Thinking in Wholes and Not Parts

This blog post unpacks the importance of implementing wise fiscal strategies in your organization.

1.    God’s Presence

I’ve come to believe that the core of Spirit-driven leadership is the ability to access the future, or what God intends, through God’s presence every day. If you are a Christian, your organization ultimately belongs to the Lord, not to you! God will do as He “jolly well intends” (Psalm 115:3, Psalm 135:6), yet we also have a role to play. Like Mary the mother of Jesus, the Spirit-driven leader’s job is to say and steward, “Let it be unto me as you have said,” or, in our case, “Let it be unto us, just as you intend.” The Lord will guide us and provide for us, just as He intends to fulfill His purposes in the earth, and we must pray that He will strengthen us to do our part.

2.    The Fiscal Future

Suppose the future is going to be different. In that case, if your organization’s fiscal future is going to progress and advance, you will have to go beyond addressing only parts and begin dealing with the whole entity, making decisions knowing every part is intricately connected. It is my humble observation that only by addressing wholes can fiscal sustainability be regained. I believe this is one of the critical reasons why so many attempts at “budget fixes” fail or at least are short-lived, resulting in a return to the broken systems of the past.

Spirit-driven leadership helps paint the positive and negative results of finding or not finding a robust fiscal future. We see a growing number of higher education institutions that made non-fiscal futuristic decisions, buried their head in the sand, or just missed it, and the tragic impact of those decisions. Spirit-driven leaders help followers face their fears, make the best diagnosis they can, and hunt for God’s help into a new future that is only possible with His help and provision.

3.    Wholes, Not Parts

Wholes give leadership the complex and broad implications of every little and big decision when it comes to the budget. Gary Pisano recently told Harvard Business School that “working knowledge” companies often have unrealistic expectations. “The data suggests that companies should be more realistic about their growth rates, not expecting rapid growth year after year,” he says. Even those few that do grow well for a long time often fall apart suddenly in the end. “Sometimes a controlled growth rate is healthier in the long run,” Pisano notes, “Even though investors may want to see higher growth, it may be better to sacrifice some short-term growth to gain persistence.”

If actual change and sustainability are to be found, then the change must be in the deeper structures of the organization. At the very least, we must get the leaders who create and oversee the budget day to day to see the whole of the system into which their “part” is embedded. Only this kind of holistic leadership and understanding advances the living system together. In the Apostle Paul’s words,

“Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (1 Corinthians 12:15-26).

There it is, in black and white, ancient wisdom on seeing how individual components make up a whole. The challenge of leading in a Bible-based organization the added pressure of doing what’s best for the health of the organization and the unbiblical premise of trying to keep all the Israelites happy. The difference between “cutting the budget” and carrying out a fiscal strategy is that cutting has to do with parts, and implementing strategies has to do with wholes.

4.    Individual Transformation Before Corporate Transformation

Spirit-driven leadership is about opening people up to what might be. Individual Spirit-driven leaders come to see that sometimes the whole system has developed an immune resistance to anything that smells like change and discomfort. This system and the people within it work overtime to reject the unfamiliar and do anything to block the emerging future.

At the core of making fiscal strategies work is the transformation of each leader’s heart. Spirit-driven leaders make the tough calls to leave behind a structured, predictable past and head off into an uncertain future, trusting God. The only change that will solve a severe operational and structural budget problem is the heart transformation and an active dependence upon the Lord.

5.    Developing Fresh Eyes

The future is contained in awareness, purpose, and intimacy with God. Spirit-driven leaders must take time, as simple as it sounds, to see what God sees. The leader must develop the capacity to suspend what is currently visible and instead observe the underground motives and behaviors that created the current situation. This will lead to a greater ability to capture the emerging future.

God the Spirit is the generative process behind what we see in the flesh. In other words, if you see only budgets and numbers related to the budget, you are not seeing what God is seeing. You are humanistically and mechanically trying to create or manipulate a new “better fiscal outcome.” It’s not that your motives are wrong, but the center of it all should not be you, but Him! The Spirit is always moving His people into the “eschaton,” or what is coming next, and budgets are not different from anything else the Spirit is doing on earth.

Henri Bortoft, whose groundbreaking work on the wholeness of nature, can help us see not just the design of the leaf but also the tree and the forest. We must move beyond the material analysis and seek a deeper, more holistic understanding of the nature of the actual entity. Bortoft brilliantly uncovers the reality that there can be counterfeit wholes that one thinks he or she has discovered. In our case, a counterfeit whole would be to slash, cut, and make the numbers get to zero without realizing that the goal was actually to better prepare and sustain your organization for maximum impact. That’s why the most minor parts of the budget matter: they are connected to the whole of what God is doing in the earth, inside the forest of your organization.