Monday, October 04, 2010

Jim Collins, Good Leadership and the Gospel

The gospel should make us better leaders.

The other day, I heard a talk by leadership guru Jim Collins, at the GLS. Jim Collins isn't a Christian as far as I know, but quite a bit of what he said ties in rather strongly to the Gospel.

For example, the first stage he identified in "how the mighty fall" was hubris born of success - failing to recognise that success isn't all our own doing. He even suggested that one of the best exercises for leaders of successful organisations to do was to "count their blessings" - to write out a list of good things that have happened to them or that they have that they haven't earned. It seems that understanding something of grace and having something resembling a healthy gratitude is key to being a great leader.

Another key feature that Collins identified was the importance of listening to feedback that is critical of you, especially when you are succeeding rather than having your sense of self invested in your achievements.

Or take the Stockdale Paradox. General Stockdale survived being a prisoner in the "Hanoi Hilton" POW camp because he never gave up believing that he would be let out. But at the same time, the optimists in the camp did not survive, because they kept saying things like "we'll be out by Christmas", and could not cope with the repeated disappointment. What is needed, said Collins, was both faith in the eventual outcome, but also willingness to face up to the brutal facts of the present. And isn't that exactly the Christian attitude to faith in a God whose victory will become clear in the end but often isn't in the present.

Yet another example. Collins said "the enduring greats are driven by a passion beyond money and value", and emphasised the need to be non-negotiable on core values, but very flexible when it came to aiming to achieve our objectives. Once again, it's Biblical.

And all of this got me wondering two things.

1) If the gospel implies great leadership, why is the quality of Christian leadership so often lower than great?

2) How do non-Christian great leaders manage it? My boss wisely suggested that they substitute some other aim for the gospel, effectively becoming idolaters and slaves of an ideal. But I'd much rather serve the real thing!

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