Look Back and Learn: Investing in Wisdom Equity

In researching and working on some leadership development material for an ongoing writing project, I came across the following:

Christianity is a religion of change. Jesus’ call in Mark 1:15 (the kingdom of God is at hand) was a call to change – change of mind and heart, of conduct and character, of self and society. By its very nature Christianity is a religion for a changing world and has always had its greatest opportunity during times of upheaval.

The Christian leader has no option; he must face a changing world. If the leader is to render maximum service, he must both adjust himself to the phenomena of change and address himself passionately to the business of producing and guiding change. Here are some elements that constitute the changed world in which the Christian leader today is called to fulfill his ministry.

Changed world outlook

Changed economic philosophy

Changed social consciousness

Changed family life

Changed community conditions

Changed moral standards

Changed religious viewpoints

Changed conceptions of the church

Changed media for molding public opinion

Changed demands made upon the leader

Pretty good list, right? Dead on. Taken from today’s headlines.

Nope.

courtesy the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

courtesy the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

The author was Gaines S. Dobbins, distinguished professor of Religious Education at my alma mater, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville KY.

Written in 1947.

As the introduction to the book “Building Better Churches: A Guide to Pastoral Ministry.”

Dr. Dobbins retired before I was born, but while in seminary in the early eighties I had the privilege of sitting under a couple of professors who were students of Dr. Dobbins. When I came across this book in a used bookstore, I bought it on impulse. After flipping through it, I realized it was a treasure of leadership wisdom.

At Auxano, we talk about a concept called “vision equity.” As developed by founder Will Mancini in his book Church Unique, it’s realizing that the history of a church is a rich resource for helping rediscover what kinds of vision language past generations have used. That language is very useful for anticipating and illustrating God’s better intermediate future.

As I read Dr. Dobbin’s book, I think there is also a concept called “wisdom equity.” It’s realizing that there have been some great leaders and deep thinkers over the past decades and centuries whose collective wisdom would be a great place to start as we struggle with the new realities that face us every day.

It’s why I love history – I see it not as an anchor that holds us to the past, but as a foundation to build a bridge to the future.

Go ahead – look back and learn.

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The Danger of Being the Brightest Person in the Room

Recently I recalled a consulting job several years ago where I was speaking to a church about the formation of a team to work on the planning for a new building. During one of the sessions I was speaking on the importance of including the facility manager on the building team in a church project, and I tossed out the following statement: The person who sweeps the floor should choose the broom.

That brought out a lot of chuckles from the attendees, but the point hit home: Operational staff members almost never get the chance for input into the decision-making process, yet they are held responsible for the ongoing outcomes of the decisions. That statement and the following story came to mind recently while working on a teamwork project for a future presentation.

James Watson and Francis Crick can arguably say they answered the question, “What is the secret of life?” The pair discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, the biological material that carries life’s genetic information. During an interview on the 50th anniversary of their discovery, Watson was asked how he and Crick had solved the problem ahead of many other highly accomplished, recognized scientists. Watson’s answer included identifying the problem first, being passionate and single-minded about their work, and their willingness to attempt approaches outside their area of familiarity. Then he added something that was astounding: they had cracked the DNA code primarily because they were not the most intelligent scientists pursuing the answer.

Watson went on to say that the most intelligent person working on the project was Rosalind Franklin, a brilliant British scientist who worked alone. “Rosalind was so intelligent that she rarely sought advice. And if you’re the brightest person in the room, then you’re in trouble.”

That comment highlights a common occurrence in church leadership: When dealing with a specific problem or issue, leaders should ensure that they collaborate with team members toward its resolution, even if they are the best-informed, most-experienced, or most skilled person in the group. Far too often, leaders – who, by virtue of greater experience, skill, and wisdom, deem themselves the ablest problem solver in the group – fail to ask for input from team members.

Scientific studies have shown that groups who cooperate in seeking a solution are not just better than the average member working alone, but are even better than the group’s best problem-solver working alone. Lone decision-makers can’t match the diversity of knowledge and perspectives of a multi-person unit that includes them. The ability to distribute many subtasks of a problem to its members – parallel processing – enables the group to outperform the individual who must address them sequentially.

Are you a church leader working in a group? Don’t relinquish your leadership role, but make sure your process allows group members to offer insights, cooperate, and collaborate with each other. The Bible has a lot to say about that, but that’s for another time!

What’s Shaping the Minds of This Year’s Freshman Class, the Class of 2021

Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List, providing a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall.

Today, the Mindset List of the Class of 2021 was released.

