I had never read Good to Great and have always felt a bit like I missed out on digesting the principles of this oft-cited alleged inspirational leadership cult classic. Probably I should have covered this work within my MBA studies except that I completed my degree in 1982, and this source came out in 2001. Regardless, I looked forward to reviewing this contemporary business classic and looking for applications in the local church.
In skimming through this work, I landed upon and camped in chapter 8, The Flywheel and the Doom Loop. I was pleasantly surprised that Collins’ construct pulled back the curtain ( i.e., the actual wizard of Oz) and revealed the simple cumulative effect of pushing the “flywheel.” Perhaps more than surprise, I was shocked that the magic bullet was not some eureka event but rather the accumulation of small, simple, consistent, daily efforts: “Then, at some point – breakthrough!” Of course, the eventual breakthrough remains a bit of a mystery to local pastors like me. So I am reaffirmed there is no special cause and effect relationship for great leadership (regardless of the hucksters of church leadership resources). Breakthrough, however, continues to remain highly desirable and yet a bit of a mystery.
For me, the fly in the ointment of the Flywheel Effect was the Accumulation of Visible Results. I understand the forward movement focused on one’s vision and the consequential decisions to stay true to the singular mission and not veer down rabbit trails. I certainly can grasp the resultant rallying of followers (i.e., resources) who are energized by the observable results. Yes, this is how momentum is built and then moves the team, the organization forward. But how does this apply to the local church, that is, what if despite our best efforts there are few (and should that be our motivational target?) accumulated visible (i.e., tangible, concrete) results.
While I was reflecting upon my woeful conundrum, I recalled that we were also to read Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking is Not the Answer. Great, now I will discover how Collins’ research secret sauce applies to non-profits (including the Church). I discovered that Collins advocates not the perfect metric but rather “a consistent and intelligent method of assessing your output results, and then tracking your trajectory with rigor.” This admonition is fair and reasonable for the local church, that is, what is our mission and how do we track our output in pursuit of our unique local mission?
While not enamored with the good to great (sounds like athletic coach-speak to me) language, I am seriously passionate about local churches exercising great leadership in keeping with their unique local church missions folding into our Great Co/Mission. We serve a great God, have a great Mission, and should exercise our gifts and leadership greatly (i.e., consistently to the best of our capabilities). However, I am always sensitive about the expected premise of measurable results motivating followers and resources. Collins triggers my angst in his quote for social sectors, “the flywheel effect can still be harnessed by those who demonstrate success and build a brand. People like to support winners (emphasis mine).” My own pastoral experiences compel me to coach pastors away from the western cultural premise that local churches and their pastors are either winners or losers. This false narrative fuels my research and my life’s work every single day.
Despite my activated angst, I am grateful to Collins for his Flywheel in the Social Sectors construct. I anticipate utilizing elements of this construct in my coaching of church planters and local pastors as well as passing this onto my lead pastor to aid our efforts in transitioning towards a new local church mission/vision. We need constructs in the local church to inspire the pursuit of clearly defined local mission utilizing consistent, intelligent methodology along with disciplined follow-up of efforts. The art of utilizing Collins’ construct must inspire while not demotivating local church leadership. If we do not nuance this carefully, flywheels that are intended to inspire will instead become another millstone of discouragement.
 Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 164.
 Collins, Good to Great, 175.
 Jim Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking Is Not The Answer (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 8.
 Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, 33.
Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, 26.