(Here at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit learning how to lead better for Operation Christmas Child)
I’m excited to be here. Twenty seven years ago I was a youth pastor sitting in the balcony at Willow Creek and this man I didn’t know much about got up and started talking about leadership and Bill you just ruined me. It’s humbling to have the chance to speak at Willow Creek.
Our church in Atlanta is turning 22 years old in October. At year 20 we did some serious evaluation and I asked, “If we had it to do over again, what would we do all over again?” In other words, what really worked? We did an autopsy on our success. Often times we only critique our failures but if we don’t evaluate success you won’t be able to fix it when it breaks.
We narrowed it down to four things, and I’ll only talk about one. You can go back to “Lessons from the first 20 years” on our podcast to find the other three. It’s the most difficult to talk about and maybe the most important.
Why did our organization grow so fast? -- We aren’t growing like that any more but we decided at that time it was—we had a uniquely better product.
--nobody was doing church the way we were doing it in the southern United States. It’s not that we were the best but we had a uniquely better product. People knew it was a church but it was unique. Unique isn’t enough, though. It has to be uniquely better.
--we created an engaging church experience for everybody--for the whole family—especially for men.
--we are not unique anymore which means we are not uniquely better anymore. So what is there to learn from that?
--somebody somewhere in your industry is messing with the rules of your prevailing model. Every industry has a prevailing model with shared assumptions and they can get you in trouble. Every industry is stuck, not necessarily in a bad way. The point is—there’s a prevailing model with shared assumptions and consequently things continue as they always have. BUT someone somewhere is coming up with a uniquely better model.
--Discovering ‘uniquely better’ is virtually impossible. Odds are you are not going to be the one who discovers ‘uniquely better’ but the odds for recognizing it are better.
--Uniquely better is often the by-product of circumstances that successful organizations are trying to avoid. It is often a solution to a problem but organizations that aren’t having that problem aren’t looking for it.
--Multisite churches originally were a solution to a problem. Many successful churches didn’t have this problem and weren’t looking for a solution. NOW multisite is a church planting strategy.
--The more successful you are the less likely you are to recognize ‘uniquely better’ when it comes along.
--when Willow Creek started everyone recognized it as unique but not as better.
--Our best hope (since chances are we won’t pioneer the best things) and our responsibility as leaders is to create cultures positioned to recognize rather than resist uniquely better?
--The earlier you recognize it and the less you resist it the better off you will be.
How to create a culture that recognizes, and not resists, uniquely better
1) Be a student, not a critic. I decided I will never criticize something I don’t understand. We naturally resist things we don’t understand or can’t control. As a leader you must resist that tendency. When you criticize you stop learning and leading.
“The next generation product and idea almost never comes from the previous generation.” Al Reis in “Focus” -- We have to recognize ‘better’ when it comes. You have to pay attention to student ministry.
2) Keep your eyes and mind wide open. Listen to people outside of ministry.
Outsiders aren’t bound by our assumptions. We think “that won’t work because…” based on our assumptions = critic. The ignorance of outsiders may be the the ticket to the next thing. Closed-minded leaders close minds. If you shut your eyes and your mind you will close the minds and eyes of people around you, including your children. They will stop having good ideas or new ideas. Status quo folks will stay and protect the status quo. Only when it’s too late will you recognize the better idea. You can’t see a closed mind in a mirror. When I ask these questions, pay attention to your emotions: 1) How do you respond to staff who make suggestions based on what they’ve observed in other organizations, especially when it’s a competitor? – typical response=they’re not us -- you can be the critic that shuts down the students 2) when was the last time your organization embraced an idea that wasn’t your idea? 3) when’s the last time you weren’t sure of an initiative and gave the okay anyway? Atheist Sam Harris said, “We must pay attention to the frontiers of our ignorance.” The more successful we are the more difficult that is to do.
3) Replace HOW? With WOW! – The moment someone says the ‘h’ word all the good ideas die. You lose nothing by saying “WOW” but you may lose the next generation idea by saying “how”. WOW ideas to life, don’t HOW them to death. We fuel innovation or we shut it down by our response to new untried ideas. You can HOW an idea right out your door. Everyone needs to get used to saying WOW to every idea. Nothing is gained by not knowing what your people are dreaming about.
To the married women in the world. Every week or so your husband comes home with a new idea. Women, somehow you think God created you to HOW all our ideas to death. We almost never follow through with anything so you just say WOW and then you say, “Did you come up with that all by yourself?” Then just hand us the remote and we’ll never think about it again. Parents, let’s be careful with our kids. The world will put enough HOWs in front of them—let’s just be WOW parents. Your greatest contribution to the world may not be something you do but someone you raise. You need to raise WOW kids. It costs you nothing. To discourage something God may be stirring in their heart can HOW it to death.
4) Ask the uniquely better questions. If you are pursuing uniquely better you are more likely to discover it….
a) Is it unique?
b) What would make it unique? (unique attracts attention)
c) Is it better?
d) Is it better…really?
Somebody out there somewhere is already working on the uniquely better. Whether we discover it is not the issue—but will we recognize it? We will if we keep our eyes, and hearts and minds and hands wide open.
As much as we love doing what we do we would love to be the wind in someone else’s sails when they discover the uniquely better thing that will bring people to the Kingdom. So let’s be people of WOW instead of HOW.