Navigating the Waters By Andrea Leigh Capuyan
Navigating the Waters of A Leader’s Journey
Recently, my husband, Wayne, and I enjoyed kayaking off the Florida Keys in the clear blue waters of the Gulf. We found ourselves meandering through mangrove tunnels. My mind began to ponder the parallels of my journey as a ministry leader. While our excursion was sheer pleasure, there came the moment in our paddling when I struggled and needed help. Our guide, Chris, offered me helpful instructions for navigating the kayak, and I found deeper meaning from his teaching that transcended my experience on the water that day. In further reflection, there are lessons to be learned from our time understanding the water and wind, paddling our little boats, and following our guide – connecting my experience on the water to leadership challenges that require agile navigation and…a little help.
During our paddle, the currents were such that our guide, Chris, pointed to our destination and offered that the water would carry us to where we wanted to go. My boat would not cooperate. Unlike Chris or Wayne’s kayak, my boat headed in a different direction (seemingly, it had a mind of its own.) Instead of riding with the currents, I was fighting them.
The vision I had in mind of where I wanted to go was getting me nowhere fast. External forces of wind and water controlled that little boat, not me. I was a defeated “captain.” Our communities, ministries, churches, families, and organizations are the vessels that carry us along toward a destination that is the mission and calling of us and others who are with us. There are times when situations leave us feeling like a defeated captain.
Like the currents and shifting tides, external forces impact organizations daily, rocking them to and fro. Some external pressures are known and predictable, and some are unforeseen. As leaders, we cannot rule over the wind and the water; that is not the realm we must captain. We must understand how these forces impact the organization and the people we steward. We captain the vessel and people aboard; we are responsible for doing our best to steer our boat to remain upright so we can continue the journey. At the same time, the external pressures that beset us are needed for forward movement. We move despite them AND because of them. They are necessary and cannot be ignored. More than that, they are meant to be understood, embraced, and appreciated.
Our kayaking adventure was intended to be a day of enjoying the world around us, including the shifting waters. Likewise, our work and our roles find us situated in circumstances that can be chaotic, unpredictable, hard, and beautiful. Isolation leaves us dead in the water, and wise navigation requires us to remain connected to the world while leading others forward.
Chris offered powerful insight that changed my perception of the boat and my choices. He pointed out the boat that was going do what it was going to do, so rather than focusing on IT, I needed to keep my eyes on where I wanted to go. That’s how I should paddle…forward vision. When I was focused on controlling the boat, I was paddling strenuously with little success. Striving. Battling. Exhausted. It represents a challenge for leaders – our guidance is necessary, yet narrow focus and a controlling attitude result in exhausted striving, constant battles, and deprivation.
Navigating our mission requires a leader to steer towards their vision of where they want to go. It doesn’t mean we ignore our vessel. To operate in sync with the kayak, I must master the paddle. My actions and energy were channeled into how I paddled. We must continue to maintain informed, decisive, and deliberate strokes. It is still hard work, not less work. It is still tiring. Shifting my focus meant I let go of obsession, lifted my head, and expanded my sight line. Surrendering control isn’t adopting an attitude of disengagement…stewarding requires us to re-frame how we lead and engage.
Stewards of Vision
In the past year, I’ve thought a lot about my role as stewarding the vision for our ministry. My recent time on the water shifted how I understand visionary leadership. Moving my kayak forward required me to look forward to where to go. I had to set my gaze on a very real destination and future. Vision translates to movement when a tangible goal is in view. And I also found myself humbled by what I envisioned as a destination point in our journey.
We expected to navigate mangrove tunnels. It was part of the advertised excursion experience. My desire to navigate those tunnels was not misplaced. I learned that I needed help navigating to the right place. I did not know the mangroves. Chris did. There were deceptive entry points where there were no actual tunnels. His knowledge and experience aided my desired outcome. As a leader, our vision is essential, yet without help or humility, we can be deceived or wrong. Blinded by myopic desire, we can run our organization and people aground.
God and the Leadership Journey
I am grateful for Chris, my guide and teacher. And I think about how God engages with me on my leadership journey. Chris was instrumental in helping me when I was stuck and struggling. Listening and incorporating his instruction changed my experience that day. Chris was more than that. As we paddled, Chris led us through a fantastic ecosystem. As he reveled in the environment, he shared with us his pleasure and joy from the wildlife surrounding us. Chris was not in a rush, and he did not hurry us. He wanted us to soak up the loveliness of this little world. He offered us a gift of curiosity.
Daily I turn to God as my teacher and guide. I expect Him to transform me and correct my wayward actions. God is up to more with me…He is not hurried; he wants to share His curiosity and joy of this world with me. As I navigate the waters of leadership, there is a joy and loveliness God wants to impart to me…to elevate my vision.
And as I paddle through calm or rough waters, I never navigate alone…God, my guide, is with me.
Andrea Leigh Capuyan is the Executive Director of Laurel Pregnancy Center. Andrea holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from York University. She is a Credentialed Christian Nonprofit Leader with Christian Leadership Alliance and a Certified Nonprofit Accounting Professional.
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