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Ready, Aim...

Dr. James Emery White | Mecklenburg Community Church | Published: Dec 11, 2023

Ready, Aim...

It’s one of the most well-known leadership declarations in combat that, once started, almost anyone in the English-speaking world can complete. The one in charge yells, “Ready! Aim!” and then, yep, “Fire!” But it’s not just the right progression of things on the battlefield. It’s the right progression for any number of leadership situations.

First, you ready yourself—meaning you get prepared and positioned for what it is you are going to do. This can involve research and study, analysis and consultants. 

Then you take aim, making sure that the target is clearly in sight. After all, you are taking your “shot” for a reason, and that is to achieve a specific end. You want to accomplish something specific, which means you are shooting in a very pointed direction toward a very clear target.   

And then – and only then – do you fire.

Yet I have seen leaders of all kinds make two pivotal mistakes with this simple approach to making decisions and taking action. Instead of “Ready! Aim! Fire!” they follow one of two variants: “Ready! Fire! Aim!” or “Ready! Aim, aim, aim....”

The first takes place when a leader is quick to act, but then few of the actions are coordinated toward a goal. They are all tactics but no strategy. There may be a lot of activity, but ultimately not much to show for it. There is little planning, little preparation. A “bias for action” is usually good, but not without thought. A “Ready! Fire! Aim!” approach usually results in many things started, few things finished, and even fewer accomplished.

The second is less known, but equally disastrous. The “Ready! Aim, aim, aim....” approach spends all of its time in analysis and preparation, but never fires. We’ve all heard of the phrase “paralysis of analysis.” But it can be true. For some, there is no end to thinking things through, mapping out variants, planning for contingencies. 

If I think about shooting an arrow toward a target, I can think to myself that first, it must go halfway to the target. But to get to the halfway mark, it will travel half of that distance. To get to that quarter mark, it will have to go one-eighth of the way, and then one-sixteenth, and then one-thirty-second. Mentally we can keep “halving” the distance to where we want to go in ways that make it seem “mathematically” impossible to ever launch the arrow. We are constantly thinking about every possible step along the way to such a degree that we never set out. We forget the wisdom of the old Chinese proverb that says, “A journey of a thousand miles always begins with a single step.”

So much of leadership is simply following the “Ready! Aim! Fire!” approach,

... and making sure that you know the right order.

James Emery White

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on X, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on X, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

Ready, Aim...