Roger Parrott: What the short-term cannot achieve

Christian leaders should make decisions from the perspective of forever. Like Jesus did.

The best leaders understand they should be held accountable for long-term outcomes before they are rewarded for immediate results.

The pastor who envisions reaching his whole city will be more effective than the one concerned about making a glowing report at the next conference gathering. A fund-raising professional who desires to build relationships matching donors with their passions will raise more money than one striving to meet an urgent campaign goal. Even an administrator who fixes the nagging plumbing problems will be appreciated more than the one who spends that same money to install new carpeting.

A report from the “Harvard Business Review” (If Brands Are Built over Years, Why Are They Managed over Quarters?) explores why short-term thinking dominates business marketing today, even though branding is an extremely long-term process. The researchers determined that companies have shifted their focus to quarterly outcomes over long-term success because of three factors:

(1) There is an abundance of real-time immediate data that allows us to measure results in great detail in ways we could not in the past.

(2) At the same time, long-term results have become even more difficult to measure, thus pushing the focus to a short-run agenda.

(3) The tenure of managers is becoming shorter as they see their future linked to demonstrating immediate results.

But the root of this short-term outlook does not rest only at the feet of self-serving leaders, because boards and constituencies have allowed organizational success to become measured by quarterly results rather than long-term strategies.

The most public firings of corporate CEOs seem to nearly always follow a consistent pattern: cheers for that leader through a relatively short period of repeated quarterly reports, followed by a startling discovery by the board of serious foundational issues gone awry. But these same boards have demanded, rewarded and praised immediate success at all costs.

The irony is that these boards have also learned to solve their crisis with a short-term solution: firing the CEO. Rather than do the hard work needed to correct the foundational issues, they repeat the cycle.

And then there are the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?” employees or constituents that press leaders for decisions which feed the hunger of instant gratification instead of the pursuit for long-term goals. Pressure often mounts within institutions for leaders to make decisions only in light of short-run objectives if those choices will boost today’s benefits. Meanwhile the foundational erosion -- caused by decisions guided only by short-term vision -- eventually undermines all the good achieved. The damage, once discovered, is difficult and costly to repair.

This same pattern occurs too often in ministry and theological education, as boards and committees want to hire people who have demonstrated measurable results. But when we overvalue easily measured, short-term achievements, we reward leaders who produce immediate advances over long-term significance in ministry, tempting the most “productive” people to move to a new place of service.

Instead, the commitment and discipline to lead with a long-term view will transform how you approach leadership more so than any other shift you could make.

This is the leadership pattern modeled by Jesus.

In the garden of Gethsemane he prays, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death...If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me” (Matt. 26:38–39). Although fully God, Jesus was also fully human; that is the cry of an anguished leader at the crossroads, one longing to give into the short-term options rather than seek the long-term end.

Had Jesus taken the short-term view and revealed his power, the mockers would have been silenced, his followers’ political dreams would have been accomplished, and the whole world would have been left amazed. But instead, he made a decision from the perspective of forever. He prayed, “Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matt. 26:39).

And like Jesus, a Christian leader’s proper long-range view must extend all the way into eternity.

Dr. Roger Parrott is President of Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi. He is the author of “The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders” (David C. Cook).