I just completed reading Sam Chand’s book, “Bigger Faster Leadership (Lessons from the Builders of the Panama Canal)” Chand does a masterful job of using the canal project as a metaphor for today’s leaders. All of the planning, hard work, set backs…for the goal of a much more effective form of transportation – a great analogy.
This is neither a critique nor a book review. I am simply providing some of the best quotes and ideas, and occasionally offering my response. Be aware, I give little attention to the actual canal project. Rather, I focus on the leadership principles derived from the project. I trust that my providing this material will not keep you from buying the book! I recommend you buy I and read it.
chapter 1 “How Do You Define the Need?”
Chand visited the Panama Canal and learned of its history, development and significance. From his visit, he developed a series of thoughts relating to leadership systems. “The size and speed of an organization are controlled by its systems and structures.” The only way organizations can grow bigger and move faster is by accelerating the excellence of their systems and structures.” For our purposes, we should examine our systems and structures for ways to become more effective in leadership, so that the organizations we lead may become healthier and stronger.
Ch. 1, “How Do You Define the Need?”
“Compelling needs have always inspired bold action.” (2)
“A leader’s vision is the result of being gripped by a palpable need.” (4)
“After the vision becomes clear, the next question is: ‘who do I need to help me meet this need and make the vision a reality?” (mentor, coach, or model) (5)
“Systems aren’t just building, programs, products and budgets. They are the processes that create and use buildings, programs, products and budgets to facilitate change.” (6)
Five distinct phases of the lifecycle of any organization:
The entrepreneurial (discovery) phase is the exciting beginning, when every dream seems possible.
The emerging (growth) phase is when the vision begins to take definite shape, leaders are empowered, and the organization sees real progress.
The established (maintenance) phase is a time when leaders take a deep breath, enjoy their success, and watch their systems function well. But this phase is also dangerous because it can easily lead to complacency.
The erosion (survival) phase is evident when the organization shows signs of decline, and the earlier vision seems unreachable.
The enterprising (reinvention) phase is the result of a deeper grasp of the need, a renewed vision, fresh enthusiasm, and new strategies to meet the need. Giving an existing organization as fresh charge of vision and energy is difficult, but it’s essential for future flourishing. (8)
“The task of leadership isn’t just to give people goals but to help them utilize effective systems and structures to reach those goals.” (10)
“Many businesses and churches have fallen in love with ‘the way we do things around here,’ so they seldom if ever evaluate systems and structures according to the pressing need and the compelling vision. Culture changes and the delivery systems become antiquated in a hurry. We need to stay alert and nimble, always keeping the vision fresh and open to creative new ways of fulfilling it.” (10)
“When we feel stuck, we won’t just put our heads down and try harder, hoping for a different outcome.”(13)
“The systems that brought you to this point may not be the ones to take you to where you believe God wants you to go.” (13)
“Systems must continually adapt to the needs and opportunities of the moment, Static systems gradually lose relevance, but dynamic systems anticipate evolving needs.” (14)
“Casting vision is more than ‘what’; it must also include a clear and powerful ‘why’ or people involved will lack passion and the plans will be stiff and rote.” (15)
“Long seasons of stagnation can be mind-numbing. Instead of trying harder with the same systems and structures, I recommend conducting a thorough analysis; clarify the need and the vision so you’re captured once again by the what and why, and then spend plenty of time figuring out how you can reconstruct your systems and structures so they can support more size and speed.” (16)
Chapter 2, “How Do You Handle Colossal Failure?” There are some fantastic leadership principles that I think you will like.
