good to great: informative for the church or no?

A little over a week ago I finished reading the book Good to Great, by Jim Collins. A companion monograph, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, arrived not long ago and I’ll probably read it (all 35 pages) sometime this week. Collins wrote this piece due to the positive response by non-profits organizations and institutions to Good to Great. The subtitle to the Social Sectors work is notable: Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer.

Indeed, a brief scan of the text brings Collins’ perspective, informed by his inductive research, to light. The opening paragraph reads: “We must reject the idea–well-intentioned, but dead wrong–that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become ‘more like a business.’ Most businesses–like most of anything else in life–fall somewhere between mediocre and good. Few are great. When you compare great companies with good ones, many widely practiced business norms turn out to correlate with mediocrity, not greatness. So, then, why would we want to import the practices of mediocrity into the social sectors?”

Surprised? Wouldn’t we expect a guy applying principles and research on great companies to the social sectors to push them into a business mold. That is, after all, his bias, right? The world he knows and the underlying assumptions? Don’t get me wrong. This is not a blind attempt to suggest that we can conduct purely unbiased inquiries into the workings of our worlds. This is an attempt to suggest that we may wrongly assume people’s assumptions and biases based on our own.

So, I’m kindly pressing back a little on the earlier conversation here surrounding the Leadership Journal interview with Collins about Good to Great and churches/pastors, many of whom have shown great interest in Collins’ work there.

Could it be that in an effort to be appropriately critical of business models of leadership and understanding organizations, that we fail to hear what is being presented by someone like Collins solely on the basis of his association with the business world?

My invitation for discussion is this:

Who’s read Good to Great? What’s your take? Is there usefulness for Collins’ work in the church? What might that be? Who hasn’t read it and is suspicious of its usefulness for the church? What is the basis for that suspicion?

Published by Guy M Williams

Christian | Husband, Father | Pastor | 8th-Gen Texan | Texas A&M ‘96 | Asbury Seminary ‘01 | Enjoy family, reading, running, golf, college football

9 thoughts on “good to great: informative for the church or no?

  1. I read it (well listened to it on audio CD, heh) and really liked it and thought it has wonderful implications for church leadership! Gettingthe right people on the bus and then getting those right people in the right seats makes all the difference in the world…and I personally have used this while trying to form the core leadership team of the church plant I am leading. We had set aside a specific number of seat for rep of the different area sof the ministery, but when the specific ones that we prayerfully invited said no…we dd not try to find someone to fill the sopt…we went without the stop being filled until the right person for the right seat came along…so far it has worked wonders.

    Good book intereting book, and lost of valuable info for churchs or anyone dealing with leadership teams.

    And I do not know of anyone that would not read the book for church purposes just because it was intended to be read by the business world.

    my $0.02

  2. funny you wrote about this…
    pastor geller talked about that book in staff today. he said he stayed up until 2 am reading it last night. seemed to really enjoy it and referenced it a few times.

  3. thanks for the thoughts DG and Mindy.

    As for the late-night factor, yeah, it definitely has a reach-out-and-grab you kind of feel. Not unlike staying up to finish the legal thriller novel. I’d love to hear Geller’s thoughts on it.

    I’ll post more of my own here too.

  4. I’ve read Good to Great, Good to Great for non-profits, and his earlier Built to Last. I find them all more stimulating than directlky useful. I’m the only one on my current church staff that reads this kind of book – and the only one willing to do so. Not being a power-mad senior pastor, I don’t make the rest of my staff read the stuff – they’re all part timers & want to do the job and get on with it.

    In Good to Great I like the bus part, but I’m not sure how to do it. I’m committed to not using a common leadership model I’ve heard of in some churches pursuing transformation, i.e., ‘Run off everyone who disagrees with you.’

    My perspective now is that nothing happens quickly in a 150 year old church. But stuff is happening.

  5. I’ll be posting on this, but your issues with the bus model bring up something from Good to Great and the Social Sectors (just finished it). He addressed the dynamic of difficulty in getting people off the bus. But there was the example of the public HS science dept chair who found a way to press the issue of how people were brought onto the bus in a way that forced the issue of getting the right people on the bus–in that case, the science dept at that HS. One teacher by one teacher, the culture changed and that pressed the issue of whether the folks who had been there wanted to remain within a new culture.

    This runs counter to the “run off everyone who disagrees with you” position, which I haven’t found suitable for a church, but which is nonetheless practiced by some. Instead, the culture is gradually changed for the better, which presses the issue in a different and I think more healthy and possibly acceptable way. But I suppose that is up for discussion.

    As for the 150 year old church, many of the Good to Great companies were old and established companies with and track record of being pretty average, so transformation is possible. But even the transformation took something we UM pastors don’t typically have: (1) a lot of time–lots of time in the build-up phase before better results were noticeable, and (2) leaders from within the organization–not people brought in from the outside.

  6. guy– read the book– find the concept of a level 5 leader to be the most valuable part of it for the kingdom— intense personal humility + intense vocational will, etc. i am also drawn to the hedgehog concept though wonder of its workability.

    as for the right people on the bus— anytime we start talking about the “right” people we are going to run into problems with Jesus. he clearly upends our notions of the right people don’t he? ;-)

    i’m just not a principle-purpose-driven guy. i’m much more, like you i think, into the mystical-missional-movement of Christ in his Body in the World. It’s not about strategery but LOVE.

    as i’ve said here before– i think what will be most needed in the next 20 years are a generation of leaders who can transition the mega churches from religious retail into communal movements of faith in the marketplace. not so much reformers as re-modelers.

  7. Thanks JD. I agree on the level 5 leader. That’s a profound research discovery that thankfully upends the assumptions we have about the greatness of level 4 leaders.

    Collins’ monograph on the Social Sectors is great for reworking especially the Hedgehog Concept for a non-business organization. He deals with the inapplicability of the “profit per x” circle of the Hedgehog Concept, tweaking it for social sectors. I could see it’s helpfulness for an institution like Asbury, for example, or the Boy Scouts, etc. I’m still reflecting on how that tweak would or would not be useful for a church; I haven’t ruled it out.

    I want to work out further thoughts in the GTG model, so I’ll do another post about the “right people on the bus” concept.

    Would it be a far stretch to say that the megachurches would qualify as more or less “good” but need to be transitioned to the “enduring greatness” of communal missional Jesus movements in the marketplace?

  8. Guy, this has nothing to do with Good to Great, but by now you have likely heard what is going on at our beloved ATS with regards to the Presidency. If not, log into your First Class account and you’ll be in for some interesting reading. If you haven’t yet, start praying. They need as much as they can get…

  9. Hey Guy – Glenn had us read Good to great as a leadership team here and I think it has some great points.

    I think the on/off the bus can deter some who think it is not enough love and not enough “Jesus” but over the past year as I have watched Glenn but this idea into practice – it is amazing how positive it is and I now see it as exactly what Jesus did.

    Jesus was headed in a direction and he surrounded himself with those who were headed that direction and put in place people as leader who would help the mission be accomplished.

    Glenn has really done this at our church and a few have gotten mad and left but more have come and the ones who left were not greatly missed because they were holding back instead of furthering the mission.

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