Roger Parrott: The real problem with leadership today

We have asked leaders to perform the quick turnaround rather than in-depth transformation. But a rising generation of leaders is dedicated to seeking another way.

The problem in leadership is not that we don’t have great leaders. In fact, we’ve probably never had more educationally well-prepared leaders than we have today. The problem is that leaders are caught in a vice grip of unrealistic expectations that pressure them into valuing turnaround over transformation.

Today’s leaders are expected to find simple solutions to complex problems, and because these quick-fixes only hold for a short time, leaders from presidents to pastors usually disappoint those they are leading.

This pattern started in American culture in the 1980s with the quest to get rich quick from junk bonds and buyouts, through the dot.coms in the 1990s, and the explosion of “want it now” credit card debt and the real-estate frenzy created by leveraged speculators in the past decide.

So leaders have been reared, tutored, and equipped to operate in a world that prizes immediate results over lasting significance.

For three decades, skyrocketing incentives have been the norm for all manner of short-term producers -- from stockbrokers to college coaches -- as leaders at every level have indoctrinated us to believe immediate gains trump long-term consequences.

This nearsightedness is eroding the foundational underpinnings of organizational quality and severely handicapping the effectiveness of leaders who are robbing the future to pay for today.

As we often do in the Church, we’ve followed the pattern of the world -- in this case, the best of business and organizational teaching. Ministry leaders believe it and act accordingly -- hiring and rewarding people who can promote Band-Aid fixes as monumental solutions, creating plans that promise the moon and always come up short, raising funds from unrealistically compressed donor relationships, and touting those results that can most easily be measured and applauded.

In mimicking the leadership patters of business and politics, we’ve strayed from what I call the “Longview” leadership model given to us by Jesus.

Our theology and our ministry passion should draw us to talk about Longview outcomes as our heart’s desire, but we have been duped into fostering a generation of leaders, board members, employees, and constituencies who value short-term gain over Longview significance.

For three reasons I’m convinced this rising leaders of today are ready to embrace Longview leadership:

1. Their generation has seen that the short view doesn’t work. This is likely to be the first generation that has not had a quality of life better than their parents. They know the reason is we are not dealing with Longview solutions in the macro problems of health care, terrorism, energy, and the economy. And they will be the ones to pay the price for patchwork fixes.

2. They are connected to huge networks of real people through social networking, and listen to them rather than public relations messages -- and they know from their peers that sugarcoating a problem doesn’t make it go away.

3. This new generation of leaders is much more focused on mission significance and problem-solving than on organizational stature and position climbing. They want to make a difference in the world, and they are willing to dig into problems to find lasting solutions.

We live in a quick-fix, immediate-impact, short-view world. But we serve a Longview God. To bridge this gap, Jesus became the ultimate example of Longview leadership amid the clamor for expedient results. Of course Jesus’ sights were always aimed toward eternity (the ultimate Longview), and he lived and thought in that realm.

But even in the practical everyday demands of leadership, Jesus showed us the value of investing in Longview solutions as we serve those in our care. And that’s what I wanted to address in the book -- how Jesus lived our Longview leadership in the practical challenges of everyday leadership.

Roger Parrott is president of Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi. He is the author of "The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders" (David Cook).