The creation of Beloit’s former Public Affairs Director Ron Nief and Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride, authors of The Mindset Lists of American History: From Typewriters to Text Messages, What Ten Generations of Americans Think Is Normal, it was originally created as a reminder to faculty to be aware of dated references. It quickly became an internationally monitored catalog of the changing worldview of each new college generation.

Leaders – of all ages – need to understand what has shaped the lives of today’s entering college freshman class, those 18 year olds who:

  • Are the last class to be born in the 1900s, making them the last of the Millennials.
  • Are the first generation for whom a “phone” has been primarily a video game, direction finder, electronic telegraph, or a research library.
  • Have always had emojis to cheer them up.

For those who cannot comprehend that it has been 18 years since this year’s entering college students were born, they should recognize that the next four years will go even faster, confirming the authors’ belief that “generation gaps have always needed glue.”

Here are a few nuggets from this year’s Mindset Class for the Class of 2021. You must read the entire list here!

  • They are the first generation to grow up with Watson outperforming Sherlock.
  • Amazon has always invited consumers to follow the arrow from A to Z.
  • They have always been searching for Pokemon.
  • By the time they entered school, laptops were outselling desktops.
  • Whatever the subject, there’s always been a blog for it.
  • Ketchup has always come in green.
  • The BBC has always had a network in the U.S. where they speak American.
  • Family Guy is the successor to the Father Knows Best they never knew.

You can find the rest of the list here.

Read it now.

How to Establish a Systems Thinking Mindset on Your Team

How do you cultivate long-term commitment on your team?

Many teams today are not really teams at all – organizationally, structurally, and motivationally they are not set up to work as individual parts of a larger, unified whole. Often they reflect outdated organizational charts that have little to do with current reality. There are times when a leader realizes their team is actually a collection of individuals who are looking out for themselves. Left in this state, a team can actually become a divisive and damaging cancer to the organization.

Is it little wonder, then, that leaders seek help in cultivating commitment within their teams? The problem isn’t necessarily with the team members or leaders themselves, but what the team is being asked to do: work together without any larger sense of organizational direction or purpose.

If your team needs a boost in commitment, consider establishing a systems thinking mindset on your team.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Leadership Equation, by Eric Douglas

What distinguishes the most successful organizations?

What do the leaders and managers in these top organizations actually do?

In this fascinating book, entrepreneur and business consultant, Eric Douglas, paints a clear picture of what happens inside high-performing organizations. He reveals a simple but profound equation: Trust + Spark = Leadership Culture. Leaders and managers are most successful when they focus on building trust and sparking innovation.

In The Leadership Equation, Douglas expands the equation into the 10 most important practices for building trust and spark. As Douglas clearly shows, when trust and spark combine, leaders improve the performance of their team, their department, and the entire organization – and, ultimately, reach their own full potential.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Entrepreneur and organizational consultant, Eric Douglas, wants leaders to realize the importance of engaging in systems thinking, and in turn, leading their teams to do the same.

“Systems thinking” is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots.

Today, systems thinking is needed more than ever in the increasingly complex world we live and minister in. It is all too easy for organizations to break down despite individual brilliance, because they are unable to pull their diverse functions and talents into a productive whole. 

To achieve a leadership culture, the power of systems thinking needs to spread throughout the organization. Systems thinking teaches us to appreciate how a decision made in isolation can negatively affect others.

We teach our clients to see their organizations holistically, asking them to look at it from five systems perspectives – strategy, governance, performance, process, and people.

Strategy – From this perspective, you focus on the long-term trends affecting your organization. You respond positively by thinking about the long-term use of your resources and how to focus to achieve your most important priorities. You respond negatively by focusing too much on factors beyond your control.

Governance – From this perspective, you focus on the system of decision-making that controls the direction of your organization. You respond positively by thinking about governance and being very specific about delegations of authority. You respond negatively by blaming people for making misguided decisions when the system isn’t clear.

Performance – From this perspective, you focus on systems for measuring performance, first at the organizational level, then to departments, teams, and finally to individuals. You respond positively by deciding which metrics and targets to track at each level and what communication systems to use. You respond negatively by paying too much attention to individual cases of poor performance.

Process – From this perspective, you focus internally on the process of producing value, measuring effectiveness and efficiency. You respond positively by thinking about how to improve the individual components of the process. You respond negatively by singling out specific individuals for not managing a process consistently or efficiently.

People – From this perspective, you focus on your system of hiring and rewarding people. You focus on how to get the right people on board and how to develop them in their roles. Your respond negatively by selecting and promoting people based on arbitrary factors.

