When George Cain became the CEO of Abbott Laboratories decades ago, for example, Abbott was in the bottom quarter of the industry. Complacency and nepotism had contributed to a hidebound culture of mediocrity. Here is Collins describing Cain’s contribution to the company’s turn-around:
Cain didn’t have an inspiring personality to galvanize the company, but he had something much more powerful: inspired standards. He could not stand mediocrity in any form and was utterly intolerant of anyone who would accept the idea that good is good enough.
“He had something much more powerful: inspired standards.” Cain was not brought into the company from outside to clean things up. Rather, he was an eighteen year veteran insider and a family member. Putting the company’s mission and success above his own – or others’ – personal comfort or interests proved to be a winning strategy. As a result, Cain and Abbott made the cut for inclusion in the elite short-list of the book’s featured companies.
“Good to Great” is a confidence-building, hope-inspiring book that easily applies to any organization, not just business. Church leaders can derive great value from the book’s data-driven insights.
So far, all indications show Pope Francis as a Level 5 leader aiming to take the Church from good to great. His latest reform, the establishment of a Secretariat of the Economy to oversee all Vatican finances, is simply the latest example of Francis’ “cunning as serpents, simple as doves” approach to pastoral intelligence in action.
During his 2013 Christmas message to the Vatican curia, Pope Francis issued some George Cain-esque challenges. While acknowledging that “there are saints within the curia,” he called out the gossip, mediocrity, and excessive bureaucracy often on display. I was particularly struck by his insistence on professionalism:
When professionalism is lacking, there is a slow drift downwards toward mediocrity. Dossiers become full of trite and lifeless information, and incapable of opening up lofty perspectives...the structure of the Curia turns into a ponderous, bureaucratic customs house, constantly inspecting and questioning, hindering the working of the Holy Spirit and the growth of God’s people.
It’s interesting to hear a spiritual leader like the pope talk about professionalism. It’s not exactly a theological or spiritual idea. It’s more the type of thing you hear in a business environment.
Professionalism is not the only quality that a healthy church and a healthy business share in common. The church is not a business; in Evangelii Gaudium Francis warns the church against a worldly business spirit. The church is not Catholic, Inc. However, inasmuch as church and business are value-adding organizations of mission-driven people, they share important common characteristics. In some cases, the church would do well to listen and learn.
A business is people, shipping a product that adds value, using sustainable and repeatable systems that produce a profit. The profit, in a humane and healthy business, is not an end in itself, but contributes to the common good by remunerating team members and re-investing into the product to add more value.
Apple is a business making a product people love. Apple is practically missionary in their zeal to add value to people’s lives through what they ship. They enlist very high levels of intelligence and creativity to continually improve and advance their product. Their consumers often have the zeal of disciples.
Starbucks does the same. So does Southwest Airlines. Each has a mission which creates a culture which drives progress. Incredible amounts of creative intelligence and human capital are marshaled to the cause. Great care and thought is put into marketing and promotion, to spread the word, to elicit desire for the value they add. These strategic, intentional, mission-driven companies are constantly evolving and improving. Each is in permanent “beta mode.” They are restless. They are driven.
What about the church?
Keep the lights on, keep the Mass schedule going, keep the heat on, keep the school open, keep people happy. It’s boring, we know. But if you do well, you get to go heaven when you die.
Is this it? Not always. Lots of heroism and faith abound in every parish. But sadly, it too often is.
The church has the greatest product in the history of the world. The value it adds is, literally, infinite. If the parables are to be believed, the product bears fruit and increases exponentially the more it “ships.”
Even better, we don’t “make” the product. We receive it, free. Jesus comes to us. He gives his Spirit to us. It’s all a gift, all ours... if welcomed through faith.
Does the church have anything to learn from Apple?
Apple did not get where they are by criticizing the market or complaining that people don’t like them or their product. Instead, a Level 5 leader got busy and got to work. He worked hard, and he worked smart. He started with gifted intelligence, career capital, and a dream. He communicated it, enlisted a team, and built an intentional system to drive and implement the mission. He relentlessly pruned all that did not align with a sharply focused mission.
Why can’t the church do likewise? Our product is superior. Our mission adds infinite value. What’s stopping us?
Enough complaining. I’ve heard – and done – enough for three lifetimes. I’d rather get to work.
We ship Kingdom victory. Luke 4:18-19. Who doesn’t want this?!?
Higher standards! Pope Francis is saying, with so many actions and words: let’s get with it! We need to re-connect with the beauty and greatness of our mission. Why not marshal creative intelligence and human capital to the cause? Let’s go train and equip leaders for strategic Kingdom influence, tapping into Kingdom people bursting with talent and creativity just waiting for release. Let’s advance our mission with love and artistry and humanity. Let’s adopt a restless, permanent beta-mode, Kingdom-hungry zeal to ship our light to the dark places where it’s needed most.
Spirit-fueled professionalism and higher standards can lead the church from good to great. Our people deserve it, and the world needs it.
Have you witnessed Level 5 Leadership in the church?
Tweet or Facebook or email or comment your examples!