Leading in a world of unreliable information

CEOs are worried about what they don’t know. But the knowledge needed today – an understanding of why things happen and how challenges are connected – is the heart of theological education.

The changing context that corporate leaders face is akin to the “explosion of a supernova.” I was taken aback by this observation in the introduction to the 2013 Duke Corporate Education survey of global CEOs.

“This supernova event has accelerated the move to an interdependent world and has untethered many of the assumptions and beliefs that leaders have depended on to frame their leadership,” the report says.

In a weird way, I was comforted to think that 38 CEOs across the globe wake up worried about what they don’t know. Most Christian leaders have the same sense of uncertainty, but from a strikingly different sense of loss.

In the 2013 CEO study, Duke Corporate Education made these three observations about information being less reliable:

1. “Access to knowledge is uncontrollable, and shelf life is low.” The internet makes information available to all and makes the publication of facts, opinions and nearly everything else so easy. It is difficult to sort the good from the bad. The scale of information produced leaves many feeling far behind. Until recently, time on the job was highly valued because that experience was key to knowing what information to pay attention to. Today, the lessons from the 1990s are not regarded as relevant.

2. “Tacit knowledge is now as valuable as explicit.” Until recently, technical knowledge reigned supreme in the world of business. Now CEOs report that tacit knowledge -- the knowledge of why things happen and how to do something -- is becoming more and more important.

3. “Systemic knowledge is critical to understanding -- and solving problems.” The problems that CEOs report to be most common are not solvable through technical knowledge of finance or sales. Rather, leaders and their teams need to understand and consider the context, be it a city or a market segment. Challenges are interconnected, and systems thinking is required to account for the connections and foresee a full range of consequences.

Christian leaders often feel insecure because of a lack of technological knowledge. The accounting or human resource professionals seem to know things that ministers never learned in seminary. Everyone knows of a Christian institution that has been weakened by poor management.

Yet the sort of tacit and systemic knowledge for which CEOs are yearning is the bread and butter of a theological education. Theological thinking involves seeing the whole and the parts within the whole. It is the ultimate in tacit and systemic. Christians have a picture of God’s reign from scripture that guides us, no matter the current circumstances.

In “The Moral Vision of the New Testament,” Richard B. Hays summarizes the story of scripture in these two sentences, “The God of Israel, the creator of the world, has acted (astoundingly) to rescue a lost and broken world through the death and resurrection of Jesus; the full scope of that rescue is not yet apparent, but God has created a community of witnesses to this good news, the church. While awaiting the grand conclusion of the story, the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is called to reenact the loving obedience of Jesus Christ and thus to serve as a sign of God’s redemptive purposes for the world.” (page 193)

Knowing what has been and what will be and living according to gospel principles is good news in a world of unreliable information.

Many Christian institutions and their leaders need to find ways to engage leaders in the corporate, government and social sectors so they can deliver services that create meaningful community. The Christian institutions need the technical skills that are second nature to the corporate leaders -- and the corporate leaders need our vision for the future.