Monday, November 24, 2008

There are too many people leading your organization

I am coming to really like Patrick Lencioni's work. I recently read his latest book and am eager to try applying the principles and strategies to my own family. Now, he has again written something quite stimulating in his POV newsletter. (sign up here)

This time he argues that no Executive/leadership team/board, whoever really makes the decisions for the organization should have more than 8 members. Here's why:

Because groups larger than this almost always struggle to effectively use the two kinds of communication that are required of any organization.
Chris Argyris, a professor at Harvard, came up with the idea years ago that people need to engage in both ‘advocacy’ and ‘inquiry’ in order to communicate effectively. Advocacy amounts to stating an opinion or an idea, while inquiry is the act of asking questions or seeking clarity about someone else’s opinion or idea. Frankly, one part advocacy and two parts inquiry is a mix I like to see on teams.
However, when there are too many people at the table, inquiry drops off dramatically, mostly because people realize that they’re not going to get many opportunities to speak so they weigh in with their opinion while they have the chance. Like a member of congress or the United Nations, they aren’t going to waste their precious time at the pulpit exploring the merits of a colleague’s proposal. Where is the glory in that?
But when the team is smaller, two things happen. First, trust can be exponentially stronger. That is simply a matter of physics. Second, team members know that they’ll have plenty of time to make their ideas heard, even if they do more inquiry than advocacy. This leads to significantly better and faster decisions. That’s worth repeating. Better AND faster. Those large teams I referred to before often take three times longer to arrive at decisions that prove to be much poorer, often the result of a grope for consensus.

The full article should be posted here soon.

One church in which I was involved approached this challenge by assigning from among their team of elders an Action Team of three members who had full authority and trust from the rest of the team to act when urgency required. This allowed them to be both rapidly responsive and carefully strategic as necessary.

I don't know if I've ever been on a highly effective leadership team, but the times when I've seen teams bog down convince me that what Pat is saying here is probably very accurate.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Most Dangerous Question

Is your organization redundant?
If you were being totally honest and no one else had to hear what you said, could you convince yourself that what you are currently doing couldn't be done as well or better by someone else?

The way you answer this question is pretty revealing. If you can't quickly point to some strategic niche or unique approach there is a good chance that you aren't fulfilling your needed role in the big picture of nonprofit/ministry work.

That's not to say you should delete the website and shut down the office, but you should invest some effort in figuring out what it is that you are uniquely ready, willing, or able to do.

Within ten minutes of my home there are at least fifteen Protestant churches, and to my knowledge none of them are full. In Canada there are at least 3 organizations working to provide specific leadership training to the particular market of Christian women. At any given university there are multiple campus organizations committed to expressing the truth and grace of Jesus. Ontario has dozens of Christian summer camps. There are multiple emerging leader programs, church planting groups, intensive ministry leadership programs, microfinance providers, and granting foundations. Someone has to ask if all of them are truly needed.

Repetition is expensive. When it adds no value it is also wasteful.

Organizations and individuals would serve all of us well by having a very raw consideration of what they uniquely bring to the community and whether they are meeting real needs or just sustaining the incomes or egos of their staff and leaders.

I suspect that in reality there is need for more, not less, in most areas. The needs in our society and around the world are enormous and varied.

What is not needed is mindless mimickry and pointless sameness.

One of the values we hold highly at Catalyst is synergy. On a weekly basis we review how we have been able to bring together separate entities for the betterment of all. It's hard to do that if the separate entities are essentially identical.

A challenge: Ask your organization's leaders to (in five minutes or less) articulate clearly what it is about you that is distinct from other similar organizations and why things would truly be worse if you ceased operations.

The responses to that exercise will tell you more about where you should invest time, money, and energy than almost any strategic consultant.

Unique is the point

Too often we get the impression that leadership is a topic or skill set that can be learned in isolation from other things. I know of more than one "leader" with outstanding credentials who are making significant, obvious, and damaging blunders with stunning frequency.
As we're nearing the end of our pilot project of the Catalyst Leadership Program at Abbey Park High School in Oakville, I am more aware than ever that leadership can't be developed independently from action. There must be a cause, group, or effort you are currently pursuing for their to be meaningful benefit to leadership training. Context is crucial.
That belief may be the distinctive of our program. We begin by trying to help the students identify their own dream, the thing in this world that they are uniquely able to address. Often they find that the seeds of their purpose have been in there lives since childhood.
Only after identifying that dream can they get the real benefit of the rest of the program where we dig into how we can and must develop our Competence, Character, and Context in order to bring about our desired change.
This week I saw some of the students "get it". Somehow a little light went on and they began to see that there are certain things about them that are truly unique, and that it is in those things that their dream should be found. I loved connecting with a few of them after class to explore what that might mean.
When I was in high school one of the classrooms had a poster with a stanza of that famous poem:
Two roads diverged in a wood
And I took the road less travelled by
And that has made all the difference

One of my friends thought that was an expression of regret rather than a victory cry. I consider his response tragic.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is Leadership a Cult?

Read this article from Christianity Today.

A few brief observations:
-If Apple can be a religion, leadership can tend towards being a cult.
-That women find leadership particularly difficult is the reason for existence for our friends at Next Level Leadership.
-Servant Leadership certainly has become a relatively meaningless buzzword; but I still believe it can express the best of what makes Christian leadership special
-I absolutely that we have diminished the meaning of leadership. With apologies to those who claim that "leadership is Influence" there is a necessary degree of intent and responsiveness from others before anyone should be called a leader
-It is difficult to pick out the really useful stuff from among the heaps of resources available now. I don't try to read everything but I am eager to hear recommendations from people I respect.
-There is a cynical tone to this piece that I don't much appreciate; as if those who invest themselves in leadership or in developing leaders are somehow abandoning the gospel and following after something "worldly"

But, it is a useful article because it demands that we examine our attitudes; that is well worth the few minutes of reading and few more of reflection.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hiring for Vision

Yesterday I spent time talking with Regan Heffernan, principal of Abbey Park High School in Oakville. I had heard from some of his staff that he was a great person to work for, Abbey Park is a new school with an impressive reputation. Half and hour with Mr. Heffernan explains a big part of why.

When interviewing potential new staff, he sends them the school's Mission, Vision, and Values 12 hours before the interview; then gives them a few minutes to explain why they can advance that agenda. The response is very revealing and they consistently have many times more applicants than opportunities.

Most organizations have taken the time to develop a written expression of their reason for being; but few make the ongoing efforts required to ensure those statements become truly their ethos.