I’m a sucker for contrarian insight and paradoxes; it seems Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, is as well. The author advocates that the best leaders—what he calls “L-5 leaders”—have a duality. They are “modest and willful, humble and fearless;” characteristics that don’t seem to fit together (although Moses comes to mind.)  Collins next observes the importance of getting the “who” before the “what”. It’s about having the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus, before we know where the bus is heading. Again, this seems contrarian: wouldn’t common sense dictate we know where the bus is going so everyone gets on board with a common destination? Next, Collins represents leaders who face the brutal facts and lead with questions until clarity is gained. This approach is in stark contrast to superstar CEOs that are hired as saviors—the best and the brightest—who have all the answers.
I’m a pastor of a small church that is going through a transformation; we’re slowly and methodically, in Collins’ words, “moving the flywheel.” Good to Great might not provide me with a lot of theological guidance or ministry insights, but it does provide constructive feedback for the process of organizational change. This book is really a blessing for the thousands of pastors who are restructuring their congregations, bringing them through a time of significant transformation. Pastors don’t get restructuring feedback, but the principles of this book are very encouraging; below are some examples.
I started my current pastorate about three and half years ago. For the first two years I was consumed with separating the church from a K-12 school it had helped to start. The school had been its core ministry for three decades, but the relationship consumed the church, the tail was wagging the dog, and kept it from going from “good-to-great”. To the shock of some who viewed the school as our core ministry (read business), we decided to fully part ways. To drop the school meant a radical shift in our direction. “How can we leave behind something that is so obviously good?” When I read Collins study on Kimberly Clark and how several decades ago it had decided to sell off its’ paper mills—at that time nearly their entire business—and go into consumer goods, many were shocked at the sale. It did, however, give Kimberly Clark tremendous focus as it rebuilt itself into a great consumer paper products company, competing with Proctor & Gamble.
Another good-to-great insight, that at first I found startling and eventually took solace in, was the need to have the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus: the “who” comes before the “what”. In the context of a small church, any reduction in numbers of people is difficult to handle, but when leaders pull away it’s especially challenging. Within the first year of our transformation, one Elder stepped away quietly: for a long time he wanted to start his own church, so his passion was elsewhere. I missed him and blessed him as he went. But at a critical time, during the separation from the school, another Elder left. His departure was public, painful, and somewhat humiliating. I had members challenging me that things must be wrong for such good folks to be leaving. Likewise, I had denominational leaders criticize the way in which we handled some of the issues. But these good men weren’t the men who wanted to take this church forward. They had other plans and passions that took them away from where we would be going. I could have the most compelling vision for the church (the “what”) but it wouldn’t have mattered—their heart wasn’t in it. They were the wrong “who” for our “what.”
I could cite other similarities between the book and our church’s restructuring. I’m both encouraged and saddened by what I read. Encouraged that there is “change process” help for those like myself who are working with their church leaders doing the slow work of transforming heretofore plateaued or declining churches. On the other hand, I’m deeply saddened that encouragement for being “willful,”, or for “asking hard questions,” or for “leaving behind yesterday’s success” rarely comes from within the church—it comes from outsiders. A pastor who is professionally willful and personally reserved might be the ideal catalyst for pushing a church forward—but many in the church would still rather have a superstar pastor come in who seemingly by the sheer force of personality can catapault the church towards success. When will we ever learn?
 Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap–and Others Don’t (New York, NY: HarperBusiness, 2001), 22.
 Ibid. 41-42.
 Ibid. 74-80.