by W. Meredith Long
Dr. Bradley (not a real person) never finished unpacking. Within a day of his arrival as a missionary in Bangladesh, poor, sick villagers began to line up at his door. He was the most competent physician within miles, charged nothing for his services, and treated his patients as if they mattered.
Dr. Bradley (not a real person) never finished unpacking. Within a day of his arrival as a missionary in Bangladesh, poor, sick villagers began to line up at his door. He was the most competent physician within miles, charged nothing for his services, and treated his patients as if they mattered. He never said No to an emergency. At any hour of day and night he mounted his motorcycle and slipped along narrow, muddy trails between rice paddies to those in need. The project director tried unsuccessfully to focus Dr. Bradley’s energies into the work of the multidisciplinary development team. Dr. Bradley would not sit in meetings, however, when people he could save were dying.
Within a year Dr. Bradley had returned to his home country. He and his family required several months of intensive therapy to prevent their total disintegration. His services were permanently lost to the agency, and to the people of Bangladesh.
Every organization longs to find or develop highly motivated workers. Super-motivated workers like Dr. Bradley (actually a fictional composite of several people I have met), however, present their managers with a set of unusually complex challenges. From my own experience, here are some insights that may help you help the super-motivated person in your organization.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SUPER-MOTIVATEED MISSIONARY
They are intrinsically motivated. Most super-motivated people are energized by rewards intrinsic to their work. They have a mission. Dr. Bradley burned himself out saving lives, not pursuing money, status, or benefits. Dr. Bradley came to Bangladesh to cure the sick and demonstrate Christ’s love and compassion. Most missionaries raise their support and pull up their cultural roots to fulfill a personal calling of God to service.
They are not strongly loyal to their organizations. Organizational affiliation is often a means by which to carry out a personal mission. Dr. Bradley’s organization gave him an opportunity to heal people in Bangladesh. Super-motivated workers value an organization to the extent it assists them in furthering their cause. The same organization becomes bothersome, however, if it demands time and energy unrelated to their goals.
They have low tolerance for organizational procedures and formal authority. Super-motivated missionaries struggle to overcome the barriers placed in their way by organizational structure and procedure. Dr. Bradley was never persuaded to maintain a log of his motorcycle mileage, although it was required of everyone assigned project vehicles.
Furthermore, the super-motivated often take a utilitarian perspective of formal authority. They will jealously guard their own positions if their authority is necessary to their task. They resent and often ignore the exercise of authority by their supervisors, however, if it distracts them from the pursuit of their goal. When a manager points out their lack of compliance, the super-motivated are often surprised that it should even be an issue.
They are often oriented toward the completion of a task, not the development of relationships. Super-motivated people evaluate colleagues and subordinates by their contribution to accomplishing the task. When they minister in cultures that value the development and preservation of relationships above getting a job done, they often unwittingly offend other members of the cross-cultural team.
CHALLENGES TO THE MANAGER
Preventing burnout. As in the case with Dr. Bradley, the super-motivated often burn themselves out in pursuit of their mission.
Maintaining staff morale. Super-motivated people assume that their subordinates and colleagues should be as committed to their vision as they are. They often place extremely heavy demands on their workmates without recognizing that not all share in their priorities, or are even ready to work as hard as they.
Building a team. Super-motivated people are often poor team members. If they regard the team as marginal to their mission, they have little time to commit to its maintenance.If, on the other hand, the team is essential to their mission, they want to dominate it.
Maintaining procedures. Getting the super-motivated to attend to administrative and procedural details is a constant struggle.
Maintaining program quality. Not all super-motivated people are also competent. Because their work involves them in a deeply personal way, however, any critical feedback a manager gives is often resented. Many managers avoid this uncomfortable confrontation by saying nothing at all. “Firing” a super-motivated but incompetent missionary is rarely done, since in many groups extreme dedication is an acceptable substitute for effectiveness. Besides, with God as the “boss” of the super-motivated, how can mortal managers argue? Program quality may suffer as a result.
APPROACHES TO MANAGING
For over 12 years, I have managed professional missionaries highly committed to service of others. Here are some suggestions for those who would presume to manage the super-motivated.
Make sure that their mission is the organization’s mission. When the personal vision of the super-motivated missionary fits the vision of the mission, a constellation of problems are avoided. Identify super-motivated individuals in the selection process and compare their agenda to the mission agenda. If there is significant divergence, find somebody else. Avoid the temptation of extensively redefining the job to fit the person. Remember that the competent super-motivated missionary, who is in basic conflict with the goals of the mission, will cause conflict wherever he or she is assigned.
