Archives For leading change

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 We quit publishing and warehousing outdated materials.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?

Howdy from Austin, Texas. This is God’s country. Last night I enjoyed some fantastic enchiladas at Trudy’s Texas Star Cafe with my old friend John Hand. Hard to believe we pledged a fraternity here 28 years ago. So much has changed as this classic college town has grown, no, exploded, from about 300,000 residents in 1980 to nearly 2 million today.

Local t-shirts on sale everywhere capture the emotion of people locked in constant change: Keep Austin Weird.

Each of us is living, loving and leading through constant change today. Here are four great links I came across in the past week that ignited my imagination and courage.

1. Stand up (or sit down) for what’s right. Fifty years ago today four black college students changed their world by sitting down for lunch at an all-white lunch counter. Their action stoked a movement that still lives on today. USA Today story here.

2. Relevant ministry is about meeting people’s real needs. Usually it begins by giving people what they are asking for now, not by continuing to offer them what worked for the last generation. The half-life of today’s student generation is about 9 months. Are we connecting? Read Russ Martin’s excellent blog post Student: I Want Video Clips.

3. Thots on Change, the Sense of Urgency and the Long Haul of Cultural Transformation. Jay Lorenzen’s recent post distills wisdom from John Kotter (Harvard professor) and Michael Hyatt (CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers).

The big idea: Urgency is an essential asset that must be created and re-created in the organization…. More often than not, small companies have a sense of urgency. Why? Because their very survival is at stake. If they don’t move quickly, they get squashed by larger, more established competitors.

On the other hand, it is rare to find large companies that truly have a sense of urgency. Their circumstances rarely demand it. They can continue with business-as-usual and do pretty well. Nothing has to be done today or even this week. Nothing is really at stake—or so they think. Often, by the time they wake up, it’s too late.

4. Are you a Linchpin for your organization? You don’t have to be the president or CEO to initiate, create opportunities for others and solve problems that aren’t necessarily in your job description. Here’ s a great interview with Seth Godin talking about his new book, Linchpin. I highly recommend listening to Part 1 of the interview (about 9 minutes). Big idea: Linchpins are the essential building blocks of great organizations. And in today’s world, they get the best jobs and the most freedom.

Go for it!

Yesterday’s post on Initiation generated some excellent discussion among the comments. Thanks. Here’s an insight from Dave G: Well, who we are seems to be dealing with character. Is humble, servant leadership dealing with character? If so, I am ashamed to say that I so often see circles of leaders as “good ole’ boy” clubs where one is entitled to certain perks and levels of respect. I’m sure most people would not say that directly, but it seems to be how we live leadership out in our organization. I would love to hear some thoughts on this.

OK, here you go. New Testament leadership language contrasts greatly with most every culture’s normal perspective. Think about the words we use: I’ve always appreciated being under your leadership. He’s over me. She’s under the HR director. He’s over everyone in this four-state region.
When Jesus was challenged by James and John (and their mom!), two of his closest men, to place them in positions of authority over the other 10, sparks flew. Jesus basically said no.
And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41-45, ESV)
Note that Jesus addresses two types of leaders who rule or exercise authority over: those who are considered leaders, and even their great ones. Christ then turns the org chart upside down and strongly states in contrast: But it shall not be so among you.
I confess I didn’t expect such teaching from the ruler of the universe. Did his words stick? Did the disciples get it?
Fast forward 25 years later. Peter, arguably the most forceful personality among the disciples, whose name showed up first on most of the leadership rosters in the gospels and throughout the New Testament, wrote some great advice to church leaders. Let’s see what Peter said:
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4, ESV)
Yep, I think it stuck.
Lesson for change agents: Take the next 7 days to listen for the leadership language of over/under or among. What do you hear others saying? What do you hear yourself saying?