We need to recognize the insidious nature of comparison that often lurks undetected in our minds and hearts. (24)
Success needs to be viewed in the context of our realities, not by comparing ourselves to the biggest and fastest-growing organizations in our field. (24)
It’s wise for leaders to compare their current growth to their original vision, not the success of other leaders. (24)
The question is: What progress have you made in fulfilling that (original) vision? (25)
The clear majority of the failures I see in my consulting role with pastors and business leaders are from misplaced expectations and faulty systems and structures. (26)
When the numbers turn down, unexpected setbacks happen, or conflict ravages an organization, some leaders immediately try to put the best face on it. They say, “everything is fine,” but plenty of people know it’s not the truth, so the leader begins to lose an organization’s most valuable commodity: the people’s trust. (27)
For many leaders, past success blinds them to potential future problems. (29)
Pastors, boards, and leadership teams in churches traditionally focus on the ABCs: attendance, buildings and cash. These are certainly important, but we often fail to measure factors that reveal the heart and health of our churches, such as the number of first-time guests, the proportion of guests to regular attenders, the conversion rate of guests who become regular attenders, the conversion rate of those who join small groups, and most important, the number of volunteers actively engaged in ministry. These factors reveal the “stickiness” of the church. Too often pastors become frustrated because they don’t see overall growth, but they don’t peel back the layers to measure and evaluate the crucial connections people need to make. (30)
When I consult, I talk with people at all levels to feel the pulse of life. Quite often the top leaders are full of vision and passion, but those who are down the organizational chart often don’t get up in the morning dreaming about how their role can change the world that day. They have tunnel vision, focused on their narrow role and their stated responsibilities. (31)
One of the most important tasks of a leader is to notice long-simmering conflict between team members and wade in to resolve it. Sadly, some leaders don’t have the courage to make this move. (31)
It’s irresponsible of us as believers, and especially as leaders, however, to ignore perpetual troublemaking and assume “it’ll work out somehow.” We have a responsibility to the team and the organization to take more decisive action. (32)
All leaders wear two hats. Pastors wear the hats of shepherd and a CEO; business leaders wear hats of a coach and a boss. In both arenas, I’ve seen countless leaders who found excuses to wear only one hat. They may have avoided wading into the other person’s life because they don’t like conflict, or a past conversation blew up and ended badly. Whatever the cause, avoiding reality always creates much bigger problems – for the leader, for the team, and for the person who is incompetent or divisive. (32)
Good leaders need to delegate clearly and efficiently. This means they clearly define the team member’s responsibility and make sure all the resources are available to get the job done. (34)
A vision without a plan is just a hope, and a plan without a deadline is only a wish. (34)
We need to be our team’s biggest cheerleader – not faking it, but genuinely appreciating them and their contribution to the cause. (35)
The lessons you learn from your disappointments and failures before forty determine how God will use you for the rest of your life. (37)
Chapter 3 of “Bigger Faster Leadership” asks the question, “Where do you find fresh passion and purpose?”
Sam discusses the initial failures in the project to rebuild the Panama Canal. He shares some great details on dealing with disappointments.
Below are some quotes from the chapter along with a few of my takeaways.
“When disappointments stalls a leaders plans, he or she often should craft a new vision and take bold action to move the organization forward. The courage to take an honest look at setbacks is essential. Leaders may be tempted to engage in gloom and despair, but they must find a way to see disappointments as turning points, not dead ends.” (p. 41)
Isn’t that the truth! I think one’s ability to recover from failure marks the difference between average leaders and great leaders.
“When we experience significant setbacks, we may wonder if the dream is dead. We need to dig deep to find that blend of optimism and tenacity, We ask ourselves, “Is the need still there? Is the vision still alive? Can we find a way to fulfill it?” Halfhearted statements won’t do. The people around us need to see in our eyes and hear in our voices affirmation that we still believe – we believe the need must be met, we believe we are the people who can lead the effort, and we believe in the people around us.” (p. 42)
When we fail as leaders, I think it is necessary to place the unmet need of the organization above our feelings of insecurity and frustration. Our unchecked emotions can dismiss us prematurely from our incomplete assignment.
“In my consultations with leaders around the world, I’ve noticed four kinds of people in their organizations: Wanderers never see the vision, but they don’t care. Followers see the vision, but they don’t pursue it on their own. Achievers are gripped by the vision, and are intrinsically motivated to take action; and leaders are compelled by the vision to gather others to pursue it with them.” (p. 43)
This awareness helps us to develop realistic expectations for the people we lead. It’s not reasonable to expect everyone to embrace and pursue the vision. Yet some will. We need to know who those people are.
“We learn that agreement doesn’t necessarily equate to loyalty, and disagreement doesn’t necessarily mean the person is disloyal. In an atmosphere of trust, disagreements aren’t interpreted negatively; they’re just part of the process of fine-tuning the direction of the organization.” (p. 44)
Insecure leaders must have unanimous agreement. This is not realistic. We need supportive disagreement in order to improve. I think that a grace-oriented culture encourages us to trust others enough to disagree when necessary.
”Recasting a new vision is usually more challenging than casting the original one.” (p. 45)
I concur. The courage to try again once we’ve experienced failure will be met with even greater resistance. People will come out of the woodwork to remind you of past failures.
“All change involves loss. So acknowledging the losses before they happen gives the leader credibility in the eyes of his or her team.” (p. 45)
#Truth. People tend to be skeptical of “Pollyanna” leaders.
“When we get a refreshed vision for our organizations, we multiply disruptions, at least at the beginning. If we anticipate them, we’ll have the opportunity to prepare our people to handle them.” (p. 45)
My experience is, people do not respond well to surprises; it weakens our believability as a leader. Wise leaders let their people know that disruptions are a part of the transformation process.
