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Most everyone is familiar with the famous Jack Palance line in "City Slickers".
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
Curly: This. [holds up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean s***t
Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”
Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.
In 1996, I visited with a friend who had been a consultant for more than 50 years. Esteemed around the world for his ability to tie principles together and ask penetrating questions, he had built a career on the foundation of discerning what was the unique situation of the organization and then reaching in his bag of almost Yoda-like truths and helping the client find a remarkable clarity. He did not spout truisms or formulas. He simply waited while you rambled and then asked that one question. He did not have one generic question or one question for which he was famous. Every question was shaped and honed for the particular situation.
I was meeting with a young ministry founder today and talking about the transition both she and the organization were making from a visionary project that was a platform for all her energy and creativity to an organization that now needed structure and more resources to grow. As we talked about what she loved to do and what was weighing on her I thought back to my friend who asked me a tough but kind question. "What is the one thing your organization needs from you right now that is your responsibility whether you want it or not?" I knew the "one thing" I wanted to do and had managed to do that for the first few years. But now was the time I had to decide whether I was going to serve the needs of the organization or continue to have the organization serve me. It was not easy. I did not really want to stop doing what I loved and start doing what was simply required...but I knew he was right. I had to settle that before taking the next step.
It's always the same with new ventures. There comes a time when we all have to identify (and sometimes painfully) take on the responsibility of the one thing the organization needs from us that only we can do. The mission deserves it.Comments
I like to read just about anything but when a friend sent me an article titled “Understanding Academic Medical Centers: Simone’s Maxims, I thought that might be more than I could stretch. However, I looked at it and discovered any number of principles and maxims that are useful in almost every field. These are not just truisms or material for motivational posters. They are thought provoking learnings from the experience of a seasoned medical director. I want to encourage you to read a few and then go to Joseph Simone’s site and get the original which was presented at Medical Grand Rounds at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.
Institutions Have Infinite Time Horizons to Attain Goals, But an Individual Has a Relatively Short Productive Period. An institution will always outlast an individual. Therefore, when the institution’s realistic time frame for change is so long as to seriously threaten one’s productivity or momentum, a change of job or focus must be contemplated.
Leaders Are Often Chosen Primarily for Characteristics That Have Little or No Correlation with a Successful Tenure as Leader. Choosing leaders is not a science, but it is surprising how often management skills, interpersonal skills, and experience are undervalued. Instead we pick people based on institutional longevity, ready availability, a willingness to not rock the boat, or to accept inadequate resources.
With Rare Exceptions, the Appropriate Maximum Term for an Academic Leader/Administrator is 10 years, Plus or Minus 3 Years. Fresh ideas, energy, and resources are needed for vital, creative organizations, and it is easier for a new leader to redress mistakes, adapt and restructure the organization, and clean out deadwood.
The “Fit” in a New Job Often Is Not Apparent for at Least 18 Months. This is true because it will depend on the opportunity actually delivered by the institution and the energy focused on it by the individual, both of which take some time to assess.
In Recruiting, First-Class People Recruit First-Class People; Second-Class People Recruit Third-Class People. Some hesitate to recruit a person who is smart enough and ambitious enough to compete with them. If that approach continues for long, the third-class people will eventually dominate in numbers and influence and eventually chase away any first-rate people that remain.Comments
I’ve probably thought far more about succession than I thought about starting two organizations. The ideas and the opportunities came and it was just a matter of acting on them and getting started. One of my favorite pictures is one of sitting in our breakfast room at home with my then assistant, Jan Hommel, two days after we started Fourth Partner and The Gathering. We moved the dishes out of the way to get the shot. Now, closing on 20 years later I would love to handle succession as easily!
Today, I taught on succession and realized a couple of things I had not noticed before. They helped me and maybe they will be useful for you if you are in a similar stage of life. First, the relationship Moses had with Israel was completely different from theirs with Joshua. From the beginning the people resented Moses’ seeming desire to “lord it over” them. Maybe it was his personality, his upbringing as royalty or their insecurity but there was always a conflict between his leadership style and their “followership” style. He was, from their perspective, autocratic and elitist. They were, from his perspective, stiff-necked, rebellious and corrupt. So, when the time came for him to give counsel to Joshua about the people he was about to lead Moses described them this way: “If you have been rebellious against the Lord while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die! For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall on you…” In other words, Joshua will be leading them into the land but they will be the same people with the same complaints, paranoia, cowardice, lack of trust and corrupt hearts they have always been.
