“If you aim low enough, you will always hit your target.” Conversely, it could be said, “If you aim high enough, you may hit your target.”
Over the course of my life, I have watched individuals, groups, and organizations do both. I’ve wondered what determines whether an individual, group, or organization chooses to aim low or to aim high? I believe the answer has to do with the vision of the person, group, or organization. Additionally, it has to do with what level of risk the person, group, or organization is willing to take to achieve that vision. Someplace in the equation either fear or confidence enters, and the mood and effect of the individual, group, or organization is transformed one way or the other.
Studying statistics thirty-three years ago, I was interested in what variables skewed things away from the mean. I realized that some people were successful, and some were not. I saw groups wax or wane. I saw organizations fail or grow. What made the difference?
Two variables stand out in my mind’s eye:
When any individual, group, or organization is unwilling to change, it often will shrink and decay. It loses sight of what is happening today; it becomes calcified in the spirit of “We’ve never done it that way before” or a philosophy of “That is the only way to do it.” Without change, whatever the organism, it will hang on, shrink, and ultimately die.
When an individual, group, or organization chooses to change, it can prosper, grow, and renew. However, it must grow into the change and take the time to do so. Sometimes it must change again along the way. The determining factor about whether or not to change is often subtle. Nothing good happens clinging to the past. Healthy individuals, groups, or organizations that respect the past while choosing to try something different are exciting and renewing. Everything comes down to choice, and what the individual, group, or organization chooses. It depends on whose voice is listened to and respected the most. When it is the voice of the status quo, there is stasis; when it is the voice of change, there is a spirit of possibility. I have watched individuals, groups, and organizations decay and die. I have also watched individuals, groups, and organizations choose to change and come to thrive.
Enter leadership. A leader is often the person or persons whose voice is heard clearly and who models how the future can look. A leader is a person who has the capacity to listen deeply. A leader can work independently or in a group. A leader will define her/himself, speak of the vision and move toward whatever the vision may be. A leader will be a non-anxious presence. When second-guessed, the leader continues to be consistent with her/his core essence. When facing difficulty or disagreeable entities, a leader will stop and assess, and continue toward the stated goals of the group or organization. Leading is not an easy task and is often learned while in the process. Leaders are often out of their comfort zone and grow to new levels of leading by continually being themselves.
What I am describing is a model of family systems psychology that creates reorganization around the growth and stability of the leader. It works for individuals, groups, and organizations.
Returning to the question of this essay. Is it enough to aim low and hit your target? It will depend on the desire of the individual, group, or organization to change and its comfort with change. It will depend on the leader’s ability to stay in touch with his/her adversaries. Of course, aiming higher is creating possibilities not before considered.
An example is a congregation I worked with when training as a therapist. The congregation had lost its prior three pastors all of whom left the parish under duress. The church was stuck in an older ethnic identity. It had resisted change for years and had aged. The children of the congregation no longer spoke their parents’ European language. The parents could not let go of their primary language. They would rather die than learn something new. I was the first non-Swedish pastor the church had ever called. I knew if my colleagues hadn’t done anything to change the spirit of the congregation, I probably did not stand a chance. My mentor told me to risk trying systems behavior. I did. To my amazement, after taking a risk with some money and succeeding, the congregation was willing to take a few more risks. A few people who could not handle any risk at all left the congregation. The people who stayed began wanting to be leaders themselves. The congregation grew, built new Christian Education and multi-purpose space, enhanced and enriched ministries, attracted new members, enlarged its mission, and continues to prosper thirty years later.
In my personal life, after having a major financial setback, I practiced the very same system of leadership for myself. I defined myself, became a non-anxious presence, and despite facing setbacks, I stayed with my plan. I believed that in three years everything I lost would be given back and more. There were snags along the way. Happily, at the end of three years, I was where I wanted to be and more; I was thriving.
What it comes down to is determining a plan as an individual, group, or organization. The plan can be little, aiming low, or it can call for a risk. In that case, you will be aiming for your dreams. Without a dream, without a vision, without taking a chance, you and I will hit the mark every time. I believe in change. I believe the Holy One put within me and you the capacity to do more, be more, and change not our appearances, but our very minds. Who among us knows how much we can do if we give ourselves permission?