempted to live life as if the world was not sinking deeper into crisis. The scope of this article is not to critique how leaders made their decisions, but that decision-making was notable and should be considered.

As academics, Christian educators, and leaders, it is imperative that we learn from these pivotal experiences. It is also important because many of those who are reading this article have the privilege and responsibility of developing leaders who will become the providers of solutions for the future. In these historic moments, leading with character, competence, and emotional intelligence is a necessity and requires a great deal from leaders and those who are charged with developing those leaders.

During the syndemic, there is one question I have continued to ask myself: “Why would they do that?” Specifically, why did Christian leaders respond in this way, and what type of leaders are we producing that decided to make certain decisions? Moreover, during the next era of Christian formation, what type of leader will be needed to make salient decisions in and for the future? For years, Christian leadership formation in educational settings has emphasized the virtues of humility. Those qualities are essential in life with God and will need to be sustained in a life of service to the global community.2 But is that enough for effective Christian leadership in the next chapter of church and society?

We have seen plenty of unfortunate examples of what’s not working in Christian leadership. Some of these recent blunders, especially those that were more visible, have contributed to the current reflection and re-evaluation of Christian leadership. Whether it’s megachurch pastors who demonstrated questionable integrity and ethics, or leaders who not only excluded others but remain obstinate in their position toward inclusive practices, there have been failures. Yet many of the leaders we’ve seen in these prominent positions of authority have actually been a result of archetypes constructed out of the Western collective unconscious of what it means to be a leader or influencer.3 The psychoanalyst Carl Jung contended that many of the images propagated in society are the result of archetypes that precondition people’s expectations. This could form biases in what a leader is “supposed to” look, talk, act, think, vote, include, or exclude. Unfortunately, when our collective unconsciousness is not challenged, leadership competency and capability can become confused with the person with the loudest opinions, the person who is favored, or the person who holds privileges that give them more emotional space than is merited.

One example of a problematic leadership archetype was seen in the responses to racial injustice that came to the surface (for some; for others this is always on the surface) in the spring and summer of 2020. The stoic leader archetype is a person who is steady, unmoved by pain—even the pain of others. For many leaders, their initial responses to events and protests in the summer of 2020 were to hope that things would blow over. Not only irresponsible, this stoic “strength” can actually be seen as calloused or weak leadership.

Another archetype for Christian leaders is the person who is “all things to all people.” Some have used this type of language in an attempt to remain neutral in the face of social issues or current events that spark discord and debate. But such a neutral stance is not rooted in following the teachings of Jesus; rather, it’s guided by the fear of being perceived as radical or forthright. This type of leadership attempts to delegate authority and responsibility, which cannot truly be delegated.

Still other pastors have taken the stance of being the smooth communicator. The problem with the communicator as an archetype for Christian leaders is that excellent communication does not equate to leadership. Communication is a component of leadership, but it cannot be more heavily weighted than humility, trustworthiness, and intestinal fortitude. This archetype has continually been proven ineffective in situations that require more action and fewer words.

Reflecting on the common leadership archetypes and styles that do not work in today’s world, we come to more pressing questions of leadership: What is needed in the development of leaders in the next era of Christianity? What is uniquely different about the vocational and educational environments right now that requires a specific skill set to effectively establish necessary leader development and spiritual formation principles? These questions become even more salient for me, as a psychologist and Christian educator,  in determining the substantial amount of needs and expectations carried by leaders. I contend that there are two leadership principles that organizations would benefit from emphasizing in leader development and formation for Christian leaders in the next era. Those behaviors are multicultural competence and adaptive decision making.

Multicultural Competence

Multicultural competence is defined as understanding your own and others’ cultural identities and effectively employing cultural skills during cross-cultural interactions.4  Leadership development curriculum in the Christian context would benefit from emphasizing the cultivation of multicultural competence in leaders. Researchers have laid out an argument stating that developing multicultural humility, taking a position of curiosity towards others and welcoming opportunities for learning, and implementing a distinct set of cross-cultural skills are essential for gaining multicultural competence.5 

Multicultural humility is the act of self-reflection. It means exploring one’s own values and how those values have contributed to one’s beliefs, prejudices, biases, and behaviors with others who may or may not share one’s cultural identity. For example, I am a cisgendered, able-bodied, Black, male psychologist who grew up in a relatively rural community in the Midwest. This experience has shaped me and my understanding of others. A question that is inescapable for me (and all of us) is: How has it shaped me? The biases I carry have unconsciously, and perhaps consciously, cultivated who I am and how I respond to others, and it’s essential to multicultural humility for me to become increasingly more aware of those biases.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to self-reflect. Moreover, we should be the first to explore our own cultural identity development and recognize the impact it has had on our work and relationships. Taking the time to review our psychosocial development can model reflection and contemplation as crucial aspects of those who serve and lead.6  Perhaps this type of self-reflection contributes to the facilitation of a contemplative life and spiritual formation, which in turn nurtures healthy leadership even more.

Taking a posture of curiosity toward differing perspectives can also provide opportunities for learning and growth. Andy Crouch discussed the important difference of gestures and postures in the context of culture.7  In his definition, “gestures” involve taking a position of curiosity or exploration once in a while, versus “postures,” which signal a complete dispositional change that requires more of the individual. When we help leaders take a posture of curiosity toward other cultural perspectives, we invite opportunities for advanced learning and understanding, which enhances the likelihood of multicultural competence during cross-cultural interaction in the midst of significant societal or
vocational moments.

