Canoeing the Mountains By Tod E. Bolsinger

Name of the Book: Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Unchartered Territory
Author: Tod E. Bolsinger
Publisher: IVP Books
Place of Publication: Downers Grove, Il.
Year of Publication: 2015
Reviewed by: J.N. Manokaran

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803 to “the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce.” For 300 years the belief was that the Mississippi river way would reach Pacific Ocean. They Corp of Discovery travelled 8000 miles. To their surprise, they hit Rocky Mountains and had to abandon their keelboats (canoes) and procure horses to cross mountains and they reached Pacific Ocean. They created detailed maps, new discovered plants, and journals that are treasure.
Taking this analogy, author Tod E. Bolsinger challenges Christian leaders to abandon old methods, tools and concepts and venture into unchartered territory of post-Christian West without road map.
New emerging context are God given opportunities to adventure, hope and discover. The discovery is not just exploring unchartered territory, but also exploring the capacity of leadership within us. It is important to understand that the world is in front of us is nothing like the world that is past or behind us. Leaders who excel in existing situation could make adaptation in new unchartered territories.
The author primarily writes to pastors who are struggling to re-purpose, re-imagine and re-strategize ‘traditional’ churches to become dynamic ‘missional churches’. The concept of ‘missional church’ is make all members engaged in mission. In the existing structure (church or organization); unity, discipline and alignment improve effectiveness; however, it also stifles creativity, passion and energy.
The American adventurers found that experts’ opinion for past three hundred years were utterly wrong. To take an adventurous trip, they have to change plans, give up expectations, and reframe their entire mission. Setting free from ‘imaginatively gridlocked’ conceptual pattern is essential to go into unchartered territory. Going into unchartered territory means to ditch the canoes, ask for help, find horses and cross the mountains. Adaptive challenges are those that cannot be solved with existing knowledge and skills. Demands shift in values, expectations, attitudes, or habits of behaviour.

Three components of transformational leadership: Adaptive capacity, Technical competence, and Relational congruence. Author elaborates each of these, mostly in the context of local church and pastoral ministry. However, the principles are applicable and transferable to other contexts of ministries.
Technical competence

Technical competence includes: Contextual skills, Organizational value,
Consistent delivery and other skills and information developed through assessment.

Author asserts: “Surprisingly, transformational leadership does not begin with transformation but with competence.” In other words: Stewardship precedes leadership skills. Leadership first requires “threshold competence,” a demonstrable competency as stewards of the basic roles and responsibilities of their position. The credibility gained in competence must be increased through acts of demonstrated character, care and constancy.

Relational Congruence

Integrity, Maturity, Emotional health, Spirituality and Revealing an authenticity are important to have great relationships with others to lead effectively. Relational congruence is a leader’s ability to be the same person in every setting, every relationship, every task. Leaders should have credibility because of ‘technical competence’, however, that is inadequate. There is a need for personal trust, which can only come through the relational congruence of a leader. “Even if we agree that we are in an adapt – or – die (even adventure – or – die) moment, the urgency of the situation is not enough. When given that particular choice, 90 percent choose dying.”

According to Osterhaus, “Trust is gained like a thermostat and lost like a light switch.”

For the sake of the Kingdom of God, leaders build purposeful ‘working friendships’ with all those who could participate in mission. In other words, a congregation should be become ‘Corp’ to bring the gospel in new ways in the changing world. Christian community is not just a ‘loving’ community, but a community that engages the world to provide ‘healing’.

Leaders should nurture an organizational culture that embraces changes to face new challenges.

Adaptative capacity

Adaptative capacity includes: Systemic issues, calmly confront the unknown
Lead a learning process, that is Expressed in asking questions. Adaptive capacity is to change behaviour, of all who want to be in the journey.
Adaptive leadership is about “letting go, learning as we go, and keeping going”.

Leaders who keep canoeing even though there is no river, think somehow, future would be like the past. “When our old maps fail us, something within us dies. Replacing our paradigms is both deeply painful and absolutely critical.”
To put it bluntly, if you are not learning anything new, it is not adaptive work.

A “system” consists of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose. That is what adaptive leadership is all about: the way that living human systems learn and adapt to a changing environment so they can fulfil their purpose for being. At the heart of this work is a three – step process of “observations, interpretations and interventions.”

Leadership in the past meant coming up with solutions. Today it is learning how to ask new questions that we have been too scared, too busy or too proud to ask.
The challenge of leadership is learning how to keep innovating and experimenting while attending to and caring for the disappointment of these particular people.

While leading change, leaders have to come across six kinds of people and know how to engage with them: 1) Allies, 2) Confidants, 3) Opponents, 4) Senior authorities, 5) Casualties, and 6) Dissenters.

Many leaders tend to “adapt to immaturity,” that is, to give in to the most anxious – internal or external – elements. The paradox of transformational leaders is that the very conviction that causes the leader to be willing to “disappoint your own followers at a rate they can absorb” is what ultimately —when handled well — wins “your own followers” to join you in your cause.

Good leaders listen and are ‘trained in the street’. Leading in uncharted territory does not make our experience, education and expertise irrelevant, just incomplete. “Uncharted leadership survives and thrives by listening to the ignored voice (Sacagawea), by expanding the table of participation beyond what is imaginable (Sacagawea’s and York’s votes) , and by discovering new worlds and seeing what will come ( Colter’s exploration of Yellowstone), but mostly , the challenges of uncharted leadership challenge us to keep exploring and become someone completely different from when the journey began.

The explorers, on November 7, 1805 . After nineteen months of dangerous and demanding travel the Corps of Discovery had accomplished what many had feared was near impossible. But they had done it and understandably felt the thrill of accomplishment. The journey was longer and harder than they had expected and had led to a most stunning discovery : all the “ maps ” were wrong

Exploration teaches us to see the familiar through a new frame. First, new perspective; Second, stop trying the old methods: “ an unending treadmill of trying harder”; third, “looking for answers rather than reframing questions.”

Author gives a profound statement: “I encourage leaders to escape the expert expectation by becoming an expert experimenter, an expert question asker instead of answer giver. A great question when asked, and attempted to answer, offers more than a solution — a transformation.”

In the context of Covid19, world is rapidly changing many aspects of life: spiritual, social, business, education…It book, helps us to re-think our life, purpose and missions. Timely book for reflection and action.

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