True North Leadership’s Secrets to Success in 2021
While many are writing to summarize the unique insanity that was 2020, others are predicting (their opinions) on the new year.
Last week in this space, I began a personal exploration of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concepts of “flow.” Flow is described as a mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in feelings of energized focus, full involvement and satisfaction. The task takes precedence over everything else and full engagement with the work becomes its own reward.
Flow is characterized by:
· A sense of timelessness
· The ego vanishes
· And a loss of self-consciousness
· There is a strong concentration and focused attention
· Feelings of serenity are commonplace
· Immediate feedback is routine — from peers and leaders
· A new ability of achieve challenging goals results
· Peak performance is the result of complete focus
So the question for leaders is: how do I achieve flow and how might I inculcate this concept into my enterprise — how can my employees and even my customers attain this level of gratification and enjoyment?
And if I do, might this be a secret sauce for a truly successful 2021?
I will suggest that being in a constant state of flow is nearly impossible.
But flowing in the Spirit of God can alter how we think and behave at all times and when applied to Csikszentmihalyi’s constructs, might result in a wholly new approach to flow.
OK, follow this thought line, All of God is in Christ and ALL of Christ is in you:
1. Do you believe Jesus was fully God? Colossians 2:9 answers the query, “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.”
2. Do you believe that God now LIVES (dwells is a good Bible word) in you? Myriad corroborating scriptures here. Two are uber-precise: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word: and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him,” (John 14:23) and in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
3. Do you understand the ramifications of this Truth? What does it mean to have the Creator of the universe living inside you? What power, insights, creativity are available to you 24/7?
I contend that the only way to exist in a semblance of ongoing flow is to be fully aware of and immersed in the flow of the Spirit. The theorists describe all the conditions one must meet to enter into a state of flow. What I’m attempting to describe, in Christian terms, is flow reframed as “feeling God’s pleasure.” We instantly think of the British gold medalist Eric Liddell (made famous in the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire) who famously said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”
The other side of this same coin is summarized by the great question of the Church: “What is the chief end of man?” Answer provided by the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” So, the perfect set-up for ever-flow is both enjoying God and His presence, and living so that He enjoys us and how we live for Him.
What follows is my adaptation of Csikszentmihalyi’s eight characteristics of flow with an intentional appropriation of language and concepts familiar to the True North leader:
1. Complete concentration on the task.
Recall when last you were so totally focused on a task that nothing distracted you. When were you so absorbed by God’s presence that you lost track of time and things around you faded into oblivion?
2. Clarity of goals and reward are top of mind along with immediate feedback.
Either you as the leader, or you in the role of team member were completely focused on a crystalline defined goal and its benefits; all the while, receiving real-time feedback as the project rolled out. This characteristic describes the relationship between a healthy leader and energized followers whose creativity and focus are God-directed.
3. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down).
Being lost in the work experience may be akin to being completely subsumed in prayer or godly meditation. Eastern meditation advocates mental passivity — emptying the mind. Christian meditation is just the opposite: filling the mind with God and His Truth. The point is, being first lost in the awareness of God’s presence and his pleasure, allows all involved to also be lost in the work.
4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding.
A Spirit-directed project inherently will be “intrinsically rewarding” since its originator is God. Any calling, job or task He ordains for us can be nothing less.
5. Effortlessness and ease.
How many times have you been flowing in God-inhabited work and found it to be just that: facile and smooth despite the actual level of difficulty of the task? This speaks to the power of Godly joy regardless the circumstances. (Think: James’ instruction 1:2–4.)
6. There is a balance between challenge and skills.
Here the theorist describes a synthesis of a manageable (or doable) task — not something so beyond your capacity that its unachievable — and one’s abilities. This is a situation in which God has called the appropriately prepared servant for a task. Think of the overwhelming nature of God’s calls to Moses and Jonah. Yet He empowered each for their task. In this case, we find ever-flow when our task is just beyond our reach and our reliance is on that same God who supplies all our needs.
7. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination.
This is the affirmation of being in God’s will, doing what He has ordained you to do. The human proclivities to stress, fret and ruminate fade away.
8. There is a feeling of control over the task.
True North leaders will recognize the notion of surrender here. If the task is God’s then He both empowers and completes the work through you. Philippians 2:13 explains, “…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” We relinquish personal control and hand over the end results to our indwelling God.
So why don’t we already live in “ever-flow?”
I’ll suggest that we alone are the gatekeepers of God’s flow in us; that we turn off and on the spigot of His graces of peace, joy, flow. How? We can prevent divine flow by ignoring the power of God’s presence resident within our physical body. We either forget His presence or we delay accessing it by our habit of self-sufficiency. “I’ve got this,” is certainly not an uncommon sentiment among all of us — Christians included.
We also can prevent ourselves from receiving all the benefits of God’s presence when our focus falls away from others and their needs (read: your employees, stakeholders, customers) and onto us. Reminiscent of the Dead Sea that only has sources of incoming water but nothing flows out,
if we keep our focus on taking rather giving, we lose the balance God intends necessary for us to maintain His ever-flow.
Imagine your work environment if everyone is cherished, prepared and energized. Levels of satisfaction are off the proverbial chart and productivity as well. Your company finds it easier to attract the most capable employees and retain them longer. The freedom to spontaneously explore new concepts and solutions is encouraged. Old obstacles either fade into meaninglessness or are permanently removed. This promotes both creative individualism and collective team successes. Employees are more deeply committed to the company, their jobs and their leaders. Their work now has meaning.
Bottom line? The True North leader’s efforts, when in the flow, are exponentially enhanced and the benefits are enjoyed by everyone. And one final benefit: your customers or stake holders are delighted by the results. Oh, and so is God.
Dr. Mintle holds an earned Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership. He has served in executive positions across a broad range of media organizations and as a dean in two universities.