The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

bookBen Horowitz’s new book The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers is quite possibly one of the best church planting books I’ve ever read and it has nothing to do with church planting.

Horowitz shares so many insights from starting businesses, which is very similar to church planting. The hard road of raising funds, building teams, keeping great people and how to handle the high’s and low’s of being a CEO. The insights for lead planters are incredible. I found myself nodding over and over with all the lessons for pastor’s.

The whole book is great. If you are a church planter, thinking about planting or leading a church right now, this is the next book you need to read. It is that good.

Here are a few insights from it:

  • If there is one skill that stands out, it’s the ability to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves.
  • A healthy company culture encourages people to share bad news.
  • Build a culture that rewards—not punishes—people for getting problems into the open where they can be solved.
  • You don’t make yourself look good by trashing someone who worked for you.
  • Hire for strength rather than lack of weakness.
  • If your company is a good place to work, you too may live long enough to find your glory.
  • Being a good company doesn’t matter when things go well, but it can be the difference between life and death when things go wrong.   Things always go wrong.
  • There are only two ways for a manager to improve the output of an employee: motivation and training.
  • The most important difference between big and small companies is the amount of time running versus creating. A desire to do more creating is the right reason to want to join your company.
  • If you don’t know what you want, the chances that you’ll get it are extremely low.
  • The right kind of ambition is ambition for the company’s success with the executive’s own success only coming as a by-product of the company’s victory. The wrong kind of ambition is ambition for the executive’s personal success regardless of the company’s outcome.
  • While I’ve seen executives improve their performance and skill sets, I’ve never seen one lose the support of the organization and then regain it.
  • A company will be most successful if the senior managers optimize for the company’s success (think of this as a global optimization) as opposed to their own personal success (local optimization).
  • Nothing motivates a great employee more than a mission that’s so important that it supersedes everyone’s personal ambition.
  • The CEO job as knowing what to do and getting the company to do what you want.
  • When an organization grows in size, things that were previously easy become difficult.
  • The further away people are in the organizational chart, the less they will communicate.
  • Evaluating people against the future needs of the company based on a theoretical view of how they will perform is counterproductive.
  • There is no such thing as a great executive. There is only a great executive for a specific company at a specific point in time.
  • Everybody learns to be a CEO by being a CEO.
  • If you don’t like choosing between horrible and cataclysmic, don’t become CEO.
  • When my partners and I meet with entrepreneurs, the two key characteristics that we look for are brilliance and courage.
  • Some employees make products, some make sales; the CEO makes decisions.

To see other book notes, go here.

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Make a Decision (Leadership Reflections on World Vision)

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Last week, the Christian blog world exploded with the news that World Vision would change their hiring policy and hire Christians in same sex relationships. The reaction was swift and expected. Then, a day later they changed their policy back to what it was and announced they had made a mistake. Right wing Christians everywhere rejoiced and said that World Vision had gotten it right.

Church planters are faced with vision and financial decisions all the time. This situation is ripe with leadership wisdom for us as pastors and leaders. This blog is not about the decision or what the decision was about, only what leaders can learn about decisions.

In all this, I want to bring out a leadership principles.

One: When you make a decision, make sure it is the right one and stick to it. 

Did World Vision make the right decision changing their policy or changing it back? That’s not my decision or concern of this blog. I think if they are going to be a Christian organization, they should stick to what the Bible teaches on issues.

The leadership move in this was very weak. To announce a decision, one that apparently had been in the making for months and then go back on it the next day showed little backbone.

Two: Know that some decisions you make as a leader will go unnoticed and others will cause a storm. 

Leaders guess wrong on this all the time. We think we are making some monumental decision that will cause people to picket, we are going to say some controversial thing in a sermon that will make people flood our email inbox and nothing happens. Then, we say something off hand, make a small change and we are in meetings for a week. At a moments notice, a decision can create a storm. Be ready.

Three: When you make a decision, finances will be the thing that will make you want to turn back. 

Church planters know this to be true. 3 weeks after we started Revolution Church, I had a meeting with our top 4 givers and they gave me a list of things they would like to see happen at Revolution or else they were leaving and taking their tithe with them. Their giving made up almost 50% of our budget. They knew this and I knew this. I looked at the list and knew I couldn’t do what they were asking and keep the vision God had called us to. So, I handed them the list and thanked them for being a part of our church and left. They never came back.

