Treat It Like a Business
What does Collins have in mind with his term “social sector”? He’s picturing churches, para-church organizations, elementary schools, high schools, colleges, seminaries, non-profit organizations, hospitals, social services, charities, the arts—any non-business, any non-profit organization.
When Collins says that social sector organizations should not function like a business, is he saying that they should function in shoddy ways? Absolutely not. “We need to reject the naïve imposition of the ‘language of business’ on the social sectors, and instead jointly embrace a language of greatness” (p. 2).
What Collins provides in Good to Great and the Social Sector is a research-based framework for greatness that articulates timeless principles that explain why some social sector organizations become great and others remain mediocre. He defines five issues of vital importance to non-profits:
1. Defining “Great”—Calibrating Success without Business Metrics
2. Level 5 Leadership—Getting Things Done within a Diffuse Power Structure
3. First Who—Getting the Right People on the Bus within Social Sector Constraints
4. The Hedgehog Concept—Rethinking the Economic Engine without a Profit Motive
5. Turning the Flywheel—Building Momentum by Building the Brand
Issue One: Defining “Great”—Calibrating Success without Business Metrics
Collins’ first “take-away” states that “In the social sectors, money is only an input, and not a measure of greatness” (p. 5). In other words, for a social sector organization, greatness must be assessed relative to mission, not financial returns. For non-profits, the critical question is, “How effectively do we deliver on our mission and make a distinctive impact, relative to our resources?” (p. 5).
Of course, in non-profits, great goals can seemingly defy measurement. Still, leaders are to ask a simple question, “What do we mean by great results?” (p. 7). Even when you cannot quantify results (specific measurable numbers) you can ask qualitative (quality-based) questions.
M Stands for Mission: The universal calling of the organization.
V Stands for Vision: The unique dream of the organization.
P Stands for Passion: The unmistakable obsession of the organization.
Combining my thoughts and Collins’, I would suggest three types of guiding questions.
Mission Questions: What does superior performance look like in our organization given our mission statement? In what ways are we “delivering” on our mission?
Vision Questions: What distinctive impacts are we making that align with our organizational vision? If we were to disappear, what hole would we leave that could not be easily filled by any other organization on the planet?
Passion Questions: What lasting, enduring statement about the meaning of life are we making that advances our organizational passion? What eternal principle drives us and how are we sharing that truth in love everywhere, all the time?
Questions such as these, altered and specified to “fit” specific non-profits, can become diagnostic indicators. Collins explains, “What matters is not finding the perfect indicator, but settling upon a consistent and intelligent method of assessing your output results, and then tracking your trajectory with rigor” (p. 8).
Issue Two: Level 5 Leadership—Getting Things Done within a Diffuse Power Structure
Social sector leaders do not normally have concentrated executive power. However, they have the power of influence, the power of inclusion, the power of language, the power of shared interests, and the power of coalition.
Thus, executive style leadership is impractical in the social sector (p. 10). This is why many business executives fail when they move into the social sector.
It is also why, as I have witnessed repeatedly as a consultant and a pastor, many “lay leaders” (such as elders, board members, etc.) fail miserably when they attempt to bring their “business savvy” and workplace style of leadership into the local church or para-church.
Collins concludes that there are two types of leadership skill:
1. Business Sector Executive Skill
Here, the leader has enough concentrated power and structural authority to simply make the “right” decisions.
2. Social Sector Legislative Skill
Here, the leader relies upon persuasion, political (people) currency, and shared interests (shared MVP) to create the right conditions for the “right” decisions to happen (p. 11).
Level five leaders are “ambitious first and foremost for the cause, the movement, the mission, the work—not themselves—and they have the will to do whatever it takes (whatever it takes) to make good on that ambition” (p. 11). In the social sector, the Level five leader combines personal humility and professional will to create legitimacy and influence (p. 11).
As an aside, though Collins resists the term “servant leader,” I personally embrace it. Collins fears that the “servant” part of the phrase implies the lack of a strong will (the inability to do whatever it takes to advance the MVP of the organization). Biblically, Christ, Moses, Paul, Joshua, Debra, and all other godly leaders, combined person humility with “ministry will.”
In the social sector, what does level five servant leadership require? It necessitates that the people know the leader’s heart so well that they are convinced that he or she has the greater good of the organization in mind, not him or herself (p. 11). Otherwise, why should those over whom a leader has no direct power give themselves over to a decision that they view as primarily being about and advancing the leader, rather than the organization’s mission, vision, and passion?
Collins brilliantly illustrates the difference between the practice of leadership and the exercise of power. “If I put a loaded gun to your head, I can get you to do things you might not otherwise do, but I’ve not practiced leadership; I’ve exercised power. True leadership only exists if people follow when they have the freedom not to” (pp. 12-13).
Taking It Home
What are my take-aways from this? Social sector leadership:
1. Requires a shared commitment to the MVP, jointly developed and embraced.
2. Requires the “sharing of life together” so that people see into the leader’s heart enough to confidently entrust themselves to his or her leadership.
3. Requires the wisdom to apply change-management principles. Legislative leaders do not force change. They shepherd people who then voluntarily enact change because they have discerned the wisdom of the change and been given a voice in the change discussion.