Every organization needs one or more individuals who are thought leaders in the areas which the organization works. Thought leaders are different from other competent leaders on the team in that they are able to see further, think differently and deeper than others. They continually challenge the status quo, are always thinking ministry strategy and architecture and looking for game changers that don’t tweak the present but change the whole nature of the equation.
The Apple Corporation is an example of a business with a significant bench of thought leaders. The result is not simply new technology but different technology that has changed the way we view and use our electronic gadgets. The IPad, for instance will no doubt replace many still bulky and heavy laptops for a wide variety of travelers. Not only is it cool but it changes the equation for many who don’t want to lug their computers around.
Thought leaders have some common characteristics. First they question everything rather than simply accepting the status quo. They see “common wisdom” as common but not necessarily wisdom and are contrarian in their thinking – asking why we do what we do the way we do it and whether there is a different way. Rather than looking to tweak systems they are more likely to look for game changing opportunities where radical shifts bring significant ministry leverage. Video venues, for instance, were used by a handful of ministries who went against conventional wisdom that preaching had to be in person and that innovation has changed the game for numerous ministries who are now reaching far more people and offering more worship venue options.
Thought leaders can be found at many different levels of a ministry and wise leaders are always on the lookout for those whose insight is regularly challenging the status quo. They then find venues for dialogue with these good thinkers in order to maximize the effectiveness of the ministry. One of the mistakes many older leaders make is not to listen to the thought leaders of the young generation among them who may not have the positional status of older leaders but who are on the cutting edge of what needs to happen in the future. In my experience, many of the key thought leaders of today are in their twenties and thirties and are the voices that are going to mold ministry in the next generation. To ignore them is particularly dangerous as thought leaders by definition need ways to exercise their mental creativity and will move out of organizations where that is not valued or possible.
Can you identify the thought leaders in your organization? Do they have venues to speak into your strategy and paradigms? Do you as a leader have ways to interact with them and benefit from their creativity?