Leadership Confessions Blog Series Part 3 (I See Imaginary People)
Confession: I have organized far too many things for imaginary people. Let me explain…
As leaders, many of us spend a good amount of time creating new projects, structures, campaigns, programs, and events for people. Many of these activities are considered avenues to increasing the health, morale, productivity, and longevity of an organization or business. There’s no doubt that these kinds of creative development offer life to the organization or business.
Nevertheless, some companies and organizations still don’t fulfill their mission (or in some cases, end up dying) even with sincere efforts towards these activities. Although there are several factors that lead to this kind of derailing of mission or organizational death, I would like to focus on just one of these contributing elements.
I used to work for a church that had ample budget and man-power to produce and pull-off many great events and programs. It wasn’t uncommon in that setting to spend thousands of dollars on advertisement, staffing, and development to produce the “perfect” event or program. Through much trial and error, I learned that all the money in the world could not replace the value of connecting directly with the actual people we were trying to benefit.
I realized that many of the well-intended events and programs we were producing had very little focus on the actual people potentially benefiting from the experience. I often state it this way…
- We were producing events and creating programs for people that didn’t even exist.
- We were seeking to provide answers to questions that no one was even asking.
In looking at this in hindsight, we were guilty of creating “stuff” for people we only imagined in our minds or projecting past experiences into a new context. I think the major fault in our planning was that we surrounded ourselves with primarily people on the inside (i.e., core leadership) who spoke the same kind of language, shared familiar environments, and worked from a hierarchical leadership perspective (i.e., create from the top to share with those underneath). What was changed since then? The following are some initial suggestions on how to serve real people:
- Plan from the Streets
- It is common in many leadership models to plan from the strategic board room. I would advise that the first steps towards developing an idea should come from the streets (i.e., those who will most benefit from your idea).
- Resist the urge to bring a plan before you actually meet the people you hope to benefit with your product or service.
- For example, if you hope to serve the homeless/houseless in your area, don’t just copy what you did in another city because of past effectiveness. Be sure to meet actual people affected by poverty. This leads to the next advice…
- Listen Before Talking
- It really doesn’t matter how successful were in past or how knowledgeable you think you are on an issue. It is vitally important that you enter a new context to LISTEN.
- I’m not saying that you should forget what you’ve done in the past. I’m simply emphasizing our need to posture our hearts to hear and learn from the experts (i.e., those who are native to your new context).
- Be sure to stay adaptable and open to formation. If you’re heart is to serve or provide a genuine product to a new audience, it will eventually be welcomed. It takes time to build trust and listening is a great way to build trust.
- Development Takes Time
- The greater the impact you desire, the more time it may take…
- Be patient and endure. There’s something to be said about perseverance. Most good ideas will face opposition at some point. The presence of naysayers may actually be a good sign that you are about to embark on something great.
- Stay focused on what it is that you are trying to provide.
- Reflect the Message
- Many great ideas rise or fall on the ability of a leader to live out the message or vision.
- No matter how good the marketing claims are, people will eventually weed out the phonies.
- If you believe in what you are doing or promoting, you should work hard on developing a life that reflects the hope. Even though others may not be able to physically see your motive, they will be able to sense your integrity.
Although the above is not comprehensive, I hope it will begin a good dialogue about who it is we’re actually trying to serve. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this topic.