“Perceptive leaders predict the need to make changes before the decline occurs.” “The leader’s task at this point is to explain that momentum will erode if they don’t use it to catapult to the next level of growth.” (p. 46)
Chand utilizes the Sigmoid Curve to explain the need for timely change. He concludes that point A, while things are still going well, is the point at which we need to engage in change. Too many leaders wait until point B (which is too late). Momentum is the key.
“Many pastors, and some business leaders, value peace above all else. Chaos makes them uncomfortable, and creating chaos is unthinkable!” (p. 47)
“That’s the double-edged knife of a leader: help people to live in peace, but stir up enough chaos to make change happen.” (p. 48)
This is a tough truth. Christian leaders are usually compelled to seek peace. There is no getting around the idea that change means chaos.
“When I teach teams to use conflict constructively, I explain the conflict can be a PLUS. They need to PAUSE to focus on the situations and person without being distracted. Then they should LISTEN carefully, paraphrasing the other person’s points. Ask questions and take time to UNDERSTAND the other person’s position and then validate the person’s feelings. Then SOLVE the problems together as a team, or if only one is responsible for the decision, at least the other person feels understood even if he or she disagrees.” (p. 48)
I really like this reminder, It is simple and perhaps too idealistic but it provides a chance for everyone to settle down and process the problem logically, rather than being pushed by emotions.
“Another limiting factor is that many leaders are so busy they don’t have enough margin to step away, talk to a mentor, pray, and dream of bigger things.”
So true. Too many of us are like firemen running around putting out fires with no time to plan or grow.
Chand encourages us to identify people who encourage us to think more deeply and who challenge us to grow. We need to intentionally spend more time with those friends.
“If you don’t build time to dream into your schedule, you’ll always be operating on last year’s hopes and vision. Dreams don’t just happen. We need to carve out time and space so we can imagine what God might want to do, and as we spend more time in His presence, we can listen.” (p. 53)
This may be my most valuable takeaway from this chapter. I can’t be so busy and stressed as a leader that I am too busy to hear the subtle voice of God.
Chapter 4 “How Do You Craft The Right Plan?”
“As leaders, we should realize our filters exist. Even our strongest commitment to objectivity has at least tinges of subjectivity.”
I believe the quicker we are to recognize our biases, the quicker we can improve.
“We never receive input and analysis in an objective bubble; we always have predispositions that shape our receptivity and our ability to process information.”
“The leader often has a good idea of the what, but he usually doesn’t have a good grasp of when, where, who, how, and how much. The planning phase must be pushed down to the level where many skilled, passionate, creative people give their best efforts to craft a comprehensive plan.”
This is actually very liberating to a confident leader! He/she doesn’t have to have all of the answers.
“The leader articulates the need and the big idea of meeting the need, but he enlists others to create plans to identify the size and the speed, and then to create the systems and structures to achieve those goals.”
“Leaders may ask too quickly: “Is this big idea realistic?” This question needs to be asked at the tactical level. If it’s asked too soon, it short-circuits the essential process of dreaming big dreams. By their nature, big dreams don’t seem realistic at all! But on the other side, if a vision isn’t keeping a leader up at night, it’s not big enough.”
“To begin the planning process, carefully choose a team of wise, optimistic, experienced, creative people. The members should have diverse perspectives – not so radical that their demands will burn the house down, but different enough to produce sparks that will ignite the best discussions.”
“A lot of leaders feel the pressure to be “the decider” much too early in the process, but their primary job isn’t to be the decider at all.” (p. 59-60)
“Haste stops the dreaming process, limits creative thinking, and sends the wrong message to the team that the real goal is having a final plan neatly copied and put in a binder.” (p. 61)
“In this process, the leader’s goal isn’t to build consensus around his own ideas. Instead, he’s mining the wisdom of his team to produce a much better plan and a much higher level of passion to accomplish it.”
Once again, self-esteem and confidence on the part of the leader is indispensable. Insecurity is one of the greatest enemies of a leader.
“I’ve seen a team’s lethargy – and sometimes real damage to the organizational culture – that occurs when leaders don’t involve their teams in a creative process. For instance, a pastor may read an article about the latest great idea: small groups, multisite churches, leadership pipelines, a new kind of sound system, or whatever it may be. He or she announce the new initiative and then tell someone on the team, “Visit this church (or read this book or watch this video) and make this happen at our church.” When this happens, there is no vision exchange, no creative involvement of the entire team, and very little buy-in, even from the person who is assigned to pull it off. The team member is just following orders.” (p. 63)
And these types of leaders come up with “innovative” ideas often – and they usually fail. This leaves the team unwilling to get excited about projects.
