Earlier this week, Peter Bregman wrote in the Harvard Business Review blog about ‘four areas where senior leaders should focus their attention.’ Bergman is concerned that when senior leadership teams meet, they should not be wasting their time. He’s not too keen on ‘presentations’ or ‘updates’ at these meetings, suggesting that these occasions are meant to be times when leaders are engaging with ‘the organization’s most critical and difficult-to-solve issues’.
He explains that when he runs senior leadership meetings, he has these four points of focus:
- Decisions that move the needle. ‘Senior leadership should be focussed on fundamentals, not incrementals.’
- The big arrow. Has to do with alignment – making sure that all the little arrows in the organisation are pointing in the same direction.
- The next level of leadership. Up and coming leaders, leadership succession.
- Undiscussables. ‘Talking about the thing that no one is talking about is an almost foolproof way to improve company performance… the mere fact that it’s important and not being discussed is a solid indication that it’s what is holding the organization back.’
Obviously the HBR is not essentially a church-related publication (there is a clue in the title), but if leadership is leadership wherever it is found (it’s basically influencing a group of people to move in a certain direction or to adopt a particular course of action), then how does an article like this address leaders in churches and other Christian ministries as they plan the agendas for their meetings or leadership retreats? (I’ll leave you to work out who the senior leaders are in your ecclesiastical structure).
- Decisions that move the needle. If leaders spend the bulk of their time trying to decide which kind of lawnmower the church needs to purchase to make sure that the church garden is nicely kept, it’s hardly moving the needle. Business leaders might prioritise their time on how many zeros are involved in the decision; for church and ministry leaders, the criteria are going to be different. But there has to be time spent listening to God and discerning how to move the needle forward (see Acts 13 for an example of this).
- The big arrow. I remember a well-known church leader talking about the moment he realised that his (very large) church was operating like a loose federation of ministries. The bigger the church and the more complex the organisation, the greater the likelihood of this happening.
- The next level of leadership. Time moves on. New leaders need to be identified, encouraged and developed. While the biblical narrative is descriptive rather than prescriptive when it tells us that Moses left a successor (Joshua), but Joshua did not, it is striking to see what happened when each of those two leaders was no longer around. Think of Paul’s Pastoral Letters, to Timothy and Titus, not least how he urges Timothy to teach those who will in turn be able to teach others.
- Undiscussables. This may be a sore point for some senior leaders. It’s what some call ‘the elephant in the room’, that large issue that is obviously there, but no one wants to talk about it. It will take courage and humility, especially if you are the team leader and you suspect that the elephant may have something to do with you!
As you reflect on those items, here is a concession and an important caveat.
The concession – there are church leaders who would love to have the luxury of having a leadership team, or of being able to focus on these kinds of issues, but if you don’t decide what kind of lawnmower you need, no one will.
If that’s you, please don’t take the above as a one way ticket to a guilt trip
The caveat – the key biblical biblical motif for spiritual leadership is that of a shepherd; whatever we may glean from the HBR, we must not forget that, or the implications of the concept: seeking the lost, binding the broken, feeding the flock. Scripture, not the HBR is meant to be the primary guidebook and Jesus, not Jack Welch or Bill Gates, the primary model.
So what’s on the agenda for your next leadership team meeting? What will you talk about on your next leadership day away (if you have them, and if you can, you should – they are good opportunities to focus on some of the above issues)?
What’s the needle and how will it move?