Transforming Church Team Blog
resourcing leaders…reenvisioning the future

My New Book – Chapter Two, Part One

Kevin Ford

Kevin Ford

Chapter Two: The Three Sides of Leadership

Tod Bolsinger, Senior Pastor of San Clemente Presbyterian Church, looked at me intently. “I am excited about the possibility of you coming in here and helping us in a consultation”, he said. “But there’s something you need to know. We have had several other consultants here – reputable ones. But they have all ended up saying the same thing – that we need clarity around our vision. I get that. But we already have clarity around our vision. And we’re still stuck. We have challenges, but it is not because we need more clarity around our vision. The one thing I need to hear from you is that your sum total conclusion is not going to be “You have a vision problem!”.

There is an old truism that goes something like this: “When the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. The truth behind the cliché’ applies not just to carpentry, but to leadership as well. A classic leadership pitfall is to find an approach to problem-solving that works and use it repeatedly. For years. And decades. And then wonder why it doesn’t work anymore.

Much of the leadership literature of the last twenty years has emphasized the importance of “vision”. Paint a clear and compelling picture of the future, we are told, and you cannot fail as a leader. The most lionized leaders are those who took the reins of dysfunctional and aimless organizations, crafted and articulated a clear vision of the future, and reached the heights of success. We have gotten good at crafting compelling narratives of a preferred future and almost no one questions the value of having a vision shared by those throughout the organization.

But we’re still stuck.

As a consultant, I am called to serve many organizations that have a great vision of the future. Their leaders have worked long and hard to imagine the future and to paint a word picture that draws others in and keeps them motivated. These leaders have wielded the hammer of vision with skill and passion. But something is still missing. What could it be?
Recently, I met with former mortgage banker Becky Walker, now the Executive Director for Treehouse Youth, a Minneapolis-based non-profit. Treehouse provides programs, counseling, and events to teens who are living in dysfunctional settings. Surprisingly, many of these teens are not the prototypical inner city kids. Many of them come from suburbia. Treehouse operates on a small budget of $3 million, has a star-studded board of directors (including Gregg Steinhafel, Chairman and CEO of Target Corporation), and recently hosted a gala that featured Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy and country music star Carrie Underwood.

Over 1,400 teens participated in their programs between April 2007 and May 2008. The teens come from all kinds of backgrounds, but have one thing in common: they have been unloved by parents and teachers. In fact, when Fred Peterson founded the organization in 1984, he started by asking teachers to give him a list of all the kids that they wish would not come to school. These kids are struggling with dangers presented by the Internet, abuse at home, drugs, unwanted pregnancies, and more.

Treehouse provides trained counselors and quality programming to provide them with resources to cope with the challenges of daily living. The results have been nothing short of astounding:
• Most of the participants now have an adult in their lives whom they trust
• Many indicate that they are now equipped to deal with the bad things in their lives
• A significant number of teens feel like their lives are now under control
• More than half have either decreased or eliminated all risky behaviors

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One Response to “My New Book – Chapter Two, Part One”

  1. As you move forward, you are building tension/anticipation for the “answer” to the question of “how does effective change come about?”

    If vision is not the complete answer, then I would assume you are taking us somewhere beyond that – leadership wisdom that would take “stuck” leaders or leaders who face challenges that require a new perspective to a place or process of discovering solutions in new ways.

    The “trick” you face is coming up with something new – compelling that has not yet been said in other leadership books. I like the path you are on – the stories are compelling/inspiring and the anticipation is building toward the insight you are going to bring on how the people in the stories were able to rise to the occasion.

    I am in the process of rereading “the life and times of Robert Kennedy” by Arthur Schlesinger – some interesting parallels with his work in the Bed -Stuy community in NYC in the 60’s when he was a senator and what you are heading toward. Leadership that required a different approach.

    Have you picked a completion date for the book? I am enjoying keeping up with it and look forward to seeing it completed to hear the rest of the story. Hope it continues to go well.


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