Sailboat Illustration

Leaders, are you ready?

Here’s the Most Important Question of 2021

We’re all leading something – people, processes, products or services. And in that critical component of our professional roles, we must wear trifocals, continually assessing and learning lessons from the past, while focusing intently on the immediate environment and projecting down the road so we can meet opportunity with our capacities for great impact.

In addition to weathering the storm of the unknown and grieving for real human suffering this past year, I’ve been simultaneously inspired by the incredible heroism and service of those on the front lines in nonprofit organizations. We bound together, responsive to the environment, and had many wonderful wins and blessings to count as a result.

Here’s a confession: As a leader, I’ve also found this season very, very frustrating.

No one likes to be told “No,” or “Not now,” or even worse, being offered an inconclusive, “Maybe” over and over – least of all me. And yet, we hear these responses SO often these days. It wreaks havoc with our brilliant plans and best intentions, and to some significant extent, it compromises our ability to drive and manage all that we shepherd at our organizations.

Being flexible, change ready, equipped and confident in the midst of rapidly changing ecosystems is a core tenant of good leaders – and no doubt one of your strengths, just as I believe it’s one of mine. Then why the elevated level of frustration?

I believe it boils down to the interruption of effective management: planning and execution.

No one predicted the length and depth of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. BDI’s COO Phil Stolberg and I laugh at our own naiveté and wishful thinking back in March of 2020, expecting that the nation would be in pandemic recovery by summer and that philanthropy would likely march along largely unaffected.

Nearly a year later, we’ve learned much, but know even less about what’s to come. As such, to continue to be effective leaders, I believe it’s time that we make an important change that’ll return us to our leadership flow and may well reduce the mounting frustration so many of us feel.

It’s time to pivot…

From holding on to charging on.

The most important question of 2021! With each roadblock, postponement, cancellation, deferral and “no, not now, and maybe,” immediately ask yourself this: “So what CAN and WILL we do instead?”

As simple as this sounds, immediately shifting our perspective thus far this year has proven wildly effective in percolating opportunities for development of organizational momentum. It has returned us to our comfort zone of being action-oriented and goal-driven.

For BDI, our inability (yet) to safely host or attend events early in 2021 has inspired us to redirect that energy to building a media studio by which to better connect remotely and to share our best practices with others.


My encouragement to you, leaders, is to not only adopt an intentional default reaction of, “OK, so what can and will we do alternately…” when faced with what will likely be another year rife with restrictions, but to challenge yourselves too: I challenge you to model and teach this posture to your peers and team.

After all, how we feel about all this colors our experience and indeed shapes reality.

Finally, whether it be in the minutiae of our daily execution or the adventure of our long-range planning, I find there’s wisdom and practical answers for us in the Word that reinforces there’s benefits to not knowing everything that’s coming next and how all our plans will be fulfilled.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 58:8-9 (NIV)

To that I say:

“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God;
may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.”

Psalm 143:10 (NIV)

May your adaptive positioning and flexible expectations for 2021 also shield your frustration as you lead on!

  • Michael Tomlinson, BDI CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, better known as “MT,” is the CEO and President of BDI. With more than 25 years of executive leadership in business development and media, MT’s expertise involves leading organizations like Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk and Dunham+Company in the ideation and execution of successful integrated marketing, broadcast and digital media, and fundraising strategies that fuel growth.

  • Lolly Colombo, Exec VP Client Services

    Lolly Colombo, Chief Client Officer

    With over 30 years of program and agency experience, Lolly Colombo has brought her passion, expertise and heart of service to some of the world’s most beloved charities and faith-based organizations. She has had the pleasure of serving with Food for the Hungry, The Christian Broadcasting Network, Operation Blessing International,TBN, In Touch Ministries, The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, The Salvation Army, Gospel Rescue Missions and others.

More fuel for more impact.

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