Don’t cut your thumb off : The Opposable Leader – Andy Stanley

My notes from this great talk at Catalyst a few years back, thought it was worth a revisit and to correct some typos 🙂 

The local church should be the best run organisation in your city. People should be coming to you to say ‘How do you get so many great people to do such incredible stuff – as volunteers?’ That should happen, and it shouldn’t surprise us if it does.

If you can touch your thumb to your finger you’re a primate. The opposable thumb has allowed us to do what no animal could do, achieving incredible things. Throw a ball, pick up a contact lense. You can put the right pressure on, and control it.

But where there is pressure there’s also tension.

Tension is a necessity to an organisation that wants to make progress. Great leaders do NOT solve all the problems and reslove all the tensions. They learn to use that tension, to make progress.

Every organisation has problems that shouldn’t be solved, and tensions that should NOT be resolved. To do so would be to cut off your thumb.

For example, what would it look like to fully resolve the tension between excellence and careful stewardship? Between hiring staff and spending on R & D? The tension between letting the preacher go as long as he or she wants and letting the kids out of their groups? Local outreach vs global outreach, numerical growth/ maturity.

The temptation is always to solve them.

But if you resolve any of them, you create a whole new tension. You impede progress. Eg., what if you opt for excellence but throw out financial sense? Or if you go the other way and say, ‘I don’t want to spend money…’ – and become mediocre.

What happens if you’re all theology, and no application?

If you always want to be a peacemaker/keeper, so you’re conflict/ tension averse – that can become the problem. You created  a barrier to progress.

How to identify a problem that should be solved: (vs a tension that needs to be managed)

1) Does it keep resurfacing? Eg. -in January he finds loads of people come to church. In June less do. It’s to do with how people come to church – it’s not about the sermon quality or subjects!

2) Are there mature advocates on both sides? (Some are saying how do we reach people, vs how do we make mature disciples)

3) Are the two sides of the tension really interdependent?

If I decided to work all the time I’d lose my family, or if I stayed at home I’d lose that job but have to get another.

So there is not a solution there, just a tension to manage.

YOUR ROLE as leader in this dynamic is to leverage the tensions for the benefit  of the organisation – because when properly managed, they will bring progress.

1) Identify the tensions in your organisation.

2) Create new terminology. You can say, ‘This is a tension we have to manage.’ This isn’t a problem to solve! ‘This isn’t about you winning or losing…’

3) Inform your Core.

4) Continually give value to BOTH sides.  As a leader you have an opinion, and as a leader, your words have a lot more weight than others. So, get in the habit, regardless of our opinion – to methodically speak value to both.

5) Don’t weigh in too heavily on your personal bias. (eg., you’re the worship leader – how much time do you think we should we have?). Based on your giftedness and responsibility you have a bias. Step away! My goal is not to win, or always resolve – but to make sure that the important progress never gets out of sight. You can win, but in doing so – you cut off your thumb!

6) Understand the upside of the opposite side, and the downside of your side. Learn to be the champion of other’s perspective. Or you impede progress.

7) Don’t allow the strongest personalities to win the day. The goal is to maintain the important tensions, the goal is NOT to win. You need passionate people who will champion their side, AND you need mature people who will understand this dynamic.

8) Don’t think in terms of BALANCE, think RHYTHM. (It’s not, ‘how many minutes/ pounds did you get? Let’s all get balance) – there are times when you need more preaching than music, there are times when you need to spend more money, and times when you need to save. There’s a season for everything!

It’s okay to say, ‘I hear what you’re saying. I value what you value, but in this season, we need to do this…”

But when are we going to?

‘We value it – we see the tension, this is a tension we must manage..’