Cadence, the 20 Mile March, and God’s abundance

Today I begin work with a strategic planning committee at a nearby faith-based nonprofit. As is true for virtually all organizations of its type, there are serious issues to be addressed ASAP and patience is running thin even before the planning has commenced. Although not included among the deliverables listed in my letter of agreement with the client, I have little doubt that managing expectations about the pace of change will be an important facet of my work.

We can nod knowingly when reminded that Rome wasn’t built in a day. And we understand that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Nonetheless, when crisis is staring organizational leaders in the eyes, it’s not easy taking things slow. Never mind what the Prophet Jeremiah promises. We struggle to believe that in God is hope and a future.

The old Demon Scarcity sneaks up on us, whispering words of fear and sending us racing in every which direction. Which is unfortunate, because pace matters, and especially so when change is on the horizon.


That’s a bit of wisdom Nilofer Merchant delivers in The New How: Creating Business Solutions through Collaborative Strategy. She writes:

Managing cadence is about setting the pace. . . Be cautious that you don’t drive your people so hard that they fatigue and become less effective. Operating for extended periods at just a few percentage points over their capacity can leave people feeling overwhelmed and apprehensive about participating. Push hard, take a break and assess the pace, and then push hard again. . . We need to go slow to go fast.


Merchants’s comments bring to mind the 20 Mile March to which Jim Collins and Morten Hansen make reference in Great by Choice. The writing pair apply the metaphor to the calm, deliberate approach by exceptional leaders when faced with a chaotic environment.

Rather than rushing headlong toward the first opportunity out of the box, these leaders stick with a measured, steady, and disciplined approach. In the short-term, their progress seems slow and even stodgy. But at the end of the day (or decade), they’re the winners. As Collins and Hansen explain:

If you deplete your resources, run yourself to exhaustion, and then get caught at the wrong moment by an external shock, you can be in serious trouble. . . We live in a modern culture that reveres the Next Big Thing. Yet pursuit of the Next Big Thing can be quite dangerous if it becomes an excuse for failing to 20 Mile March. . . [Exceptional leaders] did not generally have better opportunities than the comparisons, but they made more of their opportunities by 20 Mile Marching to the extreme. They never forgot: the Next Big Thing just might be the Big Thing you already have.

So what’s my advice to the planning committee with which I will be working (and to anyone else who is feeling pressured to make change happen NOW)? Slow down. Take a deep breath. Pray for patience.

And that Big Thing in the quote above? For persons of faith, its name is “Abundance.” If we believe that God really does have plans to prosper and not harm those who serve in God’s name, pacing ourselves shouldn’t be a problem.

What's your take on this topic?

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