Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What Makes A Leader Great?

Great article this morning on Kobe Bryant by The Sports Guy, Bill Simmons. Simmons, a lifelong Celtics fan, has a hate-love (cause it's mostly hate) for any or all Lakers, and Bryant seems to be at the top of that list. I think he does a great job of dissecting the player-as-teammate versus the player-as-performer (if that makes sense). Simmons decides that Kobe is a great individual performer - maybe as good as any other we'll ever see in the NBA - but way, way down on the list of great teammates. The upshot, though, is that in order to make the leap into the pantheon of the greatest whoever played, Simmons conjectures that Bryant must becoming both a great performer and teammate.

Is he right? Who knows. If the Lakers repeat, or win multiple championships with a nucleus of Bryant, Gasol, Odum, and Ariza it would be hard to deny Kobe his rightful place in NBA history. He'll need to perform at a high level to make this a possibility, but he'll have to modify his behavior if he wants these guys to stick around. How the rest of his teammates continue to respond to him, and he them, that will define whether or not Kobe is a great basketball player or the greatest.

That's what possessed me to take this work break (no writing today... got church stuff to get done). Simmons' article led me to ask the question, "What makes a leader great?".

The answer: talent, drive and trust.

We just returned late last week from conference where we spent a lot of time listening to Mike Slaughter and his associate pastor, Sue Nilson Kibbey, who are at the forefront of Ginghamsburg (we keep the "United Methodist" part in 6-point font at the bottom of the sign) Church.

When Mike arrived at what was GUMC, it was a typical tiny burg kind of church. Old building. 50-80 people. Hidden location. Biggest thing that happened each year was an annual chicken noodle dinner. Without Mike's arrival, the future of the church is probably like so many other UMC's across our conference, which is to say eventual closure.

Mike, though, didn't do this alone. While he's a dynamic preacher, and a leader without fear, he knew needed other people to make the enterprise go. Tom Tumblin was imported to give the staff shape and the church the structure necessary as the first Executive Pastor. Mike Nygren, a shop teacher/volunteer youth director, took the youth ministry to new heights on the premise that kids would rather make a difference than be entertained. Mike's wife, Carolyn, helped give the adult discipleship department shape and form. Mike, very early, jettisoned the hymnal, and while other UMC pastors were railing against contemporary worship, Mike embraced it, hiring guitarists and drummers instead of an organist.

It was the team Mike assembled around him coupled with his talent and drive that really helped propel 90 person GUMC to 1200 person G

But the tales that one heard about working at G
UMC in those days were legendary. The average tenure for an employee was rumored to be 18 months. It was a pressure cooker.

The turning point, as I understand it, when Ginghamsburg went from hitting the ceiling at about 1000 to really taking off happened about 16-17 years into Slaughter's tenure. Tumblin left, replaced with somebody who ended up not being quite so able to keep things functioning under the remarkable pressure. Nygren left, throwing the youth ministry into chaos. Another leader who had been hired at some point mutinied against Slaughter's leadership, and left taking hundreds of people with him. The whole endeavor, if not in trouble, was at a crossroads. It was in crisis.

Enter Sue Kibbey.

I have strange perspective of G
UMC. I actually interviewed there in 2003 for a Young Adult ministry position. This was after spending most of a week with Slaughter as a part of a thing they used to do where pastors paid an insane amount of money to just follow Mike around to see how he did things (my boss at the time opted to this, and somehow I ended up getting dragged along after immediately coming home from 10 days in Haiti). Coming off that experience it was my impression that Kibbey made, and makes, the place go. She oversees all the stuff Slaughter can't, and is focused on what she believes is going to make the place work.

I guess it goes without saying that I didn't fit into that vision. Probably about the tenth time Kibbey made it point to say that they weren't really looking for an ordained minister for that particular position I should have realized what was up. I would have reported to her, and she knew what she wanted. She's disciplined and smart enough to know that if the person doesn't fit into that vision, keep looking. Call it the blessing of a prayer request being answered with a "no". If we had ended up at Ginghamsburg in 2003, no way Joseph would have talked to me about coming to Shawnee in 2004.

(Strange how things work out. I can live with having never worked at GUMC. I would be sick if the chance to come back to Shawnee, and in effect, home to Lima would have been missed. I truly love serving this church.)

Mike's trust of Sue Kibbey, and in effect her way of conducting business, is part of the reason why G
UMC keeps growing. The other part is Mike himself. He's a charasmatic communicator with a bulldog personality. Mike has vision for what he wants to create (a progressive evangelical church), has the talent to make it happen, and won't let the vision go. Kibbey is able to stack the blocks just right to make it happen.

Greatness comes only from talent, drive and trust.

Jordan ain't Jordan without , Jerry Krause, Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen. Krause drafted and signed players that would compliment Jordan's skills. Jackson coaxed the hyper-selfish Jordan into becoming a teammate and trusting them in the "triangle" offense. Jackson too, dealt with other egos like Horace Grant and Dennis Rodman, doing just enough to harness their talent while allowing them to be themselves. Pippen did all the things Jordan needed him to do, setting an example for the rest of the team, and creating matchup nightmares for other coaches.

Without Jordan, there are no six championships in Chicago, but if Jordan doesn't trust everyone else his career is more like Allen Iverson's or Adrian Dantley's - lots of points scored but at the expense of the rest of the team. Maybe there's a championship or two, but given how good some of those Portland, Pheonix, and Jazz teams were in those days, it's not likely.

Will Bryant's teammates put up with his selfishness another year now that they have rings on their own fingers? If Bryant wants two or three championships, sans Shaq, he'll have to hope so... or start doing even more trusting than he does now.

Talent, drive and trust. That's what will separate the good from the great.


ElleBee said...

Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

Good insights! Scott from Motown.