Over the years, I’ve done informal polls about what people would like to see changed in their organization. I get a range of answers from “We Need Better Leaders” to “We Need More Creativity,” and I also hear a lot of “We Need Shorter Meetings.” A few suggest that “We Need More Vision.” Over and over the results indicate that people are concerned about issues of leadership, creativity, and vision.
So it’s time to ask ourselves, “What are we doing to foster a more creative, visionary environment?” We already know how important leadership is, and yet – particularly in religious and non-profit organizations – leadership, creativity, and vision is often traded for leadership by absentee landlord, conformity, and what worked in the past.
Over the course of my career in the media, I’ve had the opportunity to visit hundreds of churches, ministries, and non-profit organizations and help them face a multitude of challenges using the media to reach the culture. Over those 3 decades, I’ve discovered 5 major areas of leadership that have to be confronted over and over again:
1) Leaders Must Passionately Embrace Higher Quality Leadership: I’ve had the opportunity to work with literally hundreds of organizations over the years – both religious and secular – and I’ve decided that there is more management dysfunction in Christian organizations than anywhere else on the planet. Sure plenty of businesses qualify in the bad leadership category, and often represent much bigger financial stakes, but the fact is most American businesses are managed far better than most churches, ministries and non-profit organizations.
For years we’ve talked about leadership within religious media circles, but in reality we haven’t done much about it. I work as a consultant with many organizations so I get to hear a variety of perspectives – from the guy in shipping all the way up to the head of the ministry. Do I get visionary, loyal, fired-up, cutting edge responses? Rarely. I usually get gripes, frustrations, anger and the sense that people are being used in places without any consideration to gifts, teamwork or real abilities.
So what can we do?
First, we need to understand real leadership. Are you reading the books with deep insights into leadership issues? Do you know the principles of true leadership and how to create an atmosphere where people will gladly face any obstacle to accomplish your vision?
Second, we need to hire people based on real gifts and talents – not on the strength of their testimonies, hard luck stories or their relatives. Of course we care about people and of course we want to help, but as Jack Welch – legendary CEO of General Electric says – “If you leave someone in a position they can’t handle – even out of pity – you not only hurt the organization, you hurt them. Because you’re giving them a false sense of accomplishment, and keeping them from discovering the real place where their gifts and talents can be used.”Finally, we need to understand what business we’re in. We’re not so much in the “ministry” business – we’re in the “influence” business.
Our job is to influence people with a new way of thinking to change their circumstances and transform their destiny. But, how much do you know about influence? How much do you know about the principles of communication that lead to someone changing their perspective about things, and changing their viewpoints? I don’t think you’ll get a homosexual man to re-consider changing his lifestyle by calling him ugly names on national TV. But, that’s exactly what some organizations do. I don’t think you’ll get people to change their attitudes about abortion by constantly hammering on the people who get abortions. But, that’s exactly what some organizations do.
We also understand the power of other programs like documentaries, music programming, comedy, drama and experimental projects. Believe me – I’ve learned from experience working with hundreds of pastors and evangelists – when you’re a hammer, you see everything as a nail. To a preacher every problem can be solved by a good sermon – they are wired for it, it’s their gift and I love them for it.But, we who sit behind the camera and microphone can see a much bigger picture – and understand that what Christian media is doing right now is only a small part of how we can reach this culture as we enter the new millennium.To reach this culture we have to develop INFLUENCE. That’s why leaders must passionately embrace higher quality leadership.
2) Leaders Must Passionately Embrace Creative Thinking – We’re losing the culture war because our competitors are telling better stories than we are. Let’s face it – we work in the industry, yet how many of us race home from work so we can enjoy our favorite Christian TV or radio program? We’re being out-thought by the secular world and it shows in the creative aspects of the programs we produce.
I’m sick to death of people pitching me programs with the line “Phil, what we need is a Christian version of Oprah”, or “Have you seen Jay Leno? Why can’t we do a Christian version of that?”
I’ll tell you why I hate it – because we ought to be doing so much better. We worship the ultimate Creator of the universe, and yet our creativity stinks. My dream is to walk down the corridors at a major Hollywood studio and overhear a conversation from their executives saying “You know, what we need is a secular version of this really great program I saw on a Christian network last night.”
Recently, I watched some old tapes from the 50’s of Christian broadcasters like Fulton Sheen and Oral Roberts. You know what? It’s 50 years later and our programs are pretty much the same thing: same format, same preaching style. We’re in color now, but that’s pretty much all that’s different. I was amazed that in 50 years our creative values have not progressed much more than that.
Some will say: “Phil – my program may not be the most creative, but it’s the content that counts”.
Actually – no it’s not.
Professional experience has shown me that television audiences today only take between 3-5 seconds to decide whether or not to watch your program. If you’ve ever sat on the sofa with a remote in your hands you know I’m telling the truth – especially you men. At my home in LA, we already have 500 channels and my wife will confirm that I probably only give each one about 2 seconds max. So, no matter how powerful your message is, if the audience doesn’t watch long enough to hear it you’ve failed.That’s why leaders must passionately embrace creative thinking – to quickly capture the attention of your audience.
3) Leaders Must Passionately Understand the Culture. When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in the South, the pulpit determined the behavior of this country. My dad was a pastor and was the most respected guy in the community. Even people who would never consider coming to church still respected my dad and his principles because the church had real authority. But today, movies and prime time television determine the moral climate of this country. Teenagers learn their behavior – not from school, friends, or even parents – but from television and movies. Therefore, if we don’t have a voice in those arenas we won’t make much of an impact.
Today, popular culture is the heartbeat of this country. Paul understood the power of culture when he approached the philosophers in Athens in Acts 17. Sure, he could have said: “I’m going to preach the gospel, and I’m going to preach it without compromise no matter what.” But he didn