Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Where did all the Leaders Go? (Hint: I don’t think they’re all Missing!)

Written by: on January 24, 2024

Like all of you, I had to decide on what part of Beerel’s book, Rethinking Leadership (1), I was going to interact with and blog on. This is the kind of book where I might prefer to take one chapter a week over this next semester and deepen my leadership learning on each inter-connected topic that Beerel tackles. Alas I cannot, so here is a personal reflection back and a few comments related to some of the big ideas of her book:

While there was a lot for me to learn in this book, I was perhaps most struck by Beerel’s summary of Alvin Toffler’s work related to experiencing too much change in too short of time:

“When we reach the upper limit of our adaptive range…we become fatigued and apathetic, suffer from emotional exhaustion, feel overwhelmed, and succumb to decision stress” (2).

That is an accurate statement on my own state of being as I finished the Spring semester and it explains, in part, why I didn’t join the cohort in Oxford (which looked awesome!). In May of 2023 I became more acutely aware of my own emotional and physical exhaustion, due in part to leading my church through the pandemic season. At the time I was using terms like ‘ambiguity fatigue’ and ‘decision fatigue’ to describe some of my experience coming out of Covid. One article on decision fatigue states,

“Humans have a limited capacity to regulate their behavior. Akin to muscle fatigue after exertion, humans deplete internal resources when performing acts of self-regulation, such as processing information to formulate a decision” (3).

Too much adapting, too much uncertainty to plan anything long-term, and too many decisions–it was all piling up on me, and then this was exacerbated for me as one of my children began struggling with mental health issues and corresponding faith struggles. School, which was originally engaged in with the hopes of ‘re-sparking’ some cognitive and emotional energy became another weight to simply get done. 

I realized I needed some time away to recoup, regroup, and learn some better ways of processing some of the emotions and stress I was feeling. On the one hand, I successfully implemented some of Beerel’s psychology of leadership—being self-aware, emotionally intelligent, mindful, and humble enough to admit I needed some help (4). Unfortunately, I was ‘out-to-lunch’ long enough that I required more than just a ‘tweak’—I needed a substantive break before the warning signs I was experiencing became a real crisis in the Fall (when ministry really starts to ramp up). So, I took a three-month leave—I rested, I read, I travelled, I spent time with my family, I went for counselling (and worked out how to be better ‘self-differentiate’ from my son’s journey…Beerel includes Friedman’s ideas (5) in her chapter on the Psychology of Leadership), I rode my bike while I processed and prayed. And I slowly recovered. I knew jumping back into full-time work and full-time school in September would not be wise, so I went half-time in my Doctoral studies through the Fall while I sought to implement and integrate my learning into ‘real life’. While I was still meeting with my cohort throughout the Fall, I wasn’t connected with all of you, and that’s a brief explanation as to why. Thanks for the kind welcome back!

Two other less personal thoughts:

1. Leadership is a complex subject—Beerel demonstrates as much as she summarizes 100 years of leadership theories over four pages and gives various examples of different definitions of leadership (6). However, that complexity is multiplied by the complex moment we were in (Covid) and are still coming out of. Beerel writes,

“While many will try to return to the old ways, they will fail. The past is gone. A new world is emerging that requires a whole other level of consciousness. In short, new leaders are needed. This book is about those new leaders and the new leadership required” (7).

Her statement made me think back to Meyer & Land’s article and Beerel seemed to be boldly declaring that the entire globe was experiencing the liminality that inevitably comes as we make our way through a ‘threshold concept’ (8). She says the same thing differently near the end of her book: “Whether we choose to accept it or not, we are living in between two worlds. The world of the 20th century, with its unfettered growth and accumulation of wealth, is over. And the new world that has not yet emerged” (9).

Uncertainty and disorientation at this sort of global scale will require new ways of being for Western Christians who have lived in relative comfort and security for many years—and it is a new opportunity for the church in North America to embody the peaceful presence and faith filled hope that will distinguish God’s people from an anxious culture.

2. Beerel’s over-arching assertion in this book is that leaders are in short supply: “Despite the plethora of books, development programs, and trainings, few effective leaders are to be found” (10). While noting in chapter 2 that many leadership theories as well as popular leadership books are highly suspect for their lack of academic rigour and supporting research data to back up their theories and claims, Beerel then goes on to make this sweeping statement with no substantiating data herself. How could her assertion possibly be quantified? Are there really only a few good leaders in the world? And what does a few mean? Based on my own observation, I saw lots of people giving great leadership in an unprecedented global crisis. Without question there were some great examples of bad leadership during this time, but that doesn’t discount the many examples of selfless leaders doing their best for the good of their staff and organizations. I might challenge Beerel’s statement and suggest that crisis tends to bring out both the best and the worst of people, and that likely includes leaders as well.

(1) Annabel Beerel, Rethinking Leadership, 1st edition (London; New York: Routledge, 2021)
(2) Beerel, 11.
(3) GA Pignatiello, RJ Martin, and RL Hickman, “Decision Fatigue: A Conceptual Analysis,” Journal of Health Psychology 25, no. 1 (2020); 123-135.
(4) Beerel, 105, 279, 288
(5) Friedman, Edwin H., Margaret M. Treadwell, and Edward W. Beal. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. 10th anniversary revised edition. New York: Church Publishing, 2017.
(6) Beerel, 72-75, 84-85
(7) Beerel, 2
(8) Meyer, J., & Land, R. “Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Linkages to ways of thinking and practicing within the disciplines.” London: Routledge, 2006.
(9) Beerel, 371
(10) Beerel, 100

About the Author

Scott Dickie

8 responses to “Where did all the Leaders Go? (Hint: I don’t think they’re all Missing!)”

