It’s All About the Mission
Sometimes we discover truth from an unexpected source. Not long ago, I pondered the implications for the church in a Harvard Business Review blog post by a columnist for Time magazine.
Joel Stein shared a conclusion he had reached as he did research for his new book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity. “I learned that my vision of what makes a good leader was all wrong,” he wrote.*
I spent hours working alongside fire chiefs, army captains, Boy Scout troop leaders, and others who guide teams. To my surprise, the best of them tended to be quiet listeners who let other people make most of the decisions. They weren’t particularly charismatic. Or funny. They weren’t the toughest guys in the pack. . . .They were, on the whole, a little boring.
To illustrate, he described the style of Captain Buzz Smith (yep, that’s his real name), who works at a firehouse in Hollywood, one of the busiest in Los Angeles. “Captain Smith isn’t weighing each decision based on a desire to keep his team happy, or to be fair to each guy,” Stein wrote. “The calmness Captain Smith exuded, I eventually realized, was humility. He didn’t need to express everything he felt immediately, because he understood that he isn’t the most important person.”
Stein observed that those in Smith’s company would do anything for him because “his deep belief in his mission makes them also believe in that mission. “
What Capt. Smith understands is that inspiring people through your personality is a risky, exhausting endeavor. But if you make people feel like you’re going to help them accomplish something far bigger than you—not just saving lives, but living by a system that provides dignity and pride—you can let your belief do the work for you.
Lest I leave the false impression that I’m a regular HBR reader, I must confess that I discovered this column when my daughter quoted it on her blog.* And I can’t do any better than her summary of it. She called Stein’s conclusion “fabulous news.”
It means process and philosophy beat personality. It means the not-super-funny and the not-most-attractive-in-the-room can be the most effective.
It means character matters more than charisma.
It means your personality doesn’t have to be larger than life—your vision and your commitment to it do.
And it means all those pastors who are preoccupied with the succession plans for their pulpits can relax and focus on the more important work of building momentum behind a mission that will outlast them.
*Read all of Stein’s post at http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/05/boringness_the_secret_to_great.html and all of Jennifer Taylor’s reaction to it at http://www.seejenwrite.com/?p=6565.