Flying Over Okmulgee

I love reading life stories. No matter how dramatic or mundane, personal stories touch our souls and create human connections.

A life story told well invites us to honor the experiences described while seeing beyond literal happenings to reflect on life more broadly. And so it was that a few sentences in Raylene Hinz-Penner’s excellent book on the life of Cheyenne Peace Chief Lawrence Hart offered up a leadership image that stays with me.

Mennonite leader, Lawrence Hart, and spouse, Betty, at pastor's meeting, Hammond, OK, 1966.

Lawrence and Betty Hart, Hammond, OK, 1966. Credit: Mennonite Library and Archives, Bethel College, KS.

Hinz-Penner writes about Hart, a tribal leader, church leader, and accomplished pilot:

“[Lawrence] loved flying! He remembered difficult landings and still takes some pride in his abilities to hold his orientation in difficult circumstances. He recounted a time when he was the only one who knew the terrain, Okmulgee, [OK]—on a night flight, when tested by the instructor. The others thought they were flying over Fort Smith! Lawrence knew the area.” (113)

The ability to hold your orientation in difficult circumstances is no small matter. It takes on heightened importance when you have accepted the challenge of leadership and carry responsibility for the productive well-being of staff, clients, and the organizational structures that support them. Mission and vision identify an intended path and ultimate destination, but it’s organizational values that provide the coordinates that keep you oriented and poised to move forward.

Valued Leadership encourages leaders to define and live these values in every day organizational life, recognizing that an Anabaptist founding heritage offers considerable strengths and specific vulnerabilities.

Take collaboration, for example. Organizational life calls for collaboration – intensely and often. And ideally, Anabaptists understand each person to bring a perspective that benefits all. An important leadership task is to develop clear, agreed-upon expectations for how people collaborate in this organization and to empower teams to work well together on that basis.

The potential pitfalls to which Anabaptist-related organizations are especially vulnerable when it comes to collaboration? Mistakenly viewing conflict as a mortal threat rather than as an important part of a rigorous collaborative process; confusing collaboration with a muddied version of consensus building that does little to decisively advance the mission; and choosing not to work with possible, often external, partners because they believe or approach things differently.

Valued Leadership invites reflection on these themes and issues in bite-sized pieces that fit your life.

What organizational values enable you, your board, and your team to hold your orientation in the midst of difficult circumstances? What resources might your organization’s founding heritage offer to help you “navigate a safe landing” in times of critical leadership decision-making? Hopefully you don’t think you’re flying over Fort Smith when you’re really flying over Okmulgee!


The opinions expressed on this blog by post authors and commenters are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of MHS, nor is MHS responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by authors or commenters.

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