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

Pursuing Greatness

Written by: on September 18, 2014

How do you define greatness?

The definitions surely abound; most of those definitions would point toward outcomes, performance and goals achieved or surpassed. Many of them would draw comparisons against the weaknesses or deficiencies of others. Greatness, in our starry-eyed culture, is also measured in both beauty, exemplified in power, and often in profit.

Churches are not exempt from any of these trappings. We tend to build our organizations based on smooth running systems, popular programs and their capacity to generate both attendance and profit (not necessarily in this order). We elevate leaders who have the charisma to attract and sustain our easily misplaced ideals. “Regular” leaders flock to attend conferences and buy books dispensed by “great” leaders, whose greatness is measured in attendance, multi-sites and publishing acclaim.

What Jim Collins discovers through his research in, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Lead and Others Don’t, is that sustained greatness in a particular area/product/specialty (he calls the “Hedgehog Concept”) comes from surprising, counter-intuitive places. Among the key aspects of Collins’ discoveries were three cornerstones:

  • “The good-to-great companies understood a simple truth: The right people will do the right things and deliver the best results they’re capable of, regardless of the incentive system.” (p.50) and “…widen your definition of “right people” to focus more on the character attributes of the person and less on specialized knowledge.” (p.216)
  • “…they never talked in reactionary terms and never defined their strategies principally in response to what others were doing. They talked in terms of what they were trying to create and how they were trying to improve relative to an absolute standard of excellence.” (p.160)
  • Enduring great companies preserve their core values and purpose while their business strategies and operating practices endlessly adapt to a changing world. (p.185)


 In the Gospel of Mark (10:42-45), Jesus had this to say regarding leaders and leadership: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

What I am continually challenged by, through Jesus’ words and example, is that He doesn’t denounce the pursuit of greatness. What He does is challenge the way in which we view and hopefully handle the privilege of leadership: The willingness to humbly serve, the capacity to serve for the benefit of others, the ability to embrace simplicity and even scarcity, and the vulnerability to sacrificially suffer for a purpose greater than ourselves. I’m not sure any of us would eagerly apply to a job posting like that. Could it really be true?

Over the course of the last eight years, I have had the unique privilege of pastoring a church, not too small, not too big, but one that has worked hard to understand it’s role within our community, and has diligently shaped ministry according to that purpose. From our leadership team to our staff to those who direct our various ministries, there are a few things that are common: They each love the Lord deeply and they each are passionate about our church’s purpose in the community. But they share one more thing. They have all understood and personally experienced suffering and/or sacrifice. But they have not used it as an excuse or an exemption from serving Our Lord. Instead they have learned to submit their wounds and weaknesses to the power of the cross and they serve others with grace and truth of God, according to the Kingdom purposes we uphold. We aren’t perfect, far from it. However, we are surrounded by truly great leaders and I am privileged to learn from them and serve among them.

Seeing a team develop like this, is a gift of God; it’s taken a commitment to keep moving, sometimes slowly, in the same direction; providing the space to dream, the capacity to use gifts and talents, and the freedom to fail, learn and try again. It takes maintaining a priority on the needs of people rather than the production of programs. It takes discipline and commitment to continually pursue the vision of the organization. Having also experienced managing staff in retail world, there is no doubt that it takes longer, in a non-profit organization, to develop the right kind of team. But this past year has reminded me, time and again of the truth found in Jim Collins words:

“There is no perfect interviewing technique, no ideal hiring method; even the best executives make hiring mistakes. You can only know for certain about a person by working with that person.” (p.15, Good to Great and the Social Sectors)

I am fortunate, no, blessed, to work with people who are actively pursuing greatness.

  • For those of us, privileged to serve in leadership positions, what needs to change in us so that we can focus on developing the character of the teams with whom we serve?
  • To what extent does character factor into the metrics we use to evaluate ourselves? Our teams? Our organizations?

About the Author

Deve Persad

10 responses to “Pursuing Greatness”

  1. John Woodward says:

    Deve, your post is full of wonderful wisdom and insights! Thanks especially for sharing about your church leaders. I agree, you are very blessed to be surrounded by people who (as you so well state) give space to dream and fail. The characteristics you list of a great leader from Jesus’ example (humble service, sacrifice, humility, simplicity and vulnerability) is truly a stunning list that flies in the face of our individualistic, dog-eat-dog ideas of leadership that we find in the business world as well as (sadly) in many churches. I would be curious to know how your present church leadership team demonstrated these characteristics when you first arrived compared to what they now exhibit? How much was intentional work on your part to develop them and how much did you inherit or are natural characteristics? From my short time of knowing you, I am sure some of it is simply their following your humble and gentle way leading. Let me know what you think! Thanks Deve.

