I was given Jim Collins New York Times bestseller Good to Great to read by the Head of Staff at a church I used to work for back in 2007. The book was described as “the best book he had read on organizational models” and the ideas presented within were what he hoped the large staff would form itself around. We did our best for a few months, and then the recession of 2008 was upon us. We had to make some very difficult decisions and so too did many of the companies Collins studied for this book. Luckily, the church as able to “rebound” out of that disastrous financial time. Unfortunately some places (Circuit City – RIP) have not.
Many of the ideas Collins discusses have left impressions on me, one of which being the idea of Level Five Leadership. I find it fascinating that two of the main characteristics describing a these leaders are “personal humility and professional will,” as humility is such an undervalued leadership trait. I struggle to think of leaders who have embodied this trait well that have also been the head of an organization. I can name, however, Bill McKibben, leader in the green movement and author of many books regarding the climate crisis.
Author, Environmentalist, Activist – Bill McKibben
McKibben led the organization of the largest climate march in the history of the planet back in 2014. Since then, there have been a few different attempts at recreating that energy. However the largest and most recent developments in this movement are from a much younger group of organizers, led by high schoolers from around the world. Inspired by the work of Swedish student Greta Thunberg, these high school youth are encouraging students to “strike” from classes and employees to “strike” from their jobs on Friday, September 20 and are “calling on millions of us across the planet to disrupt business as usual by joining the global climate strikes on September 20, just ahead of a UN emergency climate summit.” Greta Thunberg started these strikes and has become a leading voice within the climate community. McKibben is demonstrating humility by realizing that others have come into the arena with a passion and a voice that is distinct and different from his own, and has intentionally stepped out of the spotlight. He has also demonstrated an incredible will for climate justice by continuing to assist in these efforts, but from a much different place, one of encouragement, support, and praise. The global youth that are organizing the climate strikes on September 20 provide us an incredible opportunity as we can witness their leadership maturation on display.
Activist, Environmentalist, Superteen – Greta Thunberg
The other element that has truly struck me has been the Hedgehog Concept, an understanding of “what your organization can be the best in the world at” while also blending with your passions and economic engine. I wonder how this looks in most church and faith community settings. It is going to be hard for every church to be the church with the “best preaching” in the entire world. However, the process of discerning the Hedgehog Concept is fascinating . . . and also very illuminating. It took on average four years for each of the companies Collins studied to discern (my word, not his) their Hedgehog Concept. How does that look in a local church that most likely wants things to happen much faster than four years at a time? Clearly one needs to align donors, with collective and congregational passion, and ministry programming. But is that enough? Perhaps this is best made clear in one of the earlier parts of Collins book when he points out that often the organizations that went from Good to Great “did not focus principally on what to do to become great, they focused equally on what not to do and what to stop doing.” Focusing on what not to do. Those are the conversations that are so hard to come by in the church setting, but clearly those are the conversations that must be done from our church leaders everywhere.
 Jim Collins, Good to Great, (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 39.
 Brady Dennis, “How is this weekend’s climate march different from its predecessor? ‘Now, the task is full-on resistance,” The Washington Post, April 27, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/04/27/how-is-this-weekends-climate-march-different-from-its-predecessor-now-the-task-is-full-on-resistance/?noredirect=on
 Collins, Good to Great, 118.
 Collins, Good to Great, 119.
 Collins, Good to Great, 11.