When I was in college my friends and I used to say, “why strive for excellence when mediocrity will do?” For the most part it was a joke deployed at something that was clearly the result of not trying hard enough. The focus, effort, and sacrifice necessary to reach excellence are things most people are not willing to endure and as such most settle for mediocrity. The same is true for organizations and without a leader willing to push forward toward greatness often average (or slightly above average) becomes the bar with witch they strive.
In his book Good to Great Jim Collins strives to understand and explain the components that bring companies and organizations from being average to great. He and his team identify several areas where great companies succeed, of those areas it seems that two are very important. First, is the need for what he calls a Level 5 Leader. Essentially a level 5 leader is someone who values her team higher than herself and is willing to fall on her sword when things go sideways. She surrounds herself with the best people who are able to achieve the goals at hand. The level 5 leader is humble to the point of almost being overlooked, but he is focused and leads the team to reach and exceed their goals.1 Secondly there is a focus on a single goal, something that Collins calls the hedgehog principle. In the hedgehog principle as a team you ask what the team is deeply passionate about, what the team can be the best at, and what is the the economic engine that allows the first two to happen.2 It is this singularity of focus that propels a team forward from good to great.
All of that is wonderful, but how does it apply to a church or non-profit organization? Thankfully Collins wrote a monograph for organizations where monetary profit isn’t the goal. For public sector groups the goal is not to build an economic engine that propels you forward, but rather to build an engine of resources – volunteers, donations, services – that can help your organization achieve its goals.3
The question that comes to mind is how does an organization welcome in the resources they need without sounding needy or greedy. This is where the level 5 leader earns her stripes. Her humility and willingness to praise the team is something people are looking to experience. The leader, in this case, becomes the host to the volunteers or donors who become her guests. The volunteers in tern become the hosts to those the organization is seeking to serve who hopefully become part of the organization and as such host to others. Once again the hospitality cycle finds a home in the realm of great organizations. Interestingly I think that the hospitality cycle also works in the for-profit world as well. Service is everything in business. Disney is somewhat famous for drilling into employees consciousness the need to smile and be welcoming of all guests in their parks. This is why, in spite of massive lines in the summer heat of southern California and southern Florida, Disney gets to call itself the happiest place on earth. The service, the welcoming of the other, into the park brings people back for amazing experiences again and again.
Perhaps it is because it is my area of research that I am starting to see the hospitality cycle as the central mechanism of living a peaceful, productive life. I honestly think that the key to becoming a level 5 leader and a great organization is the focus on welcoming and loving the other (be that a customer or a parishioner) and then allowing them to become the host. This understanding that you are never the center of the circle, but always a host or a guest and often both is what will propel your organization (or company) into greatness.
1 Collins, James C. Good to Great. London: Random House Business, 2001. 47
2 ibid 118
3 Collins, Jim. Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer. London: Rh Business Books, 2006. 18