  1. mm Kim Sanford says:

    I’m struck by your description of leading through COVID: “Too much adapting, too much uncertainty to plan anything long-term, and too many decisions.” A lightbulb went off in my head because that’s exactly how it felt adapting to the mission field. And that’s not just our experience; I think it’s a universal phenomenon for new missionaries. Not the point of your post, I know, but it connected some dots for me. Mostly that the remedy is some serious rest and recuperation before total burn-out sets in.

    • Scott Dickie says:

      Interesting Kim…it would be interesting to engage further and see if and how your (and my own) missions agency anticipate this reality and build structures/practices within the first 1-2 years that help facilitate this over-whelming experience. I know our denomination does decent preparation work related to cross-cultural relocation….but I am not aware of too much intention/programs/frameworks for the now-overseas family trying to adapt and learn a new language. I’m going to ask a friend who recently went to the middle east from our church to see what might exist for people like him. Does your agency have more intentional programs to support newly arrived missionaries?

  2. mm Russell Chun says:

    It was the best of times, It was the worst of times. (Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities” 1859.

    Ukraine versus The Czar of Russian, Israel versus The Supreme Leader of Iran, Taiwan versus the Emperor of China.

    Who wrote there is nothing new under the sun? (Ah yes, Solomon Ecclesiastes 1:9.)

    What follows is a prayer request…

    Today Stephanie Flohr age 70 arrived in Odesa (Одеса) Ukraine. She will minister to widows and seniors (Stephanie lost her husband 3 years ago). I asked her if she had purchased her body armor and she said she has Ephesians 6. Wow.

    Nate Gerber leaves 9 Feb. First to GoodSports Slovakia (Prievidze) then through Poland, to Lyviv where I have asked him to attend a Ukrainian Sports Conference. Then Kharkiv to work with Redemption Church initially to deliver food (Samaritans purse) to elderly in three villages. Too old to move, these folk on the border with Russia are in survival mode. Moving however is something to hard to contemplate.

    On Saturday I speak to Penuel (where Jacob wrestled with God), they have 300 children and need another field.

    When I look at all of the Leadership resources we cover I wonder how they could help me “lead” in these circumstances in Ukraine?

    Моє лідерство зараз перевіряється. Батьку, дай мені мудрість. (My leadership is being tested now. Father, give me wisdom.)


    • Scott Dickie says:

      Hi Russel….God’s wisdom to you as you lead in hard places. I did think, as I was reading Beerel’s book, that the Covid crisis was likely much more disruptive for western leaders than those in the ‘developing world’ (for lack of a better term). So many of our brothers and sisters in Christ that lead in other parts of the world are much more acclimatized to hardship, changes that they have no power over, being overwhelmed by need and needing to adapt to realities beyond their control. Perhaps we should be asking those leaders to teach us to lead in this new post-covid world?

      • mm Russell Chun says:

        HI Scott,
        You have hit on something that has been circling the back of my mind since the ending of our first year.

        “Where are the OTHER leadership sources/techniques that we can be learning from.” What I mean is that in the momentum we have towards global connectivity, what do Asian, African, South American leaders think.

        We definitely have a “western” focus. I have to confess that I too have a “western/military focus.” In this program I would like to encounter other leadership philosophies (weighing them judiciously).


  3. mm John Fehlen says:

    This is me in a nutshell right now:

    “When we reach the upper limit of our adaptive range…we become fatigued and apathetic, suffer from emotional exhaustion, feel overwhelmed, and succumb to decision stress”

    Enough said. I’m wiped. 🙁

    • Scott Dickie says:

      I’m sorry John…it’s not an easy place to be…I hope you can carve out sufficient time to meaningfully reflect on the various ‘streams’ that are making it difficult to keep your head above water.

      I was/am very thankful for my Board who, when I went to them and said, “I have some warning signs flashing in my life that I need to sort out” responded with, “Let’s make a plan to get you out of here sooner than later…take 3 months, and if you need more…let’s sort that out along the way.”

      And in the end…as I shared where I was at and some of the ‘warning signs’ I was aware of with the church as a whole…and what I learned during my leave…I believe God used my ‘weakness’ and time away to continue to shape our church culture into a place where it’s ok to not be ok.

      I suspect there’s a leadership principle in there…but that can wait…go do something that will fill up your soul! Praying for you…

  4. Esther Edwards says:

    Thank you for sharing from such a vulnerable place. When our kids go through trying times, we do too. It is the crucible, yet joy (often recognized later) of parenting. Your board being so supportive speaks to your effective leadership. Kudos to them for giving you time and space. That being said, we are glad you are back. And as far as Beerel, I so value the book and how she approached leadership, but as you could tell from my post, I too found the sweeping statement of a lack of leaders to be unfounded.
    Thanks for your very real post that cautions all of us as leaders to pay attention to our own personal and family needs.

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