Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

McKibben to Thunberg; Good to Great

Written by: on September 12, 2019

I was given Jim Collins New York Times bestseller Good to Great to read by the Head of Staff at a church I used to work for back in 2007.  The book was described as “the best book he had read on organizational models” and the ideas presented within were what he hoped the large staff would form itself around.  We did our best for a few months, and then the recession of 2008 was upon us.  We had to make some very difficult decisions and so too did many of the companies Collins studied for this book.    Luckily, the church as able to “rebound” out of that disastrous financial time.  Unfortunately some places (Circuit City – RIP) have not.

Many of the ideas Collins discusses have left impressions on me, one of which being the idea of Level Five Leadership. I find it fascinating that two of the main characteristics describing a these leaders are “personal humility and professional will,” as humility is such an undervalued leadership trait.[1] I struggle to think of leaders who have embodied this trait well that have also been the head of an organization.  I can name, however, Bill McKibben, leader in the green movement and author of many books regarding the climate crisis.

Author, Environmentalist, Activist – Bill McKibben

McKibben led the organization of the largest climate march in the history of the planet back in 2014.  Since then, there have been a few different attempts at recreating that energy[2].  However the largest and most recent developments in this movement are from a much younger group of organizers, led by high schoolers from around the world.[3]  Inspired by the work of Swedish student Greta Thunberg, these high school youth are encouraging students to “strike” from classes and employees to “strike” from their jobs on Friday, September 20 and are “calling on millions of us across the planet to disrupt business as usual by joining the global climate strikes on September 20, just ahead of a UN emergency climate summit.”[4]  Greta Thunberg started these strikes and has become a leading voice within the climate community.  McKibben is demonstrating humility by realizing that others have come into the arena with a passion and a voice that is distinct and different from his own, and has intentionally stepped out of the spotlight.  He has also demonstrated an incredible will for climate justice by continuing to assist in these efforts, but from a much different place, one of encouragement, support, and praise.  The global youth that are organizing the climate strikes on September 20 provide us an incredible opportunity as we can witness their leadership maturation on display.

Activist, Environmentalist, Superteen – Greta Thunberg

The other element that has truly struck me has been the Hedgehog Concept, an understanding of “what your organization can be the best in the world at” while also blending with your passions and economic engine.[5]  I wonder how this looks in most church and faith community settings.  It is going to be hard for every church to be the church with the “best preaching” in the entire world.  However, the process of discerning the Hedgehog Concept is fascinating . . . and also very illuminating.  It took on average four years for each of the companies Collins studied to discern (my word, not his) their Hedgehog Concept.[6]  How does that look in a local church that most likely wants things to happen much faster than four years at a time?  Clearly one needs to align donors, with collective and congregational passion, and ministry programming.  But is that enough? Perhaps this is best made clear in one of the earlier parts of Collins book when he points out that often the organizations that went from Good to Great “did not focus principally on what to do to become great, they focused equally on what not to do and what to stop doing.”[7]  Focusing on what not to do.  Those are the conversations that are so hard to come by in the church setting, but clearly those are the conversations that must be done from our church leaders everywhere.


[1] Jim Collins, Good to Great, (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 39.

[2] Brady Dennis, “How is this weekend’s climate march different from its predecessor? ‘Now, the task is full-on resistance,” The Washington Post, April 27, 2017,  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/04/27/how-is-this-weekends-climate-march-different-from-its-predecessor-now-the-task-is-full-on-resistance/?noredirect=on

[3] “About,” Youth Climate Strike, accessed, September 11, 2019, https://www.youthclimatestrikeus.org/about

[4] “FAQ,” Global Climate Strike, accessed, September 11, 2019, https://globalclimatestrike.net/#faq

[5] Collins, Good to Great, 118.

[6] Collins, Good to Great, 119.

[7] Collins, Good to Great, 11.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

6 responses to “McKibben to Thunberg; Good to Great”

  1. Jenn Burnett says:

    Thanks for your post Jacob! I really appreciate Collins’ emphasis on humility but I can’t help but wonder how much this requires faithful discernment by another in order to raise up/put in place that humble leader. I’d be interested in who hired the 11 leaders that become the hallmarks of level 5 leadership. I wonder about this because it seemed to me that all 11 leaders he cites are male. (I may be mistaken as I was guessing based on their names.) One of the things I’ve witnessed in the church is that humble men are lifted up and humble women do the dishes. While it seems level 5 male leaders might be tapped on the shoulder, I wonder how often female leaders must first be level 4 leaders and then transform into level 5 leaders. Perhaps its for this reason that I too am inspired and encouraged by the anomaly that Greta is. Do you know some level 5 female leaders? In your experience, who appoints leaders and when is this done well? Is Greta a level 5 leader or more of a media icon?

    • Rev Jacob Bolton says:

      The most obvious Level 5 female leader i know is Susan Andrews, former Moderator of the PCUSA. I am also greatly inspired by the work of Rev. abby mohaupt (she intentionally does not capitalize her name.)

      I did my best to relate my research area, to the reading, and this upcoming strike (perhaps not all that well!) in the post for this week . . . but an interesting and foundational female voice in the green movement is obviously Rachel Carson who wrote the book Silent Spring in 1962. She was a marine biologist whose research spawned much energy for the environmental movement as we have seen it and as we know it today. She has been appointed almost “Green Sainthood” by numerous voices but that is a different status than a level 5 leader.

      I don’t know enough yet about Greta to assess if she is level 5 . . . but I do think she is well on her way if she so desires!

  2. Hi Jacob. Thanks for highlighting one of the significant determiners of successful leaders: humility. In my post I saw a direct parallel between Collins’ findings and how God uses leaders with the same trait. Although, as I pointed out, God many times uses circumstances, sometime of their own making, to develop humility in them.

    Jenn, thanks for pointing out the lack of women in his study. Surely there are Level 5 leaders who are female. I’ve heard at least one talk from him since 2002 in which Collins names some women who exemplify Level 5 leadership. Do a search. You might want to start searching under Bill Hybel’s Global Leadership events to see a more recent talk by Collins. Hope that helps.

  3. Thank Jacob for pointing out humility as a key factor in leadership as highlighted by Collins. It’s rarely mentioned in leadership books but it’s the ultimate key leadership competence that Jesus, the greatest leader that will ever be, tough this disciples in Washington their feet. It made me read Collins’s books with a lot of interest.

  4. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    As you know, I love your perceptions as an experienced local pastor. Thanks so much for the pithy reminder that focusing on what not to do is as if not more important than focusing on what to do. Once again, your grasp of the obvious is refreshing!

  5. Sean Dean says:

    I’ve been in churches on the brink of death and it always surprises me how much they are unwilling to let go of the things that are preventing them from rebounding. I agree with Collins that sometimes the best success strategy has more to do with what not to do, than with what to do. Everyone wants the magic pill to make their church grow, so often it’s not about what new ministry or activity the church needs to take on, but what things they need to prune in order to grow. Thanks for you post Jacob.

Leave a Reply