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Research Yields Roadmap to Strengthen Field Leaders GMI Connection - Issue 7 : Article 3

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nl7-3.jpgResearch Yields Roadmap to Strengthen Field Leaders

Leading cross-cultural teams is not easy. Research suggests that it is significantly more difficult than leading a team in one's home culture, especially with field teams becoming increasingly multi-cultural. That is why Barnabas International and GMI created IMPACT.


IMPACT is an initiative to help organizations to proactively address the challenges of equipping, nurturing and encouraging field leaders.


Steve Sweatman, Missionary Training International President & CEO, said:

After training and counseling Christian leaders for more than two decades, I am convinced that there is no harder place to lead a team than in a cross-cultural environment.

GMI original research supports this claim. We helped organizations survey both their cross-cultural field workers and their home-office staff about key elements of their work. When the two groups were compared, field workers were found to be much less satisfied in most areas.


The survey item producing the greatest difference was:

My supervisor helps me solve problems.


While it is possible that field workers have higher expectations or receive less-gifted supervision than do home-office staff, a more likely reason for this difference is that cross-cultural environments are more difficult!


Field supervisors need encouragement and equipping to help their team embrace and overcome the challenges of cross-cultural ministry. Strengthening those in field leadership starts with listening to them. According to Dr. Sweatman:

We need to listen intently to their felt needs. It's so easy to criticize leadership without really knowing the challenges they face. I'm afraid that, historically, such "listening" tends to be with strong pre-conceived ideas and subjective interpretation. The IMPACT research project...has allowed us to listen to these leaders objectively and glean some key insights.

The IMPACT survey gives sending organizations a way to listen to field leaders in a safe environment. Sharing struggles with those in one's direct chain of command can be intimidating. Barnabas International and GMI represent trusted third parties that ensure confidentiality and give leaders the freedom to share vulnerably. For each participating mission, an IMPACT team member gives extensive feedback on field leaders survey results. This allows the sending organization to understand its areas of strength as well as to identify areas of change based on their own realities, not general trends.


As a result, the IMPACT team has learned much about how to equip leaders—and the impact of leadership coaching on field supervisors. The team has created a website and a blog to share general research findings freely with trainers and agency leaders. Organizations can learn much from these general reports, but the IMPACT team has found that the organization-specific feedback provides a firmer basis for focused action.


The IMPACT blog addresses various challenges of field leaders using the IMPACT research, refined through discussions with mission leaders. Posts and follow-up dialogue provide thoughtful and practical input on issues that organizations face in safeguarding field leaders' holistic health and effectiveness.


IMPACT coaches have decades of field experience and are glad to arrange a coaching session or to develop a customized pre-field, on-field or home-assignment training program for field leaders.


Warren Janzen, International Director of SEND International, is among those who have seen positive results from the initiative. "The IMPACT survey came at a great time for us, in effect taking the organizational temperature of our ministry leaders. It provided real data indicating what is important for our leaders, where we are doing well and where we have gaps in service and support," he said. "Our field leaders are critical if we are to deliver on our mission. The IMPACT survey not only identified organizational strengths and weaknesses related to our leaders, but also provided practical ideas by which to positively impact their effectiveness."


If you know organizations that would benefit by helping their field leaders to better identify and leverage strengths, while minimizing the effects of weaknesses, encourage them to contact research coordinator Ken Harder.


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