Expect respect for your mission as manager. To lead highly motivated staff, a manager must often walk a tightrope, balancing the staff’s relentless pursuit of a mission with the demands of the organization. A manager can better maintain this sometimes precarious balance if his or her staff are not constantly shaking the rope. The manager must sometimes stifle the tendency of the super-motivated to transform their personal causes to organizational crises. In order to influence the super-motivated staff, a manager must cultivate an organizational climate of mutual respect and trust, and demonstrate success in getting things done.
Develop skills as a boundary spanner. Super-motivated workers may lack the skills and patience to explain to others what is very clear to them. A manager must act as an intermediary between super-motivated people and the rest of the ministry team—communicating the intended goals of the super-motivated team member in the context of its impact and contribution to mission goals. The manager must also encourage super-motivated staff to develop their listening and communication skills. Finally, the manager must interpret the concerns of the mission organization and other ministry team members to the super-motivated worker in the context of the worker’s personal mission.
Introduce change by reshaping, not by challenging, mission. Dr. Bradley’s leader tried to persuade him to be a member of the team by challenging him to team unity. Dr. Bradley tried to participate more fully for a short while, and often felt bad that he “did not have enough time to spend with the team,” but he soon slipped back into his frantic mission to bring healing to the people of Bangladesh. Dr. Bradley might have been persuaded to become a more integral part of the team, however, if his manager had helped him to reinterpret his mission from curing people to preserving their health. For Dr. Bradley, curing people was a highly individualistic mission. He needed support from subordinates, but not the collaboration of colleagues. A multi-disciplinary team would have had to work as colleagues, however, to effectively pursue a goal of preserving health. Had Dr. Bradley been able to redefine his personal vision, he might have also come to need and value the cooperation of his colleagues.
Lessen the demands of organizational procedures, and preserve the freedom of the super-motivated to get on with it. Competent super-motivatedpeople are usually highly productive. They contribute greatly to the mission’s reputation for excellence. Shield them from excessive organizational demands in whatever ways are least disruptive to organizational routine. Providing a patient, capable administrative assistant might be worthwhile.
Provide perspective on work and family. Super-motivated missionaries take their ministries very seriously. I have never had to encourage super-motivated people to attend to their work. I have often had to encourage them to attend to their vacations. Many of the professional missionaries with whom I have worked did not take enough time to reflect upon the overall themes and strategy of their work. Additionally, I have had to counsel super-motivated missionaries critically to evaluate the balance between their ministry and family responsibilities. Managers must avoid the contradiction of urging their staff to maintain a balance between work activities and family, while at the same time nurturing an organizational culture that rewards overwork. Involving both spouses in staff planning conferences, organizational celebrations involving all family members, and participation in professional conferences also help super-motivated workers productively reflect on their lives and ministries.
Do not avoid confrontation. Single-minded, busy people often miss or misconstrue subtle, and even not so subtle, warning signals. A manager or colleague must state plainly whatever has to be said. This sometimes involves emotionally taxing confrontations. Since conflicts in many cultures are not confronted directly but rather finessed in the interplay of relationships, the manager of a cross-cultural work team may have to help the super-motivated missionary to attend to the relational signals being sent by his or her national colleagues. Nationals may likewise need to be encouraged to express their concerns more forthrightly within the team.
When it becomes apparent that the super-motivated person and the mission are separated by irreconcilable differences, take decisive action. When the super-motivated missionary has set a course to sure defeat in conflict with the mission organization or colleagues, counsel him or her to consider resignation rather than a “fight to the death.” The super-motivated missionary’s commitment to his or her personal vision is the best rationale to argue for a separation. The super-motivated missionary may be made to see that continuing to pursue a personal vision within an inappropriate context is hopeless. The manager may be able to help the missionary find a position in a more appropriate mission organization. If the separation can be accomplished more or less peacefully by mutual agreement, both the organization and the missionary benefit.
Dismissing a dedicated missionary is a problem. There is, first of all, a spiritual conflict. Since God presumably does not contradict himself, either the manager or the missionary is failing to respond in obedience to “God’s leading.” This problem is compounded by the complicated organizational process involved in “sending a missionary home”—a process that often involves national church leadership, missionary colleagues, mission headquarters, and supporting churches. In the end the manager may be forced into the role of a prosecuting attorney, gathering evidence to demonstrate sufficient cause for the dismissal. To undertake that role, however, is painful because the manager knows that the root of the problem often lies not in malice but in the single-minded devotion of the missionary to a worthy vision.
Finally, whereas the super-motivated missionary may previously have paid little heed to extrinsic rewards, he or she, at the time of separation, may focus almost compulsively upon the specific details of the separation. The manager must know the applicable policies (e.g., “Can I collect unemployment insurance?”, “How long will my medical insurance continue?”) and be ready to discuss them in detail.
Most of us could name two or three mission colleagues whoare much like Dr. Bradley. If we can learn to effectively manage these dedicated and often gifted people, our ministries will have greater impact at a much lower cost in bruised relationships.
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