Hospitality Then Greatness
When I was in college my friends and I used to say, “why strive for excellence when mediocrity will do?” For the most part it was a joke deployed at something that was clearly the result of not trying hard enough. The focus, effort, and sacrifice necessary to reach excellence are things most people are not willing to endure and as such most settle for mediocrity. The same is true for organizations and without a leader willing to push forward toward greatness often average (or slightly above average) becomes the bar with witch they strive.
In his book Good to Great Jim Collins strives to understand and explain the components that bring companies and organizations from being average to great. He and his team identify several areas where great companies succeed, of those areas it seems that two are very important. First, is the need for what he calls a Level 5 Leader. Essentially a level 5 leader is someone who values her team higher than herself and is willing to fall on her sword when things go sideways. She surrounds herself with the best people who are able to achieve the goals at hand. The level 5 leader is humble to the point of almost being overlooked, but he is focused and leads the team to reach and exceed their goals.1 Secondly there is a focus on a single goal, something that Collins calls the hedgehog principle. In the hedgehog principle as a team you ask what the team is deeply passionate about, what the team can be the best at, and what is the the economic engine that allows the first two to happen.2 It is this singularity of focus that propels a team forward from good to great.
All of that is wonderful, but how does it apply to a church or non-profit organization? Thankfully Collins wrote a monograph for organizations where monetary profit isn’t the goal. For public sector groups the goal is not to build an economic engine that propels you forward, but rather to build an engine of resources – volunteers, donations, services – that can help your organization achieve its goals.3
The question that comes to mind is how does an organization welcome in the resources they need without sounding needy or greedy. This is where the level 5 leader earns her stripes. Her humility and willingness to praise the team is something people are looking to experience. The leader, in this case, becomes the host to the volunteers or donors who become her guests. The volunteers in tern become the hosts to those the organization is seeking to serve who hopefully become part of the organization and as such host to others. Once again the hospitality cycle finds a home in the realm of great organizations. Interestingly I think that the hospitality cycle also works in the for-profit world as well. Service is everything in business. Disney is somewhat famous for drilling into employees consciousness the need to smile and be welcoming of all guests in their parks. This is why, in spite of massive lines in the summer heat of southern California and southern Florida, Disney gets to call itself the happiest place on earth. The service, the welcoming of the other, into the park brings people back for amazing experiences again and again.
Perhaps it is because it is my area of research that I am starting to see the hospitality cycle as the central mechanism of living a peaceful, productive life. I honestly think that the key to becoming a level 5 leader and a great organization is the focus on welcoming and loving the other (be that a customer or a parishioner) and then allowing them to become the host. This understanding that you are never the center of the circle, but always a host or a guest and often both is what will propel your organization (or company) into greatness.
1 Collins, James C. Good to Great. London: Random House Business, 2001. 47
2 ibid 118
3 Collins, Jim. Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer. London: Rh Business Books, 2006. 18
9 responses to “Hospitality Then Greatness”
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This is an interesting post Sean and relates to my understanding of interim ministry. Interim Pastors are clergy that have been trained with specific skills to help a community through a pastoral transition. They often know their work has a time limit and because of this are, again often, more aware of their “guest” status than most installed clergy.
But your post is relevant to all installed and more permanent clergy as well. Se are invited into special communities for certain seasons and then depart when that season has concluded. I pray we all do this with the grace and love of a level 5 leader.
One of my best friends is a professional interim pastor. She’s amazing. Her ability to be a gracious guest and a welcoming host is on a whole other level. But you’re right, that sort of mentality is necessary for all ministers. Thanks for your thoughts.
Great post! I think you have highlighted a key or central point (no pun intended) in leadership which I’m starting to call guided leadership (or leadership as guide…haven’t nailed it down). My point being, we should by helping others see how they can be/experience the desired outcome they are looking for. Hospitality mindset is the key to this for me.
Thanks Mario. I like leadership as guide.
This is a great post Sean, I like your exposition of the hospitality model of the leader being the host to followers who later become host themselves to others and this forms a sure foundation for greatness. This resonates with my context of serving vulnerable communities. It’s easy to serve the poor, marginalized and the forgotten with mediocrity because it’s always assumed that the vulnerable will appreciate anything and are less likely to judge on quality because of their vulnerability, or just because of an attitude of looking down on them. This is a challenge that we encounter but I have always believed that the vulnerable deserve the best of our services to empower them and give them a competitive edge in life. I so much appreciate Collins timeless principles of turning good organizations to great ones that produce great results sustainably.
Wallace, I really appreciate your comment here. I think sometimes we think of service as an afterthought in general. When you combine that with how we give service to those who are experiencing material poverty, it become a process where we give out of “mediocrity” as Sean mentioned, rather than giving out of joy or even sacrifice. Thank you for stating this – more people need to hear this!
Wallace and Karen, you are both so right. It’s easy for those of us in privileged positions to expect the needy and vulnerable to be automatically thankful for whatever table scraps we happen to throw them. As servants of Christ and hosts to the vulnerable we should be giving them the best we can give them.
Well, once again you have provided a pithy summary note that really helps me connect with a formerly somewhat undesirable reading source. You are spot-on, customer service (i.e., hospitality) translates across for-profit and non-profit sectors (including the Church). Level 5 (always sounds like Area 51 in my head) leaders must lead their respective organizations by modeling genuine hospitality to donors, volunteers, and prospective customers. Thanks again for helping me connect with this formerly elusive construct.
I’m always happy to help Harry. Glad you liked it.