First, Change the Paradigms

May 16, 2013 — 8 Comments

If things didn’t need to change we wouldn’t need you to lead.

We could get by with some excellent management of existing resources. We could keep producing what we produced last year. We could point people to last week’s message (or book, or meeting, or event) and talk about how well things went. All of these are necessary, but none of them will help you and your tribe grow and continue bearing fruit through the next seasons of challenge and opportunity.

One of the lessons I have learned during my seven year stint as a vice president for a 60-year old global nonprofit is this: to lead change, first change the paradigms. A paradigm is simply a mindset, a model, a template or an assumed way to look at things. In our case, I realized that in leadership gatherings, the ministry leaders I interacted with tended to emphasize two primary measures of success: (a) how many staff members they had working in their countries and (b) how many students were regularly attending their meetings. Both of those numbers indicate a degree of health and momentum. The paradigms were based on staff numbers and attendance.

But our calling as an organization is to help fulfill the Great Commission which we do by making disciples among all tribes, tongues, peoples and nations. When we are at our best we raise and release leaders. So first we had to change the paradigms from staff-focused efforts to student-led efforts. Also, rather than allowing leaders to spend 90% of their time and emotional energy dealing with a handful of staff members on a few campuses, we asked them to dream about how they might reach out to students on the next 5, or 10, or 100 top tier campuses in their nation.

This type of thinking took a few years to drive into the culture. It can’t be done in one leadership meeting or a single email blast. It required sustained focus through multiple conversations. We had to answer objections such as “we don’t have enough money, or staff, or time or whatever to think about adding more work to our schedule.” We helped people prune programs and events that were no longer necessary. We quit publishing and warehousing outdated materials. We highlighted early adopters who had voiced similar objections but had made the switch and were now experiencing the benefits of the change. We tried, in a friendly way, to starve ineffectiveness. In short, we changed the scorecard for effectiveness.

The results? We’re praising God for a 39% increase in one year in the number of campuses we touch around the world, as well as a corresponding 33% increase in the student leaders involved with us. Most of the growth has not come from an increase in staff members, or from gathering more people into our meetings. It’s come from inspiring and releasing students to lead.

If things didn’t need to change we wouldn’t need you to lead. What paradigm(s) do you need to change?

8 responses to First, Change the Paradigms

  1. Love this, Ken! Thanks!

  2. Great thoughts Ken! It is sometimes easier to change what we see on the surface. Much harder to change the ingrained paradigms at the bottom of the iceberg that drive behaviors.

  3. Thank you Ken.
    I have 2 questions: 1) How we could measure paradigm changed? 2) If changed, how we could help our teams to make sure that what they’re plan and what they are would do align with paradigm changed?

    • Great questions, Zandy.

      1. It depends on what the paradigm is that you want to change and measure. In the example I used, it was conceptually easy to look for places where students were really the leaders who were primarily responsible. One good exercise would be to engage your teammates and ask them, “How will we know when such-and-such has changed?”

      2. Your second question addresses how we reinforce a new paradigm. We found it helpful to offer trainings to help teams know what to look for. We also identified new behaviors and highlighted people who were seeing good results with those new behaviors. We also published an annual “dashboard” that put all our key results on one or two pages. We found this dashboard aided our strategic conversations because it highlighted the main results we were seeking. Leaders could then see that planning affects strategy which affects results.

      I hope that helps. Ken

  4. Thanks Ken, I like the difference you eluded to between managing resources and leading change. I was guilty of being one of those that said once, “We just need more people to get the job done.” My team and thousands of students have benefitted immensely from the change from staff-led to student-led mindset in East Asia.

    2 Questions about paradigm change: Working toward a new paradigm for us as a team has challenged other paradigms in our country that many value deeply. (For example, focusing on training and releasing leaders better instead of herding students to ourselves by leading weekly gatherings) First, How can you lead a change in a paradigm as a practitioner vs. being a regional, area, or global leader? Second, how important are results in leading change in a paradigm?

    • Ben, that’s great news that your team and ministry are benefitting from change. To answer your first question, many paradigm changes are led from the fringes, or front lines, of an organization. So, practitioners usually rule the day because they have had to adjust to the dynamic culture more rapidly than most formally positioned leaders. Second, results are very important in leading change. People will follow “positive deviants” who are solving today’s problems rather than yesterday’s. Keep it up!

  5. This is definitely true. Making changes in my old facility felt like banging my head against a wall. But once we got a manager that redefined what success meant, it became much easier for everyone to be aligned. Having a good definition of success that each person understands is huge.

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