Uncertainty, part 2

Recently I came across a great example of cutting through uncertainty or how a leader can infuse his or her organization with clarity and commitment. Apple is the darling of corporate America – it is the company that analysts point to, that nice corporate gifts come from, and which is becoming a household name thanks to the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. But Apple used to be a niche company. It’s computers were the mainstays of a few industries such as printing, publishing and other areas that used a lot of graphics.

Apple was created by Steve Jobs and a few friends in the late 1970s when personal computers began coming over the horizon in great numbers. (I remember going to work right out of college in 1983 and my very first personal computer was made by Xerox! It even had two external 5.25 floppy drives – it was amazing.) Apple developed its market but it was not as successful as Bill Gates who teamed up with Intel, IBM and other major manufacturers. Apple very quickly became a niche computer company and the board of Apple fired Jobs in 1985.

A dozen years later, Apple’s board of directors (by now with completely new members) re-hired Jobs. He didn’t like what he found. It was a company in disarray with no focus. Almost immediately Steve began cutting product lines and making changes that lead to great fear of him by the staff. In reality he didn’t cut that much but what was cut was so visible that almost all areas of the company suffered from low morale. That didn’t last long – Jobs began introducing ideas and innovations very quickly (BTW, he co-founded Pixar, the animated movie maker of great fame, during his “exile” from Apple). Soon, Apple became profitable and within ten years, by 2007 had introduced iTunes, iPods, and the iPhone and in 2010 the world was rocked by the iPad which sold 15 million units in less than one year.

Under Jobs, Apple has great clarity of purpose. All extraneous items are tossed overboard. Laser-beam focus is the order of the day. I heard that Apple’s tag line is, “We use technology to make life easier and we just happen to make computers.” Apple is no longer a niche company.

Question for you: does your church have laser-beam focus on its goals. Have you chunked overboard everything that is not helping your church achieve its vision. Or are you saddled with unnecessary programs and activities that really don’t push you forward but you do them “because everyone else is doing them.”

One of my favorite analogies is of a river with stones in it. First, are you crossing the right river? There are lots of rivers with stones but your vision must point to the river which you will cross and over which your members will follow. Select your vision (river) wisely and with God’s help because once you start over, it is really, really tough to get everyone to back up. You will have some people that absolutely refuse to cross that river – that is fine; let them join another church and cross another river. You’re responsible for your God-given vision and your river. As you cross the river, look for the next rock on which to step – don’t look too far ahead, you won’t be able to see through the mist. Just look one, two or maybe three rocks ahead to know which direction to go – have a sense of direction (of the path) but not necessarily of the ultimate course.

When Jobs re-joined Apple in 1987, much less when he created it in the 1970s, he had no idea of an iPhone or iPad – he just knew his company needed to focus on making computers. Same with you – focus on leading your church in the direction your vision is leading. Don’t get too far in front of your people (don’t let the river’s mist fog their vision of you and the rocks they need to step on to follow you) but don’t slow down waiting for everyone to join you. You may even have to let some staff go and/or terminate some beloved programs – but help your followers understand that while these things are good, they do not add value to your vision. Yes, there will be bottlenecks and rapids and slippery stones – handle them one at a time, but always move forward.

Lead On!