Movement Leadership in Crises: Applying Principles from Great by Choice
“10Xers distinguish themselves by an ability to recognize defining moments that call for disrupting their plans, changing the focus of their intensity, and/or rearranging their agenda, because of opportunity or peril, or both.”
― James C. Collins, Author of Great By Choice—
Written for leaders of leaders, Great By Choice by Jim Collins is perhaps one of the strongest books on leadership that can be applied to the subfield of leading change needed after disasters. The book puts forward the question: “During turmoil and change, how do an organization’s leaders help them survive and thrive?” Using the illustration of two teams racing to the South Pole, one team did better in really harsh conditions with turbulent times, where uncertainty was permanent and chaos was normal. Change was accelerating and instability characterized the area for quite some time, yet the team thrived. In similar contexts, how do we develop kingdom movement leadership so we thrive with the greatest gains possible for God’s kingdom—in the midst of uncertainty, chaos, and change, as consistently experienced in post-disaster areas?
After researching numerous companies that were 10 times more effective than their competitors, Collins defines five main principles:
1. Fanatical Discipline
2. Empirical Creativity
3. Productive Paranoia
4. Consistent Operating Principles
5. Harnessing Returns on Luck (which we would describe as divinely orchestrated moments)
Leaders who excelled 10 times beyond their peers were more disciplined in preparing for crises and changed less in reaction to the changing world experienced within a crisis. It was not merely a matter of the response, but rather the kind of leadership set up beforehand. Principle-based discipline allows a team or organization to go into an area where they don’t yet have work going, while it’s still in turmoil, then apply the same consistent principles that were already in place, and find good results. This is often missed in crisis or leadership articles, yet these principles and illustrations have deeply shaped the kingdom movement God has entrusted us to steward.
Fanatical discipline involves doing what is needed during down times and resisting the temptation to grow wildly during good times. Measurable growth can occur after crises, but it comes through doing the same disciplined things. The practice of discipline involves focusing on performance markers or milestones that show the way through self-imposed principles, or boundaries, that constrain us in good times to do the things that are best to do. For example, within our kingdom movements, a couple of our chosen boundaries in budgets include avoiding one-off gifts for ‘special’ projects that may pull us away from good leadership principles, and not accepting more than 16% from a single funding source, to avoid being put into crisis mode should a funding source diminish. We keep our focus on targeting what we have some ability to control, within intermediate timeframes of one to two years. We can predict that crises will occur at some point without having to jump to do anything wildly different.
Collins illustrates empirical creativity through the concept of firing bullets and then cannonballs. When two ships were in a war in the 1800s, they would first fire a bullet to calibrate their trajectory, range, and target before firing the costly cannon balls. In our kingdom movement application, our equivalent to firing bullets is facilitating creative experiments that are low in cost, time, risk, and distraction. We tell our leaders these criteria as we fund their low-cost experiments for a three-month period. They must provide a good rationale for their hypothesis and a plan for how they will pursue the outcomes, then report on the positives and negatives after the trial period. If they decide to continue for another three months, they must revise their plan based on what they learned in the first quarter. This can increase effectiveness for the next round of effort, after which we assess again, and then potentially invest more money, priority, and risk. Creative problem solving is very, very important in crises, but problem solving is more effective when built into leadership before, as well as during, crises.
Acting with productive paranoia to avoid the death line, the team that succeeded in the march to the South Pole had put buffers in place, with resources stocked at different mile markers – to get back to them if they had trouble. In our work, we try to have large amounts of cash buffers funded from within the kingdom movement. In a recent Zoom call, we had four people on the run from persecution, who had to be relocated to other islands and needed start-up money for new businesses. We need these kinds of resources and buffers in place in our kind of ministry, which is subject to many difficulties from evil people and the unseen demonic realm. Dark forces are unleashed as we break into unreached peoples and places that previously had no light in the darkness. This huge spiritual battle requires buffers, anticipating that bad things will inevitably happen.
However, we do frequent evaluations and make changes needed every quarter instead of waiting for the death indicators that have caused large organizations to fall, because they waited too long to make changes. During COVID-19, we had 3,000 leaders die and thousands lose their income. While we have tried several interventions, we are still experimenting to see what we can influence in the recovery. Shifting from being an entrepreneur startup to leading a movement of many thousands to thrive long-term, is a very difficult change. Making that shift requires a lot of leaders in coaching circles doing problem-solving to help reduce obstacles and turn them into opportunities.
Collins explores the fourth principle – consistent operating principles – with the example of Southwest Airlines. They have all the same airplanes and therefore all the same parts. They have simplified processes, such as a boarding procedure consisting of three groups without seat assignments. This reduces the hassle and work required for profit, while people get what they want for the money they want to spend.
In our kingdom movement, we have a standard operating principle of 30/3. When believers move to different areas and start new groups, the leaders can go visit when the group grows to 30 believers and three generations. They mentor online until the 30/3 mark and then don’t need permission to spend the money to visit because they know they can go, in accordance with the decentralized power structure. Our operating principles give a network of leaders’ teams a framework for making their decisions.
In similar ways, leaders from the kingdom movement know they have strategically planned for crises in their budget, with principles that anchor their actions in the core values. Collins describes the importance of specific, measurable, and consistent operations leading to the expectation of standard operating principles. We expect that a new endeavor, such as disaster response, needs to have a time frame, funding plan, initial phase plan, reassessment after the phase, and outcomes that are clear, even if revised after phase one.
Also, we only discuss the budget once a year so it doesn’t dominate relationships but rather includes lower-level leaders in a deep dive. We see this as consistent with the New Testament, which describes a plurality of leaders from the earliest points. Quick decisions made by higher-level leaders tend to centralize power, whereas movements seek to distribute and decentralize power. For that reason, we create frameworks for decisions to be made before crises happen, through a process that serves the core values. Although they are ambitious, highly effective leaders are also humble, not seeking a name for themselves, but rather creating greenhouses that facilitate growth in the direction they want to go.
Harnessing the wave of the unexpected good fortune God brings is part of recognizing unique opportunities, which Collins describes as engaging good luck when it comes. We see this several times in the Bible, such as Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost, and 3,000 people coming to the Lord. They didn’t know that would happen, but they were prepared for it. Ananias and Sapphira being killed by the Spirit led to the advance of the Gospel. That was unexpected, but they had to be prepared for it. When Paul was put in prison, it seemed tragic but became an all-expense-paid mission trip to Rome. A shipwreck and snakebite were not expected, but because Paul survived, he received an opportunity to share the Gospel.
Collins asked: How are we preparing to harness good and bad “luck”? Do we recognize opportunities? Seeing people moving away has now, for us, become adding new areas rather than losing key leaders. We don’t want good things to disrupt our disciplined decisions and our plans, but we also want to evaluate and understand what is happening, as God might be telling us something through the blessings.
We also want to be prepared to endure problems and obstacles, so I’ve asked myself many times, “What would be the worst things that Satan could do to our kingdom movement?” He could have all the foreigners kicked out of the country, have several of our leaders die, cause internal conflict, a sexual fall, and/or one of our leaders become a false teacher — because there are warnings about that in Scripture. I review how we would harness the good and bad “luck,” when it does come, for a greater return on our investment. That's the bottom-line nature of disaster response and what happens after it. These are a few of our applications of principles from Collins’ Great by Choice.
For further articles and resources by Trevor and the Focus on the Fruit team on crisis and disaster response: click here