At some point, you will have the financial test as a leader. You will make a decision that will cause you to lose donors, customers, or church members. A decision will cause tithes to go down. This is why you must make sure you are making the right choice and be willing to lose that for the greater goal.

Four: Choose wisely the hills you will die on because you will die on those hills. 

Every leader has things they will die for as a leader: it might be theology, a leadership principle, philosophy of ministry, a style of preaching or music. Everyone has them. Choose the hills you will die on carefully because you will spill blood on those hills. I’m not sure if this was a hill for World Vision. If it wasn’t, they wasted a lot of blood. The fact that they went back on their decision seems to tell me that it isn’t a hill they want to die on.

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Links I Like

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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Les McKeown on 4 signs you’re a terrible communicator.

Just because you talk a lot doesn’t mean you’re necessarily good at communicating. In fact, many leaders confuse eloquence with clarity, and as a result, often leave the people who work with them bedazzled by their verbal dexterity, and entirely confused about what to do next.

Brian Stowe on 10 things senior pastors must do to keep their jobs.

This may be the most important post I have ever written.  The Barna Group reported in a 2009 study that senior pastors of mainline churches have an average tenure of only four years.  One of the reasons cited for such a brief stay is that while 93% of all pastors claim to be leaders, only 12% claim to have the spiritual gift of leadership.  You can read the full article by clicking here. The epidemic of pastors leaving their churches, regardless of the reason, is an issue that must to be addressed.

Jonathan Dodson on Why “unchurched” is unhelpful.

  • We say “have faith”; they hear “anti-science.”
  • We say “Christ”; they hear “moral example.”
  • We say “cross”; they hear “arcane human sacrifice.”
  • We say “Christianity”; they hear “Republican and anti-gay.”

5 ways to make sure your content gets shared and goes viral.

Every day, a lot of potentially great content disappears into the ether, never to be heard from or seen again. And others gets shared by hundreds, thousands, or even millions. Why? Believe it or not, most content that resonates share 5 characteristics. With an eye for these 5, you might soon find your content resonating more than it does now.

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Links to Help You Get to Friday

  1. 12 words of encouragement for pastors. Great list. 
  2. Al Mohler on The goal of sex within marriage and how porn robs that. Love the idea that sex within marriage is the fulfillment of the rest of the marriage relationship. 
  3. How fear robs us. Great insights into what fear does in our lives. 
  4. Pete Wilson on How worry is killing us
  5. Mike Breen on Why the leadership movement is leaving your church leaderless
  6. 12 things a veteran church planter wished that he knew when he started. Great list for pastors and church planters. 
  7. The 5 mistakes CEO’s (and pastors) make when speaking
  8. To end with a great movie coming out:

Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln

I had heard from several pastors that one of the best preaching books ever written was written by a guy who has never been a pastor. The name of the book is Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln by James Humes.

As a fan of preaching and history, this was a perfect match for me.

Humes, a former presidential speechwriter looks at leaders throughout history like Churchill, Lincoln, George Washington, Ben Franklin, Bill Clinton and others. He looks at everything from dress, pauses, stats, closings, openings and body language.

While the book was great, translating it to preaching was a little difficult at times because it was written primarily for CEO’s and politicians.

What did stick out to me for pastors was the things that only a lead pastor can do for the church. Only the lead pastor can call people to the overall vision (while others on staff can do this, the lead pastor will gain the most ground because he is driving the bus), only the lead pastor can call people to sacrificially give to the mission and every time a lead pastor speaks (whether in a sermon, a counseling session or a meeting), he is casting vision.

Here are a few things that jumped out to me:

  • The difference between so-so and superb speakers is often this: One begins banally, the other with a bang.
  • Leadership sometimes means surprising your audience.
  • Good communication spells the difference between a leader and a manager.
  • Speech is theater.

Here is what I would say if you are a communicator in a church or a leader, read this book. I got so many ideas for preaching on how I formulate the big idea, use stats and stories. The list goes on and on. Definitely a 5 star book.