Is Your Leadership Messy Enough?

Confession: I love working from a clean desk.

My creativity blossoms when I see a clean whiteboard or a fresh page in my journal. At least to start something. But once the ideas get flowing and people and projects come together I have learned, over many years in leading, that mess is best.

Over the past year I have been working with a team of creatives. These folks thrive amid messy desks, crazy decor, strange art, police tape, hi viz colors, unfinished meals, and the constant buzz of collaboration. Our little area in the corporate HQ doesn’t quite fit into the normal culture. A discarded oversized whiteboard maps out the next iteration of a mobile app. No Thomas Kinkade paintings here.

It’s one of the messiest places I’ve ever worked. It’s also one of the most productive. We’ve nicknamed our little corner The Oxpen.

Howard's snake and gator head.
Howard’s rattlesnake and gator head
Oxpen 1
The Oxpen

Proverbs 14:4 says: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come from the strength of the ox.”

Translation: You can choose clean and orderly, or you can choose messy and productive. You can’t have it both ways as a leader.

Movements of God are messy. People are messy. Leadership is messy. Leaders embrace the mess. As we lead in a 21st century world of rapid iteration, agile product development, and 7 second social media attention spans, we’ve got to create environments where the oxen can make a mess. The farmer’s goal isn’t a clean manger; it’s a well-tended highly productive field. Unless you’re running a hospital or a silicon chip factory, your goal as a leader is not a well-ordered workplace. Your goal is fruitfulness.

Don’t be afraid to step in the fertilizer and embrace the mess of the oxpen.

Is your leadership messy enough?

By Ken

Dr. Ken Cochrum (DMin, Bethel University) is Vice President of Global Digital Strategies at Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) in Orlando, Florida. An avid cyclist and aspiring guitarist, he also holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas and a Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He recently co-founded Indigitous.org, a movement passionate about connecting people to Jesus using digital strategies. He previously served as vice president of Cru’s student-led movements worldwide. He and his wife Ann spent 13 years in East Asia where they raised their two children. Ken blogs regularly at www.onleadingwell.com.

7 comments

  1. I think the lack of Thomas Kinkade paintings is something that all office spaces should embrace… Although my desk is probably cleaner and more organized than the rest of the oxen, I find that it gets quite messy when I’m brainstorming. When it comes to inspiring creativity, I find that spreading ideas out to view can be almost as helpful as taking a walk (which is my go-to technique).

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