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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Culture Trumps Strategy

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One of the reasons that churches fail to change or be effective is the leaders change the wrong things.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. -Peter Drucker

In their book Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and ChurchesPeter Greer and Chris Horst point out corporate culture is tough to pin down. It’s difficult to define. But it sure is easy to feel. Culture is just “what happens.”

Every church says their strategy is to welcome new people, help people meet Jesus, grow in their relationship with Jesus, develop leaders and plant churches. Yet, for a very few churches is this reality.

Most churches do not see guests, new believers, baptism’s or disciples.

Why?

Their culture fights it.

So what do you do? How does a pastor change a church?

Go for the culture. Define the culture you want. Then go for that.

Don’t tell me that your strategy is the great commission if you aren’t seeing anyone start following Jesus.

Peter Greer said, “Leaders cultivate corporate culture within faith-based organizations just like they cultivate their own spiritual lives.”

You must create boundaries, policies, rules (whatever you want to call them) to keep the culture you are going for clear and on track.

You must celebrate the things that matter most, that help you accomplish your culture.

If your culture that you are going for has new Christians in it, celebrate when that happens. If it is baptism’s, celebrate when they happen. Tell stories. Show videos. Preach sermons.

Don’t leave it to chance. Too many pastors seem content to leave their desired culture to chance and hope that a strategy will enable to accomplish their vision.

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The Importance of Organizational Culture

organizational culture, analysis and development concept

What an organizational culture does to a church:

  1. Culture shapes our lives and all our beliefs.
  2. Culture is vital to effective ministry.
  3. Our culture affects the way we conduct our ministries in the church.
  4. Culture helps us understand better the different people we seek to reach for Christ.
  5. Cultural understanding is essential to leaders if they are to lead their established churches well.
  6. Cultural understanding is essential to leaders if they are to lead their planted churches well.
  7. Culture may cannibalize strategic planning.
  8. Understanding culture helps the church cope with changes in its external environment.

From Look Before You Lead: How to Discern & Shape Your Church Culture by Aubrey Malphurs.

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Look Before You Lead: How to Discern & Shape Your Church Culture

bookEvery Tuesday morning, I review a book that I read recently. If you missed any, you can read past reviews here. This week’s book is Look Before You Lead: How to Discern & Shape Your Church Culture (kindle version) by Aubrey Malphurs.

I can’t even begin to describe how good and helpful this book is. The appendixes alone are worth the price of the book as they essentially give you Malphurs consulting toolbox.

The struggle many pastors have when it comes to leadership, making changes, preaching, leading their staff, working with volunteers is that they don’t understand the culture they work in. They are simply trying to put ideas into place, move things forward or make a difference. Until you understand the culture you have as a leader, those you lead, the world around your church and the world inside your church, you won’t be able to move anything. This book is particularly helpful for pastors about to move to a new church as Malphurs has an entire checklist of questions to ask a church board who is interviewing you. I found that extremely helpful from the other angle as it gave me questions I need to know for Revolution and questions I would ask a leader to determine if they fit our culture.

The reality is that every church is different. Every church has a different history, different set of leaders. So what works in California doesn’t work the same way in New York. In the same way that what works in one part of a city doesn’t work in another part of a city.

But what is culture? According to Malphurs, “The church’s congregational culture as the unique expression of the interaction of the church’s shared beliefs and its values, which explain its behavior in general and display its unique identity in particular.” And, “a primary responsibility of today’s strategic church leaders is to create, implement, and re-implement an organizational culture that rewards and encourages movement toward the church’s mission and vision. Every pastor must understand that to a great degree his job is to lead and manage the congregational culture, but if he doesn’t understand that culture as well as his own, he won’t be able to do the job.”

Here are a few other things that jumped out:

  • The organization’s beliefs and values intermingle and are seen in the church’s behavior or outward expression of itself. This is the first layer that is represented by the apple’s skin. Churches express themselves through their behaviors and outward appearance.
  • The behaviors and outward expressions are what an observer, such as a visitor, would see, sense, and hear as he or she encounters a church’s culture. Some examples are the church’s physical presence (facilities), language (multi- or monolingual), clothing, symbols, rituals, ceremonies, ordinances, technology, and so forth.
  • Churches are behavior-expressed but values-driven. The inward values drive and explain the church’s outward behavior. These values explain why the church does what it does at the first behavioral level and why it doesn’t do what it should do. When a church culture acts on its beliefs, they become its actual values. Until then they are aspirational in nature and inconsistent with the church’s actual observed presence and expressed behavior.
  • Churches are behavior-expressed, values-driven, and beliefs-based.
  • These three elements of organizational culture—beliefs, values, and their expression—work together to display the church’s unique identity.
  • Congregational culture as a church’s unique expression of its shared beliefs and values.
  • “The most important single element of any corporate, congregational, or denominational culture . . . is the value system.”
  • A ministry based on clearly articulated core values drives a fixed stake in the ground that says to all, “This is what we stand for; this is what we are all about; this is who we are; this is what we can do for you.”
  • An organization’s core values signal its bottom line. They dictate what it stands for, what truly matters, what is worthwhile and desirous. They determine what is inviolate for it; they define what it believes is God’s heart for its ministry.
  • Core values are the constant, passionate shared core beliefs that drive and guide the culture.
  • The key to understanding what drives you or your ministry culture is not what you would like to value as much as what you do value.
  • To attempt change at the surface level is problematic and disruptive. People persist in their beliefs and resent the change because leaders haven’t addressed it at the beliefs level. Thus the leader or change agent must discover the basic beliefs and address them as the church works through the change process.
  • Every thriving, spiritually directed church is well fed and well led.
  • We cannot do anything we want, because God has designed us in a wonderful way to accomplish his ministry or what he wants. Only as we discover how he has wired us will we be able to understand what specifically he wants us to accomplish for him in this life, whether it’s through pastoring a church or some other important ministry.