I looked all through the book of Joshua for proof of this and I found none of it. There was one incident of disobedience with a single family but the whole nation joined in solving it. I looked for fear and rebellion and corruption and found none. There was no anger on Joshua’s part and no resentment on the part of the people. No one accused Joshua of lording it over them. There were no rebellions and no outbreaks of idolatry. There is nothing, really, but success.
So, if you think your successor will struggle with your leadership issues – you are probably mistaken. If we pick the right successors there is a good chance they will be even better leaders than we have been and will have success we could not have imagined. Don’t describe your experience with people and expect that to be theirs. They may accomplish things of which we could only see from a distance.Comments
In the early 90’s I invited Dr. John Stott to meet in Florida with a select group of pastors from large churches around the country. I was the President of Leadership Network, a ministry to senior ministers and staff of those large and growing churches. While many of these highly entrepreneurial pastors had little regard for academia or even the seminaries from which they had graduated, they all thought of John Stott as something of a rock star in their world. Even though they were often far more interested in being with successful business leaders they jumped at the chance to be with “Uncle John.”
The normal format for these informal discussions was having the invited resource simply field questions and respond “off the cuff” to the interests of the participants. The moderator made sure it didn’t turn into a lecture series or one pastor dominating the discussion. As this was intentionally a room full of dominators it was not always easy! It was, in fact, never easy.
I picked John up at the airport in Palm Beach as he was arriving from London that evening. It was late and he had no supper. I offered to bring him something but he declined as he had work to do. When I told him about the format he said nothing but looked off for about a minute – a long minute. “That will never do. These men have come long distances and having a free form discussion is a disservice to them. We’ll just have to have something for them to discuss.” I tried everything to assure him this was what they expected and he was not to worry about preparing anything.
The next morning I found him at breakfast finishing up his remarks for that day and the next two days. He had stayed up most of the night preparing on topics he thought relevant to their ministries. When we convened the group it was clear they were going to be treated to the fruits of his “all nighter”. No one complained. No one interrupted. No one left the room for a full four hours. They knew they were the fortunate recipients of a rare opportunity as John discoursed on topic after topic as they scribbled notes. It was only at the break for lunch that they had a chance to ask questions and they did!
John kept up that pace for three days and when we concluded he was going strong while everyone else was dragging. I’ve never seen anything like it since.
As my friend and John’s friend Steve Beck told a group of us last month, people did not fully understand the entrepreneurial drive of John Stott and they often miscalculated his energy, focus, humor and determination. They mistook his irenic spirit for a lack of strong opinion and fiery intensity. I think that is what dominated the group that time in Florida. It wasn’t what they expected while they discovered he was in every way one of them.Comments
This afternoon I am meeting with a young man who is trying to figure out what to do with his life now that he has left his company. I have found most people in this situation go around and have conversations with individuals and then try to process everything they have heard in their own heads. It’s a pretty standard way of getting advice. If your primary doctor gives you a diagnosis you can go get a second opinion. If your insurance quote is too high you can call another agent. We tend to get advice and counsel that way. I’m not sure it is the most effective way of working through life change decisions.
Years ago I was introduced to Parker Palmer and a process used by the Quakers called the Clearness Committee. (http://www.couragerenewal.org/parker/writings/clearness-committee). The purpose of the clearness committee is not to give direction or to “fix” people but to help people access the resources of a small group of trusted friends. It’s not an intervention or group therapy. Again, it is not designed to come up with an answer to the person’s question about what to do. It is not a time to say, “If I were you this is what I would do.” It is simply a way to access the value of a group working together instead of an individual being the only one to hear everything.
While some people are reluctant to impose on their friends or they feel asking a group is uncomfortable or sounds self-centered, just the opposite is true. The friends are delighted and they love having the opportunity to learn from each other. If you are working through a decision, try a clearness committee.Comments