Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Leadership disconnect ...

"Undercover Boss" is a new hit reality show on CBS that leaders can learn some valuable lessons from.

The concept of the show is for CEO's of major companies such as Waste Management, 7-11, and other nationally-known companies to go "undercover" within their own organizations to see how their businesses really are doing.

While the executives usually discover both positive and negative aspects about their operations, thus far there seems to be a consistency among the few episodes that have aired: the lack of understanding and level of disconnect the leaders have with their own organizations.

Over and over again, we see leaders who are leading more from operational theory than from really knowing what's going on in the field. Thus, their operations are not optimized from an informed position, but instead limp along at a maintained mediocrity. After a week of being undercover in the field, the CEO's head back to their corporate headquarters vowing changes from lessons learned.

One of the reasons I was successful in business was the opportunity to work at the Regional Director level, that level assigned to the field just outside the corporate level (having authority to set policy while working from the field). What that allowed me was the chance to be in the field consistently, thus providing me with a constant understanding of direct operations and service delivery. I was able to consistently build and work with teams that maximized service excellence, productivity and efficiency. I was then able to leverage my field success to influence better "corporate" support to the field.

Overall, working from that position was a constant reminder of the essential need to understand what is happening in the field to maximize both success and excellence.

It's not just CEO's who make the mistake of routinely staying too distant from the real business of their organizations. I see the same happening routinely in the church as well.

There are two key ways this same leadership disconnect is seen in the church today. The first is among big churches with large staffs. It's not uncommon for leaders of these churches to so cocoon themselves among other staff members that "church" to them becomes their interactions with other church leaders and key volunteers who are more like unpaid staff. They often remain far removed from the "everyday guy" who shows up for a Sunday service. What results is often a warped view of what it's really like to live out the Christian life for the average person who is a part of a "mega" church. A "staff pastor" who spends their week working with other "paid servants" and then spend their free time hanging out with the same people, doesn't help them understand Joe Christian who works construction with very "worldly" buddies who have no understanding of the church or Christianity. There's a major disconnect with Joe and "church personnel." These church leaders, like the CEO's on "Undercover Boss," are leading more from theory than a full knowledge. They may know scripture, but not the people they're supposed to be leading. As we see more and more churches becoming so large they are led by "executive" pastoral teams who oversee other pastors, we see a growing disconnect between the leaders and the led.

The other situation is that of a small church where most ministry is stacked on the shoulders of a single minister, of whom everything is expected. Because he tries to live up to expectations, these leaders burn out quickly, and in big numbers. They attempt to over-deliver rather than to equip and lead.

Leadership that generates and maximizes excellence, productivity, and efficiency, and consistently creates success for both the organization and team members, is leadership that comes from an ongoing, intimate knowledge of what is happening in the field to meet the needs of customers (or, in the case of the church, to best serve and equip the "average" Christian and those not yet part of the church).

A lack of a full understanding of an organization, and the people who make up the organization, is the worst kind of leadership failure. Theory occasionally will get some great results, but at best will usually only attain mediocrity. If you want to build an outstanding organization, know it (the people and actual operations and their real results) from the ground up so you can make informed decisions.


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