Some years ago I worked as a program coordinator with at risk youth for a public school district. I purchased Jim Collins book, Good to Great not because it was something I was required to do, but because I wanted to learn. The School District Superintendent at the time had chosen this book and the mantra, “Good to Great” as representative of what our school district was, good with the potential of what it could be, “great.” A complex community school districts are comprised of varying school personalities and cultures.
The stumbling part may have come early on in our Superintendent’s efforts, Good to Great the book has as a central focus sustained and demonstrated profitability. What is the focus, the goal upon which to measure success in a school district? Is it the number of nationally certified teachers? The results from ever increasing tests? Is it the graduation rate? How do you collectively determine what the focus will be? For whatever the varied reasons our school district has remained good but it is not great. Perhaps the leadership team failed to adequately identify the inputs and subsequently the outputs necessary to move from good to great. Certainly Collins companion piece, Good to Great and the Social Sectors is a valuable tool, one that was not yet a companion when our district looked at the task.
Notes are written on the margins that reflect my thinking at the time about different areas – the after-school programs, what I hoped to develop in the way of a non-profit and the possibilities latent in my then church context. While the book had a familiar feel I realized I saw things differently this time around. What have I gleaned over the years? What were my shortcomings then? Where do I see myself now?
What does “good to great” look like within the Christian Church? What are we good at and what are we not good at? This might lead us to look more honestly at the brutal facts (whatever they might be). It may cause us to look more closely at who we turn to for leadership and the results we expect.
I know two Level 5 leaders in a challenging church environment that work not only within the existing culture but are creating a culture that reflects a collective desire to be a church for the city. I am referring to two pastors, Simon Carey Holt and Carolyn Francis. The church is Collins Street Baptist Church located within the Central Business District in Melbourne, Australia. Perhaps it was the fact that I was a foreigner in a very distinctive post-Christian culture that made me pay attention, but it is more likely that I saw how they were leading their congregation, working with those present to develop an inclusive culture, one that does not back away from distractors or distractions. Perhaps most stunning I saw people cared for by these leaders, people that were not discarded or thrown off the bus, but cared for even when in Collins language they may not have even made it on the bus. Yet perhaps that is also the best part of what I saw and know of these leaders and those they have brought alongside. There is diversity in age, persuasion, and experience. There are political conservatives reading Marcus Borg, wrestling with questions of faith, the old serve the poor and tea if offered to everyone. Holt and Francis embody well the knowledge that having the right person on the bus “has more to do with character traits and innate capabilities than with specific knowledge, background or skills.” Significantly they have shifted and redefined their output that turns a focus toward the kingdom of God rather than an end all of seeing people saved. It is the shift in output that brings so much tension within the Church.
Although I do want to talk about the Church, its problems, possibilities and potential I have another example of good to great that is hard to ignore (at least where I live). Truthfully this example may not fit all of Collins criteria. It definitely does not on the length of time but the culture that has been created did not happen from an empty void. I am thinking of the National Football League Seattle Seahawks. After almost forty years they achieved the goal of winning the Super Bowl last February. The team has a rich legacy, but there are some other characteristics that fit so well with markers referenced in Good to Great.
- They faced the brutal facts. Since their appearance in the 2006 Super Bowl the team had slid in performance, coaching and top administrative leadership had not paid dividends, the team was losing and players were getting older.
- In 2010 ownership hires Pete Carroll from the University of Southern California, subsequently hiring John Schneider as the General Manager/Vice-President of Football Operations. Schneider had never been a GM or a Vice President, yet had paid his dues working most recently for the Green Bay Packers before accepting the Seahawk position. While Carroll was well known as a successful coach at the college level, he had previously failed as an NFL coach. Carroll acknowledges his personal growth through his failure. Both Schneider and Carroll are about the team, not themselves.
- In their first year together, 2010, Schneider-Carroll made an astounding 284 roster moves. No one had made that many roster moves before. “When the good-to-great leaders knew they had to make a people change, they would act.”
It is probably the roster moves that warrant additional consideration. Seattle faithful, every wary of anything associated with the University of South California (USC) were cautious, wondering if Carroll would make the Seahawks USC north. Yes former players, including Mike Williams and Londell White were given opportunities with the team. A wide receiver, Williams had a strong come back year but faltered in the succeeding year. White had been a standout fullback at USC, known for his blocking ability as well as running strength. However neither player bought into the discipline Carroll and Schneider required. It was not so much that they did not fit on the bus, they chose by their lack of buy in. When players were released there was no my way or the highway, you do not hear of players grumbling about an unfair decision. There seems to be awareness that this team gave them an opportunity and fair chance to make the team. There is a dignity that these players are given on and off the team.
The final component is one that cannot be ignored. Seattle Seahawk fans are known as the 12th man. The passion and commitment of the team’s fan base now extends beyond the Pacific Northwest. The team considers them part of the team and the fans know it. Just listen to the crowd this Sunday when they play the Denver Broncos at CenturyLink Field and compare that to the crowd noise you did not hear on the Monday Night Football game played in Indianapolis. The fan base not only demonstrates a sustained result they are significant contributors to the team’s success.
Long-term sustainability is problematic in the NFL most players only make it for 3-4 years tops. However the culture that has been created under Carroll and Schneider may have lasting impact upon the structure of other teams in the coming years. Time will tell in football and in the Church.
 Collins Street Baptist Church. www.csbc.org.au.
 Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 64.
 Tyson Langland, “How Pete Carroll, Seahawks Saved Each Other and Built a Contender in the Process” Bleacher Report., January 29, 2014, accessed 9/18/2014, http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1938620-how-pete-carroll-seahawks-saved-each-other-and-built-a-contender-in-the-process.