The final component of multicultural competence would be the implementation of a set of distinct interpersonal cultural skills. Conflict management, organizing the expectations of a remote team, developing leaders in multigenerational teams, and addressing LGBTQ+ questions or concerns in faith communities are all examples of skills that must be approached proactively with multicultural competence. Rather than being reactive as many leaders have been in the past, I recommend a proactive stance to address ever increasing questions and realities. Perhaps for some, these types of situations elicit strong emotions or fear. In my experience, however, developing cross-cultural skills does not have to be an adversarial process, but invigorating and mutually enlightening.

All of these components of multicultural competence help individuals develop into leaders who deliberately implement principles that govern their behavior and human interaction. The responsibility of leaders of leaders, such as academics and Christian educators, is to willingly prepare them to engage in this distinct type of rigorous, yet necessary, formation. When we choose to emphasize the importance of multicultural competence, we are actively cocreating leadership development that is restorative to our local and global communities. Multicultural competence is not a buzzword. It is not a political statement. It is a component of leadership development that is a beneficial step toward Christian formation that will continue to be required in the future of the church and society.

Adaptive Decision-Making

My entire adult life I have served in the military in some capacity, on active duty and currently in the reserves. Over the course of this 19-year career I have had the privilege of teaching the military decision-making process (MDMP) to soldiers. During that time, I have seen how learning to make rapid decisions in rigorous training environments prepares one to make rapid decisions in operational or high-stakes environments. In addition to being multiculturally competent, today’s leaders need to possess the ability to make quick and correct decisions. Specifically, they will need to be skilled in adaptive decision-making skills, defined as the mental process of effectively reacting to a change in a situation.8 

The United States Army’s premier leadership school is Ranger School. When I attended Ranger School I had already been in the military for years and had completed a combat deployment, but I recognized there was still much more I could learn from this experience. I wanted to learn how to make better decisions in stressful situations, and rapidly. During the course of the training, I had a lot of practice doing just that. Every day we had to make decisions that contributed to the overall success of the team. I was especially impressed with the course design that made adaptive decision-making a part of the rubric to pass the course. This type of assessment and evaluation helped everybody see the importance of making such decisions. Cultivating adaptive decision-making in leaders, specifically Christian leaders, requires this same understanding and belief in the potential value of each decision they make. 

The reality is that adapting to new situations is not a skill that comes naturally. It takes education and repetition. It also takes creativity in predicting behavior and engaging in risky actions when responding to novel situations.

I have often wondered what qualifies a pastor, educator, or ministry leader to actually lead organizations. I’m sure I’m not alone in this question. What training are we providing for individuals pursuing this calling? Moreover, are we emphasizing the importance of adaptive decision-making in that training? My assumption is that many Christian leaders have found themselves learning on the job or ad hoc, much like I did as a young college pastor. Is this sufficient? I don’t think so. If we want to see changes in our organizations and our teams, we need to equip our leaders in a way that is more robust, more focused on skill development, in order to help them become capable of adapting to a world that is changing at a fast pace. At the very least, we need to develop training that helps individuals make rapid changes and adjustments, and at best, that training would teach leaders to anticipate complex changes, then initiate a decision-making process rooted in heuristics and relevant decisional thresholds.

This level of detail in adaptive decision-making is not solely meant to be used as a knowledge point, but must be evaluated in real time during training and education. Emphasizing this type of in-basket learning continues the evaluative process by providing instant feedback and guidance to soon-to-be leaders. Not only is this helpful for the person receiving the individual instruction, it is helpful for the observers as well, since they have an opportunity to bear witness to the decisional successes and improvements. Emphasizing adaptive decision-making for the next generation of Christian leaders is simple, but not easy. It is not a new idea, but perhaps the delivery of this type of training could be shifted from information and knowledge to a more embodied practice.

The Now of Next

As a young man in the year 2000, I watched an ESPN documentary called The Season.9  The film followed the 1999 football season of the North Penn Knights. I can distinctly remember the team’s motto: “Next Season Is Now.” It was their way of motivating players to engage in physical conditioning and enhancement while they were out of season. That motto has always stuck with me. During many ventures in life, I have found myself reciting the importance of “next           ” being right now. Whatever I am hoping for in the future must be cultivated in the present. This reality is similar to the proverb of sowing and reaping, which was also a mantra in my family of origin. So how does this relate to Christian education and leadership?

The time to begin thinking about the future of Christian leadership is always right now. What is next will be driven by what we decide to do at this moment in our churches, our institutions, our classrooms, and in our private lives. The decisions and emphases in those domains will have critical implications on what the global community experiences of the Christian community. Christian leaders will operate in austere environments that require them to think independently, respond expeditiously, and have an acute understanding of the complexities of ethical leadership in a world with paradoxical ethics.

Those current and future environments also require a great deal from those who are training students to be tomorrow’s leaders. As a military officer, I understand that writing to a Christian leadership audience is different from speaking to a group of new officers, but the lessons learned are transferable to leaders who operate in any environments that are asymmetrical and encompass components of the psychosocial and spiritual landscape. The 21st-century Christian leader who is called into the task and opportunity of leading churches, organizations, and institutions will need to possess the ability to be multiculturally competent and adaptive in their decision-making process. The “how” will continue to get worked out, but my hope is that the “why” and “what” have been answered.

Cedric Williams

Cedric Williams is assistant professor of marriage and family therapy and program director for Fuller’s new Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy (DMFT) degree. He received his MA in Theology and PhD in Clinical Psychology from Fuller, as well as his MA in Spiritual Formation from Lincoln Christian University. He serves as the diversity, equity, and inclusion chairperson for the American Psychological Association, Division 13, Society of Consulting Psychology. He is also the founder and chief executive officer of Legacy Consulting & Research Group LLC, where he helps individuals, teams, and organizations cocreate positive change through a variety of consultation services. In addition to his work as a psychologist, Dr. Williams has served in the United States Army (active and reserve) since 2002.

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