“Too often leaders in business, churches, and nonprofit organizations walk into meeting and announce, “This is what I’ve decided we’re going to build,” or from a spiritual angle, “This is what I believe God wants us to build.” When a leader jumps too soon from the dream to the plan, the people on the team don’t have the opportunity to dream, and they don’t feel affirmed in their unique contributions as builders.”
Extreme caution should be used before a ministry leader declares, “the Lord told me…”
“It’s helpful to distinguish between planning and preparation. Planning is concrete; it answers the what, who, when, where, how, and how much. Preparation is usually intangible and answers the why questions.” (p. 64)
“Most of the leaders I know excel in planning, but they are often deficient in preparation – for themselves, their teams, and their organizations.”
“When their people feel valued, they gladly share innovative ideas, wisdom and experience.”
Trust creates this kind of confidence.
“Creativity always produces a fair share of irrelevant and unproductive ideas, but it also has the potential to generate the best ideas.” (p. 65)
Chapter 5 “What’s In Your Suitcase?” highlights:
This chapter focuses on the need for leaders to be able to anticipate the future and prepare the organizations they lead to be effective into the future.
Below are some quotes from the chapter followed by a few of my reactions.
“One of the most important traits of outstanding leaders – at all levels of organizations – is the ability to anticipate the opportunities and challenges of the future.“ (p. 75)
My current role provides a real challenge when it comes to anticipating the future. Being responsible for leaders in multiple locations and cultures makes predicting the future difficult. Chand’s encouragement to work on this skill is motivating me to get to work.
“Leaders desperately need to get in front of the wave – for the sake of their own sanity so they aren’t overwhelmed, as well as for the future of their organizations. Those who are paying attention ask, “Where is all this going so fast?” “How does this affect our organization?” “How do we need to recreate our systems and structures to prepare for what’s coming?” and “What do we need to do to get in front of all of this?” (p. 77)
I think some of us are so overwhelmed trying to figure out what to do today that we have no time to look forward. Many times, my head is down because the terrain is dangerous. When this is the case, the future remains unknown to me.
“(Robert P.) Jones and other commentators assert that the church is losing a generation of young people. Why is this happening? In a rapidly changing and closely connected culture, the church is viewed as out of step with issues important to Millennials, such as immigration, racial justice, economic opportunity, health care, and the rights of those the church has traditionally considered misfits and outcasts – the kinds of causes the church championed for two thousand years.” (p. 78)
This is an especially painful realization for us. It seems that some church leaders have spent so much time standing for their values that we have lost sight of God’s values. We are praying the price with a generation that is losing interest in our ministries.
“All great leaders see farther than others, and they see challenges and opportunities sooner than others. I want to be that kind of leader.” (p. 77)
Me, too, Sam!
“When I hear leaders and their teams resist new ideas because “we’ve never done it this way before,” I know they’re stuck in the past- they moles, not giraffes. If I hear them complain about all the limitations of people, space, money, and time, I know they’re paralyzed in the present – they’re turtles, not giraffes.” (p. 79)
While I can do without the animal analogies, this is great insight. It’s too easy to get trapped in the past or in the present. We’ve got to move forward if we’re going to reach this generation. He uses the analogy of a giraffe that can see farther than any animal in the jungle.
Chand dedicates a few pages to the idea of “futuring”, the ability of a leader to scan the future horizon and lead forward. He co-authored a book back in 2002 with the title “Futuring.”
“The question we ask each person on the futuring team is, “If we were to pacj our suitcase today to be ready for tomorrow, what do we need to throw out and what do we need to include?” Futuring leaders instinctively ask this question, and nurturing leaders can learn to ask it.” (p. 81)
Chand distinguished between futuring leaders and nurturing leaders. I think most pastors are nurturers but we must also be able to see into the future and make tough decisions today.
This is great!
“Leaders who are too wedded to the past spend a lot of time warning people about the threats in the culture and the dangers of change in the organization, they are defensive and reactionary. Those who are focused on the present are comfortable with the status quo and are thrilled with incremental growth. But those who are committed to the future analyze what will be and dream about what their organizations might be like. They don’t start with a plan; they start with a ruthless analysis of the challenges in the future, which generates and sees anticipated problems as golden opportunities.” (p. 84)
This is great perception. I can see myself and others in these descriptions. I suggest we all take a look and not be too quick to be defensive.
“…be honest about the possibility that the culture we’ve created, with great care over many years – is focused on the past or the present more than on the future.”
“If we aren’t hemorrhaging for the vision to become a reality, they’re (followers) not going to bleed.”
“No matter how large we grow, and no matter how intricate our communication systems may become, our message to the people in our communities must be clear enough to grip their hearts.” (p. 84)
I love the focus on clarity and intentionality.
