I drove by the school every day on my way to OBU. The academic institution was a staple in the Shawnee community. I am sure no one in the area would anticipate it was close. St. Gregory’s University closed its operations at the end of the fall semester in 2017. The university is a private liberal arts institution founded in 1875 and is Oklahoma’s only Roman Catholic university. At the time of closure, it was established that the student enrollment was 580, 10% being Native American. The Benedictine monks founded the university to educate Native Americans and the settlers from the eastern United States who were moving to Oklahoma. This news shocked students and faculty, leaving them in disbelief. The primary reason for the closure was financial difficulties. I pondered how many colleges and universities were in the same situation—a failure not to understand the market or environmental trends.
Are you prepared for a disruptive future or sitting idly by, praying that nothing happens? Welcome to the New Normal. Leaders brag about their seasoned experience. Yet, it is this seasoned experience that leaves organizations in a ditch. What is disruption? What is chaos? Those unplanned events break the traditional normal of an organization. Disruption is across the world. Individuals don’t need to look far for disruption in today’s world. The 2023 Israel-Hamas war began when Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, launched an unprecedented assault on Israel on October 7, 2023, with hundreds of gunmen infiltrating Israeli territory. In response to the attacks, Israel’s cabinet formally declared war on Hamas, and Israel initiated efforts to recover hostages and began an aerial campaign. While military solutions may be the answer quickly, there are always unintended consequences. These leaders operate on vast work experience. They fall into the same repetitive traps as previous executive teams. Is there a better way to lead under chaos? As I accept the new dean role at Langston University, I am deepening my application of the Nehemiah Strategy. Like most new managers, I navigate uncharted waters, learning the organization’s culture. This article explores how today’s leaders can utilize the Nehemiah Strategy to overcome the disruptive barriers in the market.
If we are honest with ourselves, we do not like disruption or chaos. Yet, today’s organizations must deal with an uncertain future. Disruption is often destructive to traditional institutions. While incremental change is slow and predictable, disruptive change is not; it is often sudden, unpredictable, and uncertain. The risk is high. The stakes are enormous. That is when traditional managers falter. Market forces are unforgiving. For example, nearly 9 of every 10 Fortune 500 companies in 1955 were gone, merged, or contracted by 2017. Think about this. These companies were in the Fortune 500 in 1955 but not in 2017: American Motors, Brown Shoe, Studebaker, Collins Radio, Detroit Steel, Zenith Electronics, and National Sugar Refining. Apple Founder Steve Jobs argued, “You have to be burning with an idea, problem, or a wrong that you want to right. You’ll never stick it out if you’re not passionate enough from the start.” Thus, there is a need to formulate a better disruption solution.
Enter Nehemiah. The story of Nehemiah is an excellent foundation for understanding how to lead in a disruptive world. Nehemiah’s story is one of leadership, determination, and faith, found in the Old Testament. He served as a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes in the Persian Empire, a position of trust and influence. One day, Nehemiah received distressing news about the state of Jerusalem, his homeland. The city’s walls were in ruins, leaving the people vulnerable to danger and suffering. The plight of his fellow Israelites deeply moved Nehemiah’s heart, and he felt a calling to take action. He approached the king, requesting permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city’s walls. Rebuilding the wall was a significant decision because leaving his role as cupbearer could have serious consequences. King Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah’s request and even provided resources for the project. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and faced numerous challenges, including opposition from neighboring rulers and internal discord among the Israelites. Nehemiah’s leadership style was marked by prayer, planning, perseverance, and a deep reliance on God. He inspired the people to work together tirelessly, and despite the obstacles, they successfully rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in just 52 days. Nehemiah’s story highlights the power of purpose-driven leadership, the importance of compassion for one’s community, and the role of faith in overcoming adversity. It is a timeless example of how a leader’s dedication and vision can transform a society and bring about positive change.
From the foundation of Nehemiah, we can formulate a better disruption solution. The Nehemiah Strategy is a robust framework for leadership that draws inspiration from the biblical story of Nehemiah. It encapsulates essential principles that can guide leaders in navigating disruptive environments and achieving meaningful change. The following are fundamental principles for Nehemiah’s strategy: (1) Passion for Your Purpose: Nehemiah’s unwavering passion for the cause of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls serves as a reminder that a deep sense of purpose must drive leaders. Love fuels determination and resilience in the face of challenges. (2) Preparation: Just as Nehemiah counted the project’s cost, leaders should embrace meticulous planning and preparation. This ‘counting the cost’ process aligns with the biblical principle of wisdom, advocated by Jesus Christ, emphasizing the importance of being prepared for the journey ahead. (3) Assess the Problem: Before taking action, leaders must thoroughly understand the problem they aim to solve. Nehemiah’s careful assessment of Jerusalem’s situation highlights the need for a precise diagnosis of challenges. (4) Involve Others in the Assessment: Effective leaders engage their team and stakeholders in the assessment process. Collaboration fosters diverse perspectives and solutions, as seen when Nehemiah involved the community in the assessment. (5) Be Honest About the Situation: Transparency is crucial. Leaders must openly acknowledge challenges and limitations, just as Nehemiah truthfully assessed Jerusalem’s condition. (6) Anticipate Opposition: Nehemiah faced opposition from various quarters, teaching us that leaders seeking positive change encounter resistance. Leaders must anticipate this and develop strategies to overcome it.
In the Nehemiah Strategy, leaders operate in duality, balancing multiple aspects simultaneously:
(a) Watch: Leaders must conduct thorough environmental scanning, staying attuned to market trends and shifts.
(b) Fight: This entails confronting competition assertively, protecting their brand reputation, and addressing negative feedback.
(c) Build: Leaders should focus on creating innovative solutions that meet the evolving needs of their constituents.
Leaders must rethink their approach in a world marked by disruptive forces and constant change. The seasoned experience of yesterday may not be enough to navigate the challenges of tomorrow. As we embrace the New Normal, we must recognize that disruption and chaos are not aberrations but constants in today’s landscape. Hope for stability is no longer sufficient; we must actively seek strategies to thrive amidst uncertainty. The Nehemiah Strategy offers a beacon of hope, a leadership blueprint that combines wisdom and adaptability. Like a ship in uncharted waters, leaders must become the master communicators of their vision, guiding their teams through the storm. As I embark on my new role as dean at Langston University, I am committed to applying the Nehemiah Strategy. I urge all leaders to do the same – to embrace change, cultivate resilience, and lead with unwavering determination. Pray that it is not too late.
© 2023 by Daryl D. Green