Nothing lasts forever, not even our present jobs or ministries. The question is whether we are aware when the tide may be moving out - with the threat that we might be left high and dry. Wise individuals watch the tide so that they are not caught by surprise - and have the opportunity to take action on their own terms.
Tides are not always fair to the ships riding on them. Nor is life at times. Changing tides can be about a church or organization going through transition, leadership changes, personality conflicts with those we may work closely with, a lack of agreement with the mission or culture of the ministry we serve, or our own need for a change.
The issue is not whether the tide may be going out is due to us or other factors. The issue is whether we are aware of the direction of the water's flow or if we will be caught by surprise. Connected to an awareness of the tide is a discernment as to whether the place where we work continues to be healthy for us and whether it maximizes our gifts.
For senior leaders the first question is, how am I doing with my board to whom I am ultimately accountable?
Whether in the secular world or the world of ministry, knowing how your board views your work, effectiveness and ability to drive the mission at any stage of your leadership is paramount. My observation is that once one has lost the confidence of the board that the tide is unlikely to come back in.
If there are tensions with the board it is critical to know where the tensions are and then to determine whether it is possible to resolve the issues involved, or if it is going to be a losing battle. Again, the issue is not whether it is a "fair" situation, from our point of view. It is better to have honest, candid and robust discussion with a board than to find out one day that the tide has gone out on us and we are being asked to leave. Or are fired.
The same goes for those of us who report to a supervisor other than a board. One of the best things we can do is to solicit regular feedback on their view of our work so that there are no surprises. I realize that it can feel threatening to actually ask the important questions. The alternative, however, is even worse - not knowing that there are issues - or pretending that there are not when we know there are.
This does not mean that our supervisor always needs to be happy with us or that we cannot press back on issues. In fact, that is exactly what happens when there is a relationship of trust between a staff member and supervisor. Honesty and disagreement are expected in a healthy relationship. It does mean that we are aware if there are deeper issues that a supervisor may have with us - and whether those issues can be resolved or not.
We also ought to be aware of how we are doing with out colleagues, those who play at our level. This takes more personal awareness but it is an indicator of the tides. It is not necessary that we are best friends with our colleagues. It is necessary that they respect us and the effectiveness of our work. If they do not, it can erode our effectiveness since their perceptions can influence others and because our effectiveness is dependent on the willing cooperation of our peers.
An awareness of how those who report to us feel about our work, character, leadership and effectiveness is vastly undervalued. It is easy for leaders or supervisors to pay too little attention to this since they are "in charge." However, the truth is that those who report to us will either help us or hurt us in proportion to the respect that they have for us. If they lose confidence in our ability to lead, we are in serious trouble.
Let me be honest on this one. If we are unwilling to ask those who report to us how we are doing, either using a 360 review process or directly, we should not be leading. We may not like the feedback, we may need to learn from the feedback or we may like the feedback. The issue is whether we are willing to hear the feedback - for our own good and so that we are not surprised.
Healthy leaders have an attitude of "nothing to prove, nothing to lose." They want the feedback so that they can lead better and so that the mission is accomplished. At the least, it is wise to know where our people are. And they probably will not tell us unless we ask.
Finally we need to be aware of our own growth curve, level of challenge and whether we are at the top of our game or have moved into a plateaued or coasting mode. If we are not at the top of our game in the position we are in, we either need to figure out how to get back to the top, or admit that we may need a change. Others will see where we are in our growth curve, so it is wise for us to know as clearly as they do.
Wise individuals are aware individuals. They understand that life is not always fair, that jobs don't last forever, that God is sovereign and that self awareness is a key part of emotional health. They watch the tides, not in fear, but as ship captains do. So they are not caught like the tall ship in the picture.