60 Seconds with Matthew Skirton

On sabbaticals, leadership and hiring the right people

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Matthew, you’ve got a sabbatical coming up. What’s your thinking behind that?

In leadership, especially the more one has responsibility the more important it is to have time for reflection. At OM we encourage a sabbatical every 7 years, for a period of 3 months. It’s not just time off, but a period of planned reading and study. It’s good to have a mentor who keeps you accountable during this time.

But for me, it’s not just about every 7 years. I try to make sure I have one day a month dedicated to prayer and reflection. It involves walking, taking time for conscious reflection and prayer.  I start the year by planning 10 such days, but If I manage to take 6 in a year I’ve done well. It’s just so easy to get sucked into day to day responsibilities. I find that I don’t always get really fresh thoughts on the day itself, but they come in the days that follow.

What are the most important one or two things you have learnt about what makes for successful leadership?

The first thing I believe is really important for successful leadership is humility. Personally, I don’t find this easy. I believe it is really important to always question, learn, and surround yourself with experts. My humility is challenged in a really positive way when everyone around me knows more about their area than I do. For many leaders that can be disconcerting.

Secondly, security – security in our leadership role.  I believe insecurity is destructive to successful leadership.  Insecure leaders hold people at arms-length and tend not to be transparent. My sense of security comes from knowing that it’s God’s calling on my life, so I don’t need to fight for the position, I can be comfortable in the role. It’s important to hold lightly to the role and know it’s just for a period of time. It’s not my role, it’s just for me to steward during this time. At some point God may raise up someone else to take over.  Overall, I believe my role is not just to lead, but to help others to lead. If I can facilitate the growth of my team, the organisation will be much stronger for it.

What are the best moments of your current role? What are the worst?

The best parts are the tangible results and fulfilling our mission. We want to see British Christians mobilised to engage in mission work. So it’s great whenever we see that happening.

The worst parts? Well sometimes working through compliance issues can be hard. Coming from Eastern Europe there is more of a ‘can do’ attitude. In the UK, things are more structured and less spontaneous. I love innovation and thinking outside the box. I find that here in the UK there is a natural inclination to play it safe.

What are your reflections on the importance of hiring the right people?

When we recruit I’m aware of the importance of competency, but primarily I look at character and a sense of calling. That needs to be married with competency, but the character and calling bits can never be taught.

What books are on your bedside table at the moment?

Philip Yancy’s ‘Prayer – Does It Make A Difference?’

Randy Alcorn’s ‘The Grace and Truth Paradox’

George Verweer’s ‘Missiology’

Jerry Brotton – ‘History of the World in 12 Maps’

A book written by a Romanian friend on suffering in mission work

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