“Too many leaders pick people to fill slots to meet immediate needs. This is shortsighted. Instead, we need to conduct a rigorous process to find people who will meet the needs in the future.” (p. 85)
I have been guilty of appointing a leader because they were available. The ideas presented challenge me to do better for the good of the organization that I serve.
“Many of us have lived in the Christian subculture so long that we don’t know how to speak the language of the people who seldom walk through our doors.” (p. 86)
The best way I know to combat this problem is to intentionally immerse oneself into the culture. If we are regularly exposed to and aware of the language nuances in our community, we will soon discover our need to grow and change in order to remain relevant.
“If we’re not prepared, we can be knocked off the road or stopped in our tracks. No matter how well we anticipate the future, we’ll always encounter the unknown. Count on it, it’s guaranteed. Fragile leaders won’t make it, and lonely leaders won’t make it very far. We need to build our spiritual, emotional and relational muscles to be strong when we face the inevitable adversity.”
The faster things change, the more adept leaders must be at adapting. If we get stiff or stubborn, we’ll sink. If we’re too weak to change, we won’t survive. Let’s be strong and confident enough to know when, where and how to change in order to be effective as leaders.
Chapter 6 “You Didn’t Expect This, Did You?”
In this chapter, Chand uses the disease carrying mosquitoes of the Panama Canal as a metaphor for the problems (sometimes hard to detect) that leaders face.
“Leaders have mosquitoes problems, too. We face seemingly insignificant ‘bites’ of setbacks and opposition that can turn healthy environments into sick ones. In every organizations,, ‘mosquitoes’ are more than annoying; they create fear and distrust, distract people from their tasks, and can wreck the whole endeavor.” (p. 92)
“What are the mosquitoes in your organization? Simply understood, mosquitoes are bad attitudes, and carriers are those who are infected by these attitudes and spread them.” “The individual bites may not appear dangerous at all. In fact, they are almost imperceptible. If we look closely enough, though, we can see the damage. Each bite can infect our employees, staff and volunteers with a contagious, negative attitude that surfaces in countless ways.” (p. 93)
“The leader’s challenge is to notice the mosquitoes – and the carriers – before they can infect others.” (p. 96)
“People of integrity are always willing to ask, “Is it me? Did I contribute to the problem in some way?” (p. 97)
Chand discusses how mosquitoes destroy trust in an organization. “Teams can go through almost anything if they trust each other.” (P. 101)
Chapter 7 “How Do You Handle Opposition?”
In this chapter, Chand explains the prevalence of opposition in leadership and distinguishes between resistance and ridicule.
“Sooner or later, every grand, bold vision encounters significant opposition. We may assume that opposition is always destructive, but it can be a powerful force that crystalizes our imagination, focuses our plans, and drives us to succeed.”
“I find it helpful to distinguish between resistance and ridicule. Resistance is disagreement, and it often comes in the form of opposition to an idea or a plan, but ridicule has a strong emotional component.” (p. 108)
“Suffering may make is hard and bitter, but it can make us humble, tender and wise.” (p. 109)
“Leaders face opposition from three distinct sources: procedures – how things get done; prerequisites – why things are done; and personnel – who gets things done. If we respond well, our experience of resistance can have benefits in all three areas.” (p. 110)
“We can be confident without being cocky, patient without being passive, determined without being dogmatic, and assertive without being aggressive.” (p 112)
“The people that ridicule us are watching us closely to if we’ll get angry and defiant (the fight response) or cower in fear (the flight response). They seldom expect us to respond with strength, wisdom, grace, and creativity.” (p. 114)
“When we’re under the strain of resistance and ridicule, we often choose exactly the wrong solution.”
“Friends show us that opposition, and even genuine failure, isn’t the end of the world.” (P. 118)
Chapter 8 “How Can You Make Your Systems Hum?”
This chapter revolves around the idea of placing the right people in the right positions in our organizations. Chand utilizes the metaphor of a ladder. The higher we climb, the more important it is to have the right people holding the ladder.
In my opinion, Chand could have done a better job of communicating these concepts without making the leader look like the one being served. It’s a little distasteful to think of others living to hold my ladder. Perhaps it would have been better to describe the holding one another’s ladder. Regardless, it is a good point.
