Monday, August 13, 2007

leading in

“Virtually everything our modern culture believes about the type of leadership required to transform our institutions is wrong. It is also dangerous. There is perhaps no more corrosive trend to the health of our organizations than the rise of the celebrity CEO, the rock-star leader whose deepest ambition is first and foremost self-centric.” –Jim Collins.

This weekend I talked about leading down, leading up and leading in. It’s obvious how leading in (self-leadership) affects how we lead up or down, but it really came into sharp focus for me a few years back. One of my top 10 favorite organizational books was the best-seller Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by Jim Collins, the follow-up to his Built To Last classic.

His research team studied 1,400 Fortune 500 companies to identify companies that had made the leap from good, solid companies to great organizations based on a set of criteria with tight parameters over an extended period of time. They spent five years isolating the factors that distinguished these examples from carefully selected comparison companies that failed to make the leap (or if they did, failed to sustain it). These were not flash-in-the-pan companies. They defined “great results” as cumulative stock returns at least 3.0 times better than the general stock market over fifteen years, a performance superior to most widely admired companies. For perspective, General Electric from 1985 to 2000 beat the market only 2.8 to 1. Only eleven truly qualified as moving from good to great corporations.

Collins gave the research team explicit instructions to downplay the role of top executives to avoid the simplistic “credit the leader” or “blame the leader” thinking common today. But the data uncovered something surprising…

In their study of the CEO’s of those eleven companies, a surprising pattern emerged. It wasn’t the Iacocca’s that shone. The good to great CEO’s were a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will, or corporate resoluteness. It was an odd duality: modest and willful…humble and fearless. As a matter of fact, as soon as the CEO’s began doing book tours and appearing on Oprah, it didn’t bode well for the organization.

When I first read the book several years ago, I remember being shocked. I thought immediately of Jesus, who on the one hand would say,

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

…and then scriptures turn around and describe Him with a fierce resolve toward the Kingdom’s mission…

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem . . . At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, "Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you." He replied, "Go tell that fox, 'I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.' (Luke 9:51; 13:31-32).

I’m looking for Leaders 2.0 who will mix those two seemingly contradictory character attributes and create ministries and churches that will not settle for mediocre effectiveness…but genuinely want to see the Kingdom advance powerfully. To use corporate language: I want to see the name of Jesus become the most famous brand in our city.

It’s not about us. But it rests on us to declare that the Kingdom has come.

Humility and a Kingdom resolution. Broken and fearless.


  1. "I want to see the name of Jesus become the most famous brand in our city."

    Yes and AMEN! Please help us in our process of leading in, That what we do- Who we are- could truly be by His leading and for His glory.

  2. "... and create ministries and churches that will not settle for mediocre effectiveness…but genuinely want to see the Kingdom advance powerfully."

    I am reminded of the opening paragraphs of Good to Great when Jim Collins challenges his readers with the profound line "The enemy of Great is Good".

    Which I think must be held in strong contrast to the idea that "Best is the enemy of Better". By that I mean that we resist “improvement” because we can not leap from where we are to the “best” possible place… our current circumstances only allow us to get better.

    I have struggled with projects my entire life because of “Best”. Projects I felt would make the world a better place. I knew what they should look like... that is, I knew what "Best" was (the ideal goal) while at the same time being keenly aware of where I currently was… “Not Best”.

    This of course left me afraid to launch out because I was not "Best" yet. Even though, just starting would make things “better”. Am I making sense?

    For me, I have come to realize that starting out "good" is okay. And getting incrementally "better" is okay. And that when I offer “Good” and “Better” to God... he can in turn make “Best” and “Great” possible.

    And at this point in my life, this is the exit to the maze of frustratingly mediocre effectiveness. And I pray, that this allows God to use me to advance His kingdom powerfully.


    PS. Sorry if this is fairly incomprehensible… I wish I had more time to make it clear.

  3. Anything worth doing is worth doing---POORLY until we can do it better.

    As a former basketball coach I see perfection as the biggest enemy of doing anything. And, Christians are obsessed with weaknesses and a lack of credentials to be a leader. Why do 25% want to leave the formal church? Are they seen as co-leaders and visionaries who are as mature as the "paid leaders"? Are their ideas as good and important as ours?

    If we were not the formal paid leaders would we attend our church?

  4. Interesting last comment. Could we be obsessed with our weaknessness and lack of credentials because we think and act as the world? Is the Church really a safe place to be who we are? Where we are? Do we really believe in the sufficiency of His grace? Do we readily extend this grace to others? To ourselves? Do we really believe His strength is made perfect in our weakness?

  5. Why is it necessary to follow the world's example? Dave reads a book about corporate leadership, looks like the best results are like Jesus or close to it.

    But I have never had a CEO wash my feet, listen to me, bless me, heal me, or give communion.

    Dave, some of the ideas that I hear in services are usually corporate lingo from a book. I wonder where Jesus is in all of it?

    I am not disappointed because we all are searching for whats best, but I do not think its the world's example that we need to follow.


  6. Thanks, Jim, for your comments.

    I really don't read org/leadership books to craft messages from them; I've got my hands full just trying to do and communicate the basic things Jesus says. But I will use "corporate" language in the same way that I'll use "recovery/12-step" language--to connect with people from unchurched backgrounds. I don't consider that as following "the world's example", but simply using the missionary language of the culture to present Biblical truth. And if I stumble across truth in a secular book, I'll use it as a communication connector...and because truth is, well, truth.

    Thanks for hanging in there with us!

  7. Dave

    So then maybe the question you might want to ask is, what would jesus do as ceo?

    I thought that woman who was here a while back on that book Jesus, CEO, had some valid points. I do remember all those "worldly" business books like they were conquerors and destroyers.

    I think it is so easy to fall into lining up what the world says sometimes, that we as christians, are not that different. If what the world says is what Jesus said, then who got it right first? Is it the yeast of the kingdon making the whole loaf rise? To me that says that the christian philosphy has taken over and not the other way around.

    Am I saying Dave that your wrong, not at all, what I am saying its a fine line sometimes what the world is saying and what Christ says sometimes. Saying that, is it necessary to use an example from the world versus scripture? I liked the way the scripture was mangled for current culture example this past weekend. I think you do that well.