    • Deve Persad says:

      Thanks for your kind comments and questions, John. Leadership development is always a challenge. It has definitely been a blessing to see this environment emerge gradually. Overall, we have stressed the value of relationships over the advancement of “organizational success”. We have also done our best to make decisions based on scriptural leading and spirit-led consensus. I think probably a focus more on appreciating the unique gifts of individuals, as they contribute to the whole, has also been big part of seeing these changes.

  2. Deve,

    You always know what to say to speak to my heart. Thank you for your post this week. I was most encouraged to hear about the team of leaders with whom you surround yourself. How refreshing is that? I love the fact that all of these leaders have had some sort of suffering. I also love the fact that they have not used their experiences either to make excuses or for self-aggrandizement. Rather, they have as you say, “learned to submit their wounds and weaknesses to the power of the cross and they serve others with grace and truth of God, according to the Kingdom purposes we uphold.” How encouraging.

    Since the day I met you, Deve, I have admired you as a pastor. After this post, that admiration went up even more. Thanks for staying humble. Thanks also for surrounding yourself with a healthy team of leaders who all seem to be moving in the right direction — together. I have seen too many leaders who have tried to make it on their own. Many of them have failed tragically, but are still in ministry, clueless that there is even a problem. Thanks for your good example, my friend. I am looking forward to seeing you next week. Have a good trip. — Bill

    • Deve Persad says:

      Thanks Professor. One thing I can say for sure, is that the privilege of serving in leadership cannot be done alone. There’s too much to be lost if we ignore the gifts and insight that God gives to those around us. Shared leadership provides strength and encouragement from positive experiences and it provides comfort, counsel and resolve in difficult times. I have been blessed by both.

  3. Deve,
    I affirm the words and observations of John and Bill. You mentioned, “We aren’t perfect, far from it. However, we are surrounded by truly great leaders and I am privileged to learn from them and serve among them.” This exemplifies the essence of Level 5 leaders (especially that there do not have to be just one!) and that is how leadership can be contagious within different roles and responsibilities. It seems apparent that the intentionality that is present has cultivated a culture that recognizes that greatness is not doing “everything” so big that it is noticed (think of a flashing lit up billboard), but one that is great because it is faithful in what you are called to be and to do.

    As you think about these past years, is there a particular area of growth (thinking in reference to “Good to Great”) that you realize you have developed in as a leader?

    Safe travels … Looking forward to seeing you next week!

    • Deve Persad says:

      Thanks for the response Carol (big win for the Seahawks last night) and for the question. For me, just about everything in leadership has been a development, as admittedly I came into this role without very much experience. Two things that have changed significantly for me in this: taking time to be fully present with the people or situation I’m in. Secondly, not feeling compelled to do certain tasks/programs because it”s always been done; constant evaluation is healthy I’ve found.

  4. Julie Dodge says:

    Great post, Deve. As for your questions, I believe character is at the heart of the issue. Level 5 leaders, as Collins calls them, are humble and not seeking self recognition. I loved the looking in the mirror when things go wrong, and looking out the window (honoring your co-workers) when things go well. But these are things of character. I think MaryKate also spoke to this in her book, The leader who is self focused often doesn’t even really SEE their colleagues. The Great companies and organizations focus on their strengths with a realistic view of the world and their context. They are hopeful – not pessimistic. They build up – not tear down. And in honesty, I would wonder how many of these humble, great leaders might also know Christ? Because these seem like Christ-like characteristics in many ways. Good questions as always, Deve.

    • Deve Persad says:

      You bring up a really good point Julie. The ability of leaders to shoulder blame and share praise is so important. Part of that must be the capacity to not react changes, but to take time address needed change in healthy ways. MaryKate’s book was very helpful in addressing the way in which leaders can influence others, both positively and negatively, in short spans of time, simply by the way in which they handle themselves. My wife and I will often research leaders who demonstrate or speak with some of these characteristics. As you say, they often have a biblical heritage…interesting.

  5. Liz Linssen says:

    Wow, you are a blessed man indeed to be working with such amazing people! Praise God.
    You ask: “For those of us, privileged to serve in leadership positions, what needs to change in us so that we can focus on developing the character of the teams with whom we serve?”

    To be honest, I’m not sure how to answer that, but certainly need to learn. Perhaps it’s a joint journey, where we ourselves and our team strive for character development. Perhaps a genuine love and mercy for our team is needed, coupled with patience and prayer.

    I am very interested in learn how you develop your team. Have you used books together over the years, or more prayer and support?

  6. Deve Persad says:

    Liz, as you are well aware, serving among people always comes with it’s share of difficulties. Not only the ones we’re attempting to address organizationally, but also ones that arise internally among each other. Learning to examine ourselves first, has been a helpful exercise for our teams to learn: “What can I change? How could I have contributed to this?”

    For our teams, we have used books at times; but mostly we have stressed the importance of relationship over the function of our teams.

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