– Eric Douglas, The Leadership Equation

A NEXT STEP

Your leaders want to be on a winning team, and teams are most successful when they are innovating and executing around consistent systems. The art of developing systems thinking is found in the organization of your actions and attitudes and the realization that each perspective needs to be measured against every other.

At your next team meeting, list the five systems perspectives above on a whiteboard or flip-chart. Choose a recent leadership team decision and take that decision through each of the five systems perspectives, asking for each, “what worked?”, “what did not work?”, and “what would we do next time?’

At the conclusion of this exercise, sift through the why behind those response to begin to develop a set of guidelines that will help your team see the positive benefits of systems thinking while avoiding the negative consequences.


While all too often teams are “teams” in name only, individual commitment to a larger whole is an integral part of the success of any organization.

By engaging in systems thinking, leaders can help their teams maintain commitment and accomplish their Great Commission call.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 12-3, published April 2015


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.

Do You Ever Feel Like You’re Living Out the Movie “Groundhog Day” at Your Church?

Groundhog Day is a celebration of an old tradition – Candlemas Day – where clergy blessed and distributed candles for winter, representing how long and cold winter would be.

Groundhog Day is also a 1993 movie starring Bill Murray that popularized the usage of “groundhog day” to mean something that is repeated over and over.

Many churches find themselves in their own version of groundhog day, living out a dream and vision that was once relevant, but now is long in the past. Unwilling or unable to face reality, they are simply repeating the past over and over.

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Church leaders who find themselves in this situation have an excellent resource in Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code by Sam Chand.

“Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code” offers a practical resource for discovering the deficits in an existing church’s culture and includes steps needed to assess, correct, and change culture from lackluster to vibrant and inspirational so that it truly meets the needs of the congregation.Cracking Your Church's Culture Code

The book includes descriptions of five categories of church culture (Inspiring, Accepting, Stagnant, Discouraging, and Toxic) as well as diagnostic methods (including a free online assessment) that church leaders can use to identify the particular strengths and needs of their church.

One particularly useful section of the book deals with the seven keys of CULTURE:

  • Control – it isn’t a dirty word; delegating responsibility and maintaining accountability are essential for any organization to be effective
  • Understanding – every person on a team needs to have a clear grasp of the vision, his or her role, the gifts of the team members, and the way the team functions
  • Leadership – healthy teams are pipelines of leadership development, consistently discovering, developing, and deploying leaders
  • Trust – mutual trust up, down, and across the organizational structure is the glue that makes everything good possible
  • Unafraid – healthy teams foster the perspective that failure isn’t a tragedy and conflict isn’t the end of the world
  • Responsive – teams with healthy cultures are alert to open doors and ones that are closing; they have a sensitive spirit and a workable system to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks
  • Execution – executing decisions is a function of clarity, roles and responsibilities, and a system of accountability

Understanding your church’s culture is not an easy task. Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code is a very helpful resource for the leader who wants to delve below the surface of church as usual and lead it to greater impact.

Cooperation Rather Than Confrontation

Following the Civil War, economic recovery and expansion in the United States was to a large part driven by the expansion of the railroad system.

From its infancy in the 1830s through the 1870s, railroad systems developed piecemeal within the borders of each state. Everything from locomotive size to railcar layout to schedules to fares was developed only with a mind to serve a limited scope – usually measured in tens of miles, occasionally getting up into the hundreds of miles. Nowhere was this more glaring than the rail gauge, or distance between rails.

Facing a tremendous rebuilding effort, with grand schemes of expansion beyond that, the independent railroad systems of the mid-1880s realized that it would be better to serve national, rather than local, interests. The idea that it was better for a railroad to have a separate gauge from its local rivals had become redundant.

Cooperation rather than confrontation was now the watchword.

After decades of incessant fighting, railroad companies realized that railroads work best as an integrated system; the longer that passengers and freight can travel without changing trains, the better the service.

In the South, the five-foot gauge was changed to standard (4 feet, 8 ½ inches) over two days in the summer of 1886.

Two days.

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Large gangs of track workers moved one of the rails on 13,000 miles of track. The operation – staggering in its scope – also required converting 1,800 locomotives and 40,000 coaches. Up until this time, trains heading in and out of the South had been subject of delays as their cars were lifted by hoists and attached to wheel sets of the right gauge.

The efforts of tens of thousands of workers over a momentous thirty-six-hour period on May 31-June 1, 1886 created – at last – a unified railroad for almost the whole United States.

Are there bottlenecks in your organization where converting to a “standard gauge” will bring tremendous growth opportunities?

