Leading in the Wilderness – Reflections of an Irish Leader (Mark Murray)

In his fascinating book ‘The Tyranny of Metrics’, Jerry Z. Muller examines our human obsession with evaluating performance based on that which can be measured. From colleges who make graduating easier for students so that they appear to be ‘elite’, to neurosurgeons climbing the medical ladder by avoiding ‘risky’ patients, there is a global (predominantly Western) trend towards using statistics and numbers in order to be seen as successful or worthy of praise. Focusing on metrics becomes a means of controlling culture, government funding, and public opinion. But what happens when we encounter that which cannot be measured and controlled?

We are living in unprecedented times. The world that we used to live in was one that could be controlled and manipulated by those who had money, prestige and a platform (virtual platforms included) – one where it was easy to find worth in how full our social schedule, inbox or to-do list was. But now it seems as though the ordered world that we once knew has been thrown out of order. That which was once in our control is now out of control. Being forced to remain isolated and distant from all that we once held tightly to, many of us are growing weary as we try to navigate this wilderness and come to terms with a new reality; not knowing what next week, next month, or next year looks like.

While no answer seems sufficient to offer relief at this time, many of the prophetic words found in the Bible can be a source of hope in this wilderness:

Have you never heard?

    Have you never understood?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of all the earth.

He never grows weak or weary.

    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.

He gives power to the weak

    and strength to the powerless.

Even youths will become weak and tired,

    and young men will fall in exhaustion.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.

    They will soar high on wings like eagles.

They will run and not grow weary.

    They will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

Though careful thought and care is needed, our task as leaders at this time is not to try to regain control or to somehow provide an escape plan from this current madness. Our task is not to measure our success based on numbers or pre-pandemic goals or post-pandemic aspirations. The great leadership task (perhaps ‘challenge’) of this moment is to guide people, gently and humbly, through this present wilderness – pointing them toward the One who “never grows weak or weary” but who gives “power to the weak and strength to the powerless”. Ultimately, the One who cannot be measured or controlled is the one who can bring us hope in these strange days.

Written by Mark Murray