The Leadership Journey

It has been my privilege to serve the Adventist Church as a conference leader for 24 years - serving more than 22 years as a conference president. When I assumed the role of conference president, I was ill prepared. I had been an effective pastor, but I never saw myself becoming the senior leader for a conference. Having previously served two years as Conference Executive Secretary, when I was elected Conference President I simply tried to do what my predecessor had done. I respected him greatly - a courageous and charismatic young leader, willing to think out of the box and do things differently; seeking to bring glory to God. He and his wife were (and are today) a mighty influence for spiritual growth and unreserved commitment to Jesus. But, even though I admired and valued his gifts and priorities, I wasn't him. And I wasn't doing a very good job of becoming him. It was necessary for me to grow into the leader whom God intended me to become. So, for a while, I was in a quandary. I didn't know where to take the next step in my leadership journey.

After serving 5 years as a conference president, I began a Doctor of Ministry course in Executive Leadership. It was an amazing journey. I began to learn so many things: systems thinking, change theory, how to grow and develop the organization so that it may better accomplish its mission, how to address issues of values and norms clarification, how to discern dysfunction and bring it into the light. I was ignited with a new direction.

Over the 5 years of the D.Min. program, I developed a hunger for growth and a thirst for life-long learning. I developed confidence that I could learn, grow, and change personally and professionally. Our organization implemented new ideas, which were impactful, in the organization that I led. I still loved my predecessor. And, to this day, the things that I learned from him are the bedrock of who I am as a leader - putting God first, dependence upon the Holy Spirit, gospel-centeredness, displaying courage and resolve to do the right thing. But, through my educational opportunity, I had a taste of what could happen when leaders are given tools for organizational development and leadership maturation.

Near the end of my D.Min. course, and before I did my doctoral project, I connected with a life coach. Shortly thereafter, I moved to the Florida Conference as Conference President. I decided to adopt a project of training leaders to use coaching skills. The trainer - my coach - is also a psychologist and, to this day, he carries a passion to see leaders embrace balance and wholeness, spiritual and emotional maturity. He refers to his ministry as developing "flourishing leaders." Since 2003, He has made an amazing contribution to whom many others, and I, have become. This emphasis has blessed my leadership colleagues. I have seen much growth in scores of pastors, educators, and administrators.

However, always seeking to prayerfully discern opportunities for development, I have recently had my eyes opened to further opportunities for leadership development. Through the influence of the North American Division, and through training experiences that I have pursued on my own, I now see new vistas of opportunity for leadership growth. Attending the Korn-Ferry Institute training in late 2015, I was exposed to a treasure of developmental resources based upon Organizational Psychology and Organizational Development research over the past 40 years; much of it from the University of Minnesota.  There are also many other helpful tools from similar organizations. Through personality inventories, 360 assessments, and other training programs, I have discovered that it is possible to change the entire trajectory of a leader's pattern of leadership - often in only one or two years. Today, it is done regularly in Fortune 500 companies and other organizations where leaders have high accountability for performance.

And it can happen with Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders. I am seeing it work with the leaders where I serve. And I believe it can spread throughout North America.  Adventist leaders on every level in the organization - pastors, educators, and administrators - may become exponentially more effective.

In the Florida Conference, we have identified a group of 35 people that we are taking through a leadership development course, designed to utilize these resources - personality inventories, 360 assessments, followed up by monthly coaching sessions, for a period of 6 to 18 months. The coaches are being trained in how to identify areas for skill development. The coaches are also being provided access to tools that will assist the individuals with creating a growth plan, with accountability. People may grow and develop in amazing ways if they have the desire, the tools, and the structure for it.

In summary, my experience over the past quarter of a century has been an immense gift to me. None of the lessons, which the Lord has taught me, have become passé. Rather they are indispensable, interrelated, and built one upon the other. Here is my understanding of the leader's journey:

·      The gospel and an understanding of grace is the foundation of it all.

·      The next layer is understanding and incorporating the biblical practices for growing in Christ; practices which have sustained godly leaders through time - spending time alone with God, fasting, contemplatively reading Scripture daily, and regular personal and corporate prayer.

·      The next layer is becoming a life-long learner; never being satisfied with our level of understanding and growth. "Higher than the highest human thought can reach . . . "

·      The next layer is embracing spiritual and emotional maturity, believing that it is not God's will to live in a workaholic culture while saying we value family relationships, Sabbath rest and wholeness; understanding that it is God's desire to restore human beings to the experience of humankind in the Garden of Eden. Adventists should be foremost in teaching and practicing these values.

·       Finally, taking the journey toward self-awareness and skill development; refusing to spiritualize mediocrity and evade accountability.

It is a priceless opportunity. And it awaits you - if you are willing to make the journey!

Mike Cauley is president of the Florida Conference