Transforming Church Team Blog
resourcing leaders…reenvisioning the future

My New Book – Chapter Two, Part Three

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Kevin Ford

A Tactical Scenario
Here is an example of a tactical challenge faced by a church. The Executive Pastor fields complaints from congregants and staff alike that the information systems the church uses are balky and unreliable. Often documents mailed to vendors and church members are found to be incompatible with the software of the recipients. The Executive Pastor investigates and discovers that the church’s computer hardware and software has not been updated for eight years; the church is literally in the technological Dark Ages.

The Executive Pastor has no affinity for computers himself. But he knows two information technology professionals and one computer consultant in the congregation. Over lunch, he presents these three with a description of his problem and a budget to address it. The three come into the church office, assess the situation, confer, and present the Executive Pastor with a list of recommended machines and hardware. The consultant offers to install the new equipment himself, does so and the staff and congregation enter a blissful new age of computer compatibility. Problem solved.

Would that all such problems were so simple. One of the biggest mistakes I see leaders make is to apply simple tactical solutions to problems that are not tactical in nature. This is why it is vitally important to investigate the other two sides of the Leadership Triangle.

Strategic Challenges
Strategic challenges can also be called “visionary”, “synthesizing”, and “inspirational” challenges. They are not necessarily problems to be solved, but challenges to be anticipated. Strategy has to do with surveying the environment outside the organization and deciding how best the team can adapt to external opportunities and obstacles.

Operational effectiveness, although necessary, is not enough, because anyone can operate effectively and still go out of business. Strategy is choosing a unique value proposition through a series of activities that become rooted in your system. We will explore the unique value proposition later on. Essentially, strategy is what differentiates one organization from any other.

A business finds the core needs of its customers changing and so must decide on new lines of products and services. A church sees its neighborhood’s demographics changing rapidly and must decide how to respond with programs and worship services. A non-profit sees its core mission taken over by a new local government program and must decide what new human need to meet.

Strategic challenges are observed in the present but are focused on the future. They are about transitioning from one generation to the next, or one era to the next. Such challenges require more than a tactical fix. Strategic challenges require strategic leadership – the art of leveraging strengths in order to minimize weaknesses and capitalize on opportunities.

Popular writers such as Jim Collins (Built to Last and Good to Great), Gary Hamel and C.K. Pralahad have written widely and well about strategic issues. For a stretch in the late 1990’s one could have been forgiving for thinking that to master the strategic challenge was to master leadership as a whole. As we will see, this is not the case.

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