“If leaders have unqualified people holding their ladders, they won’t be able to climb very high. The ones who help us climb six feet up a stepladder may not be the ones who can hold it securely so we can climb twenty feet up and extension ladder. And the ones who help us climb twenty feet may not be the ones who have the strength, skill, and commitment to help us scale a forty-five-foot ladder.” (123)
“No matter how beautifully we construct our systems to achieve more size and speed, we’ll feel as though we’re running in mud if we don’t have the right people in our structures.” (p. 125)
We don’t discard those faithful, committed men and women (who cannot continue to hold our ladder as we climb). Instead, we make sure we find a place for them that fits their talents and capacity. At some point, all of us reach the limit of our capacity, so limits aren’t a character flaw in any way. Some people may not be on our team any longer, but they can serve incredibly well at the level we just left, where other leaders in our organization are climbing higher – just not as high as our ladder. It is, I believe, a dictum of leadership to understand a simple but crucial principle about reaching your desired future: those who got you here may not be the ones to take you there.” (p. 125)
“Churches, businesses, and non profits organizations aren’t the armed forces, but it may serve us well to at least look at the strengths of different cultures to see what we might learn from them. One of the principles we might learn form the military culture is that turning a blind eye to incompetence or a bad attitude inevitably leads to a disaster down the road.” (p. 126)
“It’s never a mystery who need to be let go and replaced in any organization.”
“It doesn’t take long for trust to erode when leaders are too timid to take necessary action. When leaders don’t make tough decisions about people who are a drag on their teams, they lose leadership equity with the rest of the team. Every decision raises or lowers the leader’s equity, and the refusal to address the elephant in the room knocks a big hole in the bucket. At that point, equity doesn’t seep out; it flows out.” (p. 127
“One of your primary roles is to equip and empower those you lead, How well are you performing this role?” (p. 128)
“Do the people on your team have mentors? Are these mentors inspiring them and challenging them to grow? When wads the last time you asked people on your team to describe the impact of their mentors? Mentors aren’t optional because people without mentors are destined to become stagnant in their growth.” (p. 129)
“Why do people on your team come to work every day? What is it that causes the light to come on in their eyes? What brings out the very best in them? Exceptional leaders and members of leadership teams don’t do what they do for money, acclaim or power. They work hard and cheerfully, facing heartaches and overcoming disasters, because they believe two inconvertible truths: the organization gives meaning to their lives, and the people they work with re honorable people who value the same meaning.” (p. 133)
Chapter 9 “How Can You Utilize People with Different Talents?”
In chapter 9, Chand speaks in great detail about he importance and advantage of engaging a wide variety of diverse leaders in an organization. This is a real challenging topic for me in my current role. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
“Mediocre leaders gather people around them who are mirrors, reflecting only what the leader thinks, says and does. But gifted leaders know the value- and the messiness- of complexity and diversity in their plans and their ladder holders.” (p. 137)
”Differences can be a team’s greatest strength.” (p. 140)
“Too often, leaders subconsciously are looking for people to join their boards and hire for their teams who are just like them. They don’t mean to be narrow; they just are. If we have the courage to admit our propensity to select people who consistently validate our worldview and values, we can then choose to broaden our reach and include people who maybe very different form us.”
I admit it – this is an area of weakness for me. I think due to some feeling of insecurity, it just feels better when everyone agrees with me and affirms my position. But I have gotten stuck many times in this going nowhere cycle of agreement.
“To achieve more size and speed, leaders need to broaden their canals. To broaden them, they need to think more expansively. To think this way, they need diverse, creative teams who stretch their minds and hearts. Change requires courage.” (p. 142)
“Leaders, go beyond what is comfortable and familiar to you. Recognize the hidden talents and perceptions of people who aren’t like you. Draw them out, affirm them, enlist them their contributions. As you listen to different voices around your table, you will expand your reach, sharpen your product, and raise the quality of your services.” (p. 143)
Gone are the days of the know-it-all leaders. If we are not collaborating with those different from ourselves, we are dead in the water.
“This is the work of alignment, so that the team members complement each other’s efforts instead of competing.” (p 145)
“Proper placement prevent problems; Poor people performance prevents prosperity.” (p. 147)
Chapter 10, “How Can You Produce Creative Tension?”
In this chapter, Chand challenges leaders to embrace the positive aspects of tension in their organizations. Most leaders tend to disapprove of tension but there is great value to be gained by understanding healthy tension and the good is produces.
“When entrepreneurs stride toward growth in business and pastors pursue the expansion of God’s kingdom, tension is a predictable result.” (p. 152)
“Most people in our culture think of peace as the absence of tension; Jesus’ peace is confidence in God’s presence, care, and calling in the midst of tension. That’s the kind of peace we want. That’s the kind we desperately need.”
“all gifted leaders have a very different perspective; their bold vision inevitably creates tension, so they expect tension, and they use tension to bring out the best in everyone around them.”
“Tension points are the places where opposite forces are at work, where flexibility is essential, and in animate objects, where growth happens. Every physical thin in the universe has tension points, and organizations can only grow and thrive if we recognize them and use them appropriately. Trying to avoid them weakens the system and ultimately leads to a collapse – sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly.” (p. 153)
“There is no such things as a meaningful, tension-free relationship unless one of the people is dead.”
