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Book Review: How the Mighty Fall, by Jim Collins

Posted on September 21st, 2009

I just finished reading Jim Collins’, How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, and found it filled with excellent insights. While his study and work is focused on corporations and why great ones decline, a number of the principles he lays out have application to the leadership of churches and non-profits. The following were 3 highlights for me with particular application to my journey in answering the question, “What does an emotionally healthy leader look like? How does one bring contemplative leadership that waits on the Lord and actually leads?”

  1. Be careful about being distracted from your primary, core values that make you who you are (He calls it your primary flywheel). In our case, it is emotional health and contemplative spirituality, reconciliation and leading people to deep, personal relationships with Jesus Christ here in NYC. He observed that great painters (Picasso), musicians (Beethoven), and companies (Walmart) continue to intensely and creatively learn, with humility, all they can about their field and expertise.  It left me increasingly motivated to deepen EHS particularly in the arenas of sexuality, marriage, and emotionally healthy leadership – my present arenas of study. Moreover, it is important each leader continually seeks opportunities for further development in their primary area of ministry.
  2. Be careful about undisciplined expansion. Great companies die from taking advantage of opportunities and new doors without adequate infrastructure, thought, prudence, etc. (in theological terms, ignoring the gift of limits). Don’t confuse big with great. It is interesting how that applies to secular companies as well as churches. This encouraged me as we consider the addition of a third service at NLF in 3 weeks. We took 5 years to get here and much planning. Nonetheless, I think most of us on staff, starting with me, have a healthy fear of the Lord regarding the unknown that is before us. But I think we are all clear – quality and the living of our Rule of Life –are our key success indicators, not numbers.
  3. Be careful about the denial of risk and peril. In other words, be thoughtful and prudent (Prov. 14:8) about implications of decisions. The Challenger spacecraft that killed all onboard after exploding in middair was one key example of leaders not thinking fully through key decisions. Some decisions we make can be “below the waterline of the boat” and sink the whole ship.

Collins mentions a few other gems of insights around the importance of succession planning, healthy teams, and getting the right people in the right positions, as well.   This is a book worth reading. What do you think might be other factors that cause great churches to decline and, at times, disappear altogether?

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