As I said, if you are a pastor, this is an incredibly helpful book to work through.

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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  1. Ed Stetzer on Has Dr. King’s dream come true?
  2. Mark Driscoll on It’s all about the numbers. Really well said.
  3. 6 subtle signs your organization has silos.
  4. Jay Dennis on Pornography and pastors.
  5. 10 questions to ask about your work/life balance.
  6. Perry Noble on The one thing that holds leaders back.
  7. Seeing God in your work.
  8. John Stott on How to preach with authority.
  9. 10 football books leaders should read.
  10. Dave Bruskas on How to rest in ministry.
  11. Donald Miller on People aren’t following you because you aren’t clear.
  12. What Matt Chandler wished he knew when he started ministry. This series is gold for pastors and those entering ministry.

Tuesday Morning Book Review || Boundaries for Leaders

bookEvery Tuesday morning, I review a book that I read recently. If you missed any, you can read past reviews here. This week’s book is Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge (kindle version) by Henry Cloud.

The primary message of this book is as a leader, you get what you create and what you allow. 

This message is crucial for pastors and church leaders. Many pastors and leaders allow things that are frustrating, get the church off mission or cause division or create a culture that is not welcoming or one that won’t allow for growth.

This becomes especially true the longer a leader leads a church. The church begins to take on their personality and passions.

The point of this book for leaders is, you are in charge, start acting like it.

Here are a few things worth writing down:

  • Leaders can motivate or demotivate their people. They can propel them down a runway to great results, or confuse them so that they cannot clearly get from A to Z. They can bring a team or a group together to achieve shared, extraordinary goals, or they can cause division and fragmentation. They can create a culture that augments high performance, accountability, results, and thriving, or cause a culture to exist in which people become less than who they are or could be. And most of the time, these issues have little to do with the leader’s business acumen at all . . . but more to do with how they lead people and build cultures.
  • Leadership is about turning a vision into reality;
  • Whatever culture you have, you are either building it or allowing it.
  • What are boundaries? They are made up of two essential things: what you create and what you allow.
  • The leaders’ boundaries define and shape what is going to be and what isn’t.
  • Besides giving direction, good leadership boundaries also establish the norms and behaviors that drive success. They build unity and energy. They focus that energy and attention on what is important. They build optimism and empower people to do what they truly have the power to do to drive results. They set the conditions and standards for great teams and culture,
  • Leadership must set the stage and ensure that: What is important is always being attended to—attention. What is not important or destructive is not allowed in—inhibited. There is ongoing awareness of all the relevant pieces required to fulfill the task—working memory.
  • If executive functions of the brain are working well, and people are structured enough to focus, inhibit, and be conscious of what is important, they can execute the following list of behaviors, which actually are involved in producing results.
  • The way the curve works is that as stress goes up, performance goes up—until a certain point. If the stress gets too high, the curve goes the other way and performance diminishes.
  • As the person in charge of setting emotional boundaries, your job is twofold. First, do everything possible to create “good fear,” the positive performance anxiety that activates healthy stress. The drive that says, “If I get with it, I can get something good and avoid something bad.” Second, diminish destructive fear, which is communicated through tone, lack of structure, and the threat of relational consequences—anger, shame, guilt, and withdrawal of support.
  • That is what people need from their leaders, the knowledge that their leader is for their success, and if a mistake is made, that leader will stand beside them and help them learn and improve, not punish them.
  • Unity grows when people come together around a shared purpose or goal.
  • You cannot lead them to another place if they do not feel like you understand the place that they are in.
  • Before you try to move people to your position, make sure they feel that you understand where they are coming from, what they are feeling, and what they are dealing with.
  • The prevailing thinking patterns of a team or an organization—its norms and belief systems—will define what it is and what it does.
  • The reasons organizations get stuck in one way of thinking are manifold, but one of the main causes is the failure of a leader to spot negative thinking and effectively set boundaries that prevent it from taking root while also making sure that optimism rules.
  • Research has revealed time and again that a belief that one will be successful is one of the strongest predictors of goal achievement. Great leaders build this belief into their people, teams, and culture. They believe that they can do it, and when things get tough, they find a way
  • Focus your people on what they have control of that directly affects the desired outcomes of the organization.
  • The higher you go in leadership, the fewer external forces act upon you and dictate your focus, energy, and direction. Instead you set the terms of engagement and direct your own path, with only the reality of results to push against you.
  • Great leaders simply don’t buy the old saying that it is lonely at the top, even if they do accept that the buck stops with them. When it does stop with you, the last thing you need to be is isolated
  • One of the most performance-limiting and devastating ways of thinking is to overidentify with a particular result.

If you are a leader, this is definitely a book you need to pick up and work your way through.