“One of the traits of a dynamic, healthy organization culture us that people are unafraid to share their ideas. But this kind of culture doesn’t happen naturally. It must be modeled, cultivated, and nurtured by a leader who welcomes disagreement and doesn’t insist on having the right to answer or the last word.” (p. 154)
“The question for leaders isn’t how to avoid tension, and it isn’t even how to resolve tension. Resolutions may seem like the highest goal but it is not. The question is: How can you create and manage tension to bring out the best in your team?” (p. 155)
“We need to redefine ‘tense”. When I use it to describe a meeting, I mean that we had a robust exchange of ideas, people weren’t afraid to voice their opinions, the culture promoted freedom of expression, disagreement was invited, decisions were made or not made as people heard and understood, and no one felt intimidated or overwhelmed, as it all took place.”
“It will take time to train a team to relish tension, but it’s worth the effort.” (p. 156)
“If we insist on having our way, and if we insist that we’re right, we won’t be able to disagree without hurting the people around us. We’ll perceive every challenge as a threat instead of an invitation to explore another point of view. With stability, security, and wisdom, we can love those who disagree with us, we can listen carefully to them with an open heart and without defensiveness, and in most cases we can support the person responsible for making the decision even is we would have made a different one.” (p. 157)
“We need to teach our teams that the decision-making apparatus needs to be respected. Some decisions may be by a vote, others by consensus and still others by the person in charge. Whatever the case, the entire team owns the decision. This means we welcome disagreement and the free exchange of ideas within the team, but when the responsible person makes a decision, everyone supports it to those outside of the team. They don’t nod at the end of the meeting and then walk out and tell a friend how dumb the idea was.” (p. 158)
Chapter 11 “Does It Ever End?”
“Some emerging leaders believe that if they can ever achieve their grand plan for growth, they can then hit the autopilot button and coast to ever-higher levels of size and speed. Wiser leaders know it doesn’t work that way. When they hit their highest goals, they certainly celebrate, and they may take a few days to relax, but they’re soon back at the job because their work never ends.”
This principle is worth the price of the book. For true leaders, the only finish line is when we leave this earth. Don’t get disappointed by thinking the work will one day stop.
“Many leaders strive for stability and consistency, but I would argue that these aren’t the right goals. Too often they lead to stagnation and eventual erosion.”
We’re born with the desire for comfort. Leaders have to fight this tendency. It’s in the hard work and challenges that we grow, produce and make the world a better place (p.165)
“The supreme yearning for stability is a sign of a stagnant organization, and perhaps toxicity. It never leads to growth. It doesn’t stimulate new ideas, it doesn’t challenge the status quo, it doesn’t inspire anyone, and it doesn’t force people to find ways to work together to fulfill a goal no one can accomplish alone. Leaders who become stagnant are defensive and react against every challenge. They hire people primarily for personal loyalty rather than finding people who will add spice to the mix.” (p. 166)
We see this too often. A leader who has lost sight of the vision is sometimes so defensive, there is no way to discuss it without starting a fight.
“Like Roosevelt, all great leaders are dreamers, and like him, great leaders find people who share their dreams and become deeply committed to making them happen. When they encounter people with passion but limited skills, they find a place somewhere for them to serve faithfully and well. When they find people with skills but no passion, they try to inspire commitment and zeal for the cause – and if the people don’t respond, the leaders replace them. But people with great ideas never threaten gifted leaders.” (p. 167)
I studied this principle known as situational leadership. The leader adjusts his/her approach based upon the skill and passion of the other individual.
“Gratitude is never out of season. It reminds all of us who we depend on, who is the source of our growth and joy, and who we trust for the future.” (p. 168)
“We don’t build trust by insisting on unanimity and instant compliance, but by valuing the input of every person on the team and providing time – within limits – for people to push back and give input. This is the kind of environment that stimulates the next wave of ideas that lead to creativity, energy, and growth.” (p. 169)
“My experience consulting with leaders in businesses, nonprofit organizations, and churches, I can confidently say that the single factor that has led to growth is consistent and effective leadership development.”
I wrote my Master’s thesis on leadership development in the local church. I sure could’ve used Chand’s work back then!
“The church needs to have a vibrant presence in the community – not just a building in the community. The church is most powerful when its people are woven into the fabric of the community: loving, serving, and caring in schools, businesses, government, sports activities, and touching those in need.”
Love this quote!
“The church’s leaders often use the number of people in the congregation as the primary benchmark of success, along with the size of the buildings and the cash in the bank account. But the true mark of success is the size and strength of the core of leaders who shoulder the burden and spread the joy of God throughout the ministry of the church.” (p. 170)
We sometimes measure the wrong thing – I believe – because they are easier to measure. It takes strong focus but we must get better at counting the things that matter.