Background material from The Great Railroad Revolution by Christian Wolmar

What Account Do I Draw From to Pay Attention?

Last fall I had the opportunity to be a part of The Adams Family Adventure – a week-long trip to Walt Disney World for my immediate family of fifteen: six children and nine adults.

All week long I had the most fun watching the rest of the family as they experienced Walt Disney World, most for the first time. We captured that trip in over 3,000 images, whose primary purpose was to bring up stories from our memory from that single image.

As we departed four different cities on the first day of our trip, we were texting and FaceTiming about our various experiences. It was the first airplane flight for four of the grandchildren (they did great). They left their homes early in the morning, took long flights, got on a big “magical” bus, and arrived at our resort.

To our grandchildren, it must have been a little strange. From the time they came running off the bus, throughout all of the fun adventures of the week, to the goodbyes at the end of the week, they were a little overwhelmed, maybe even overstimulated about the whole process – and I began to see all over again what it means to be curious.

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You can, and must, regain your lost curiosity. Learn to see again with eyes undimmed by precedent.   – Gary Hamel

My grandchildren’s curiosity was brought sharply into focus when I recently read the following:

In childhood, then, attention is brightened by two features: children’s neophilia (love of new things) and the fact that, as young people, they simply haven’t seen it all before.   – Alexandra Horowitz

On LookingAlexandra Horowitz’s brilliant On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes shows us how to see the spectacle of the ordinary – to practice, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle puts it, “the observation of trifles.”

On Looking is structured around a series of eleven walks the author takes, mostly in her Manhattan neighborhood, with experts on a diverse range of subjects, including an urban sociologist, a geologist, a physician, and a sound designer. She also walks with a child and a dog to see the world as they perceive it. What they see, how they see it, and why most of us do not see the same things reveal the startling power of human attention and the cognitive aspects of what it means to be an expert observer.

Here’s an illustrative example as Horowitz walks around the block with a naturalist who informs her she has missed seeing three different groups of birds in the last few minutes of their walk:

How had I missed these birds? It had to do with how I was looking. Part of what restricts us seeing things is that we have an expectation about what we will see, and we are actually perceptually restricted by that perception. In a sense, perception is a lost cousin of attention: both serve to reduce what we need to process of the world “out there.” Attention is the more charismatic member, packaged and sold more effectively, but expectation is also a crucial part of what we see. Together they allow us to be functional, reducing the sensory chaos of the world into unbothersome and understandable units.

Attention and expectation also work together to oblige our missing things right in front of our noses. There is a term for this: inattentional blindness. It is the missing of the literal elephant in the room, despite the overturned armchairs and plate-sized footprints. 

Horowitz’s On Looking should be required reading for ChurchWorld leaders. How often do we fly past the fascinating world around us? A world, mind you, that we have been called to serve.

How can we serve a neighborhood or community or a block of our subdivision if we haven’t paid attention to it?

To a surprising extent, time spent going to and fro – walking down the street, traveling to work, heading to the store or a child’s school – is unremembered. It is forgotten not because nothing of interest happens. It is forgotten because we failed to pay attention to the journey to begin with.

Will Mancini, Founder and Team Leader of Auxano, the vision clarity-consulting group I am a part of, has written eloquently on the subject. In his book Church Unique, he introduces a principle called “The Kingdom Concept” with references to artist Andrew Wyeth:

 Most artists look for something fresh to paint; frankly, I find that quite boring. For me it is much more exciting to find fresh meaning in something familiar.   – Andrew Wyeth

Mancini goes on:

What’s particularly interesting about Wyeth is that in more than fifty years of painting he never tried to capture a landscape outside of the immediate surroundings of his home in Chadds Ford Pennsylvania, and his family’s summerhouse in Maine.

 Ponder this starling fact for a moment: This man has touched the world with an ability he never exercised outside of his own backyard! His creative mind and brilliant skill, turned loose for ten hours a day and for years on end, can be forever satisfied by radically full attention to the familiar.

 It seemed to me that he was doing something inherently visionary, and critically important for ministry leaders to do as well: his ability to observe his immediate surrounding enables him to discover and express meaning in life that other miss.

The role of today’s leaders is to clarify what is already there and help people perceive what has gone unnoticed.  These are the skills needed to lead a Church Unique.

Questions to Ponder

  • How do you observe the all-too-familiar in order to discover new meaning and discern the activity of God that others miss?
  • What do you look for?
  • How can you learn to scrutinize the obvious?
  • What does it mean to look for the extraordinary in the ordinary?
  • How can you lead your church to find exponential impact through a simple and local focus?

A good place to start is simply looking…