It Must Always be About the Organization

great man theory of leadershipGreat Leadership Lessons, NOTE 07.
There is some paradox involved in this lesson... and frankly, quite a bit of in-the-face challenge as well. Give me a little grace and space to write about myself as an example. I will get to that in a moment.

We live in a culture that still loves the Great Leader Story. We love our leaders larger than life. We love heroic leaders. We love the leader who takes a decisive stand against all the others, against the crowd, against the popular way...and proves to be RIGHT. We love the superstar leaders. We love the celebrity leader. This is not just in the world, but the church deals with this just as much.

It doesn't matter whether your theology/spirituality is evangelical, post-modern/emergent, fundamentalist, charismatic, Gospel Coalition... it doesn't matter. For we all participate in the larger culture that LOVE Great Leaders. 

Rob Bell, Chuck Swindoll, Tim Keller, John MacArthur, Andy Stanley, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Chuck Smith... the list goes on... no matter the persuasion - we tend to love leaders larger than life.

Therefore, what Collins says in Built to Last goes against the grain. Collins says great leadership is NOT about the leader. The great leader is not one who has a certain set of attributes or competencies (although great leaders will have lots of attributes and competencies). Ultimately, great leadership is about ONE THING - the organization. The great leader is one who is more focused on the organization than on herself or himself.

organizational system leadershipThe great leader is devoted to building an organization, not a resume.

The great leader is more focused on organizational design then specific product design.

The great leader is dedicated to building an enduring organization that grows and expands when the leader's work is done.

The great leader makes hard decisions for the well-being of the organization and not for personal advancement.

Great leaders are not impressed with products or ideas or services or strategies. Those things are only useful if they contribute to building a lasting and fruitful organization. Great leaders spend more time building the organization than designing products.

You ultimately can determine if a leader is a great leader by ONE MAIN criteria. 
It is not the speeches they gave, no matter how inspiring.
It is not the deals they made, no matter how spectacular.
It is not whether they appeared x number of times on the cover of Business Weekly, etc.

It is by ONE THING - did they build the organization so that it was stronger and healthier at the end of their tenure, than the start? Does the organization endure and thrive? That is the HALLMARK of great leadership. The sign of great leadership is simply - a GREAT ORGANIZATION.

Am I a great leader?

  • I have written some good materials that many people say are really useful.
  • I have mentored quite a few people who are grateful for the empowering I provided.
  • I have designed models of leadership development and spiritual formation that advanced the art of both domains.
  • I have sponsored a number of people into positions they might not have had apart from my influence.
  • I have delivered quite a few seminars, workshops, retreats, conferences, etc. that have blessed others.
  • I have quite a few friends that make up the global leadership network and community I help create.
  • If I thought a little, I could probably add a few more things...

So - are these the things that make for great leadership?
Jim Collins would say - not necessarily.

Instead, he would sit down with me and look at the organization(s) I lead, and ask:

  • What is the design of the organization?
  • How are the systems running?
  • What are the systems producing and what will they do in the time ahead?
  • What is the good value the company is adding to the world and that it will continue to add?
  • How will the system do when I am no longer leading it?
  • How dependent is the system on Brian Rice for success?
  • What am i doing to build team dynamics that constantly improve the organization?

These are the kinds of questions that as they are answered well - it means a great organization is emerging. If that happens, then Collins will say I have been a great leader. Until he sees that happen, he will reserve his judgment.

As I think about this, I realize I have a lot of work to do in building a great organization.

How about you?

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International