“In a survey of leadership teams in hundreds of churches around the country, the Vanderbloemen Search Group and the Unstuck Group identified three practices that had the biggest impact on developing a strong core of leaders:
- An intentional strategy of leadership development
- A significant financial investment in staff development
- A specific person who is responsible for developing leaders.
“Leadership development doesn’t just happen. Organizations need a comprehensive plan to expand the number of people in the core and sharpen their skills and effectiveness. This plan can’t be an add-on; it must become central to the strategy.” (p. 172)
Again, something I discussed in my Master’s thesis.
“A common misconception is that leadership training occurs in classes. In fact, knowledge can be imparted in classes, but training happens in the field as people are exposed to real-life situations and coached by someone who sees potential, accelerates growth, and helps people overcome confusion, difficulties, and failure.” (p. 173)
“Great leaders come from a hothouse of growth, where the gospel message, motivations, and methods are modeled and imparted by loving, talented man and women. Leadership development is the way healthy organizations maintain the growth they’ve realized, and it’s how they continue to grow.” (p. 175)
Chapter 12 “What’s the Next Big Dream?”
“Why do some leaders wait so long to launch a new wave of growth? There may be many reasons. Some simply don’t realize their organizations are eroding in front of their eyes, others are afraid of the pushback they’ll undoubtedly feel if they launch a new initiative, and a few are simply exhausted and lack the energy to lead the charge. Whatever the reason, these leaders and their organizations miss the opportunity to increase their size and speed because they fail to revitalize their systems and structures. (p. 179)
We sometimes confuse waiting on God with too scared to try something new.
“Are true leaders ever satisfied? Is a certain level of size and speed enough? Are there no more mountains to climb and no new lands to discover? Is incremental growth acceptable, or is it time to launch something that will propel the organization to a higher level?” (p. 180)
There is a certain level of inner dissatisfaction in the life of every great leader. Left unchecked, it can get us into trouble; ignored, it can lead us to frustration.
“Look more deeply to discover the real needs in people’s lives. They don’t need a new building, program, or product, but the building, program, or product may be an effective way to meet their need.” (p. 183)
Church leaders – pay attention to that one.
“Go to conferences and listen to the great things other leaders are doing, talk to your friends who are doing wonderful things in their organizations, and read articles and books about bold initiatives, but don’t jump to conclusions. Stop to reflect on the needs those organizations are meeting. If the same needs exist in your world, consider meeting them, but come up with your own plan to fit your community and circumstances.”
“Think, talk to wise people, and stay focused on the pressing needs in your community. If you’re not meeting a real need, your plans will generate little initial enthusiasm and even less momentum to sustain the effort. A vision that captures hearts propels the organization forward. With it, you lead motivated people; without it, you drive people and demand compliance. When the vision isn’t based on a need, leaders must continually sell people – especially their staff teams – to keep them pumped up, but sooner or later, trust erodes and the team becomes resistant.”
Vision based on need. Simple, yet brilliant.
“When a leadership team is galvanized by the prospect of meeting needs in the lives of people in the community, team members daydream about new ideas almost as much as the leader does. They dive into their work with infectious enthusiasm, sharing their hearts with everyone they meet and creatively overcoming challenges. They do research because they want their efforts to be successful, and they gladly enlist others to join them in the work.”
This is a key truth in this chapter. When people know they are making a difference, they get motivated and inspired. Ideas flow, creativity grows and everybody improves.
“Find a good coach or mentor. We’re better when we have a partner, someone who will tell us the truth no matter what that truth may be. We need someone who knows well enough to point out our strengths so we work from them, and who is honest about the yellow and red flags they see in our lives. We need more than a friend; we need a thoroughly objective, insightful person who has been where we want to go and knows how to help us get there.”
I love this. Mentoring is not a new idea but Chand communicates it is a compelling way.
“Be a continual learner. Great leaders are sponges who soak up information. Read challenging books, listen to brilliant speakers on podcasts, and talk to leaders in other fields to see how their expertise might cross-pollinate you and your organization.” (p. 186)
Leaders must be lifelong learners!
“Our work as leaders is infused with the same nobility, vision, and difficulty. In our organizations, our task is to bridge the divide between what is and what might be, to bring meaning to those who have lost hope, to bring value to people who want a better life, and to make human connections richer and more meaningful. Our work as leaders is no less than this, and our challenge is much like the one faced by those who looked at the jungles of Panama and wondered, “Can we really do this? They answered, “Yes we can.” That’s our answer too.” (p. 189-190)
Taking people from where they are to where they need to be – that’s the goal of a leader.