On Friday of this past week, I had the privilege of attending a simulcast in Cranbrook, BC called the Chick-fil-A Leadercast. Apparently this is an annual event that has been in existence since 2008. It brings together some of the best in American leadership to thematically address issues about leadership — Andy Stanley, Jack Welch, Condoleezza Rice, John Maxwell, and David Allen being some of the most notable this year. It seems that the vision for this enterprise has strong Christian roots even though some of the presenters may not be speaking from a church leadership perspective. This year 4000 gathered at the original site in Atlanta while some 120,000 people watched by satellite in 750 locations across America and Canada. The site in Cranbrook had grown by more than 300% to 217 from last year and brought together people from a large variety of professions besides church leadership.
Andy Stanley began the Conference by emphasizing the importance of clarity in line with the theme of simplifying leadership. He said that leadership has constantly to answer three simple questions: What are we doing, Why are we doing it, and Where does one fit it. The first speaks to the idea of vision. He said it is imperative that everyone in the organization is able to answer the question of what the organization is all about. “If you don’t have a simple answer to the question of what you are doing, you haven’t worked on it long enough.” But the second question speaks to the emotional aspect of the organization’s reason for existence. It considers the question of what would happen if the work or ministry didn’t exist. What was the original impetus for the organization’s existence? Somewhere in the midst of the complexity of a business’s operation is a compelling answer that harnesses the hearts of the people who are committed to that business. The third question helps people in the organization know exactly what their unique contribution is. Stanley’s challenge in this was for every staff-person to create a one-sentence job description that enables each to keep focused. Stanley’s own one-sentence job description is this: To inspire our staff and congregation to remain fully engaged in our mission and strategy. His point is that if each one’s job is not clear, people will end up doing whatever comes to mind.
David Allen was a new face for me on the subject of leadership. His talk called, Bringing Order to Chaos, emphasized the tremendous significance of creating space in the midst of the complexity of our work in order to think. This requires the ability to take time out to reflect and gain perspective. In Allen’s view, we need to prioritize our time so that we are able to back away from the intensity of what we are working at in order to strengthen our efficiency. Making lists can help alleviate the clutter in our minds. I know how important this is in my own experience. Making an itemized list enables me to rest because it sets up an agenda and gives me freedom to work at other things. Allen says, If you don’t do this, the mess will short-circuit your creativity.
Henry Cloud had another perspective to offer: He spoke of leading more simply by confronting necessary endings. He spoke of the significance of pruning for more effectiveness. One of the hardest things for leaders to do sometimes is to decide to get rid of something because it’s draining resources that could be used for more focus in the main thing. There are times when we have to let go of things, maybe people too. We have to answer the question of what’s good but not best, what’s sick and won’t get well, what’s dead and won’t come back to life. Cloud’s contribution was that he called for focused attention. Leaders attend to what is relevant, inhibit everything else and create a working memory (by which he means that you communicate in a way that enables people to follow your ideas). Cloud, a trained clinical psychologist, says that the brain functions by the use of oxygen, glucose, and relationships. He said the simplicity of leadership is relationship. And relationships develop best in the context of listening. He ended his talk with an interesting story about a monkey in a cage whose chemistry was being tested for stress levels while being bombarded with a host of conflicting stimuli. But with the entrance of a buddy in the cage, while the same stimuli were being administered, the monkey’s stress level was reduced to about half of what it had been. His insightful conclusion was that leaders need to create structures where their teams can have deep connection with one another.
I found these principles very affirming for my own work of leadership in the context of church ministry. I have more to summarize from this excellent simulcast, but will continue that in the next session. I need to take some time to digest some of what the first three speakers had to offer. I want to look closely at their web-sites and writings to see more of what they had to say about effective leadership. There is much to digest here about leadership –something that we who practice are constantly seeking to improve.