A Self-Leadership Surprise

by | Mar 11, 2021 | Church Health, Church Leadership, Church Revitalization

“Virtually everything our modern culture believes about the type of leadership required to transform our institutions is wrong. It is also dangerous. There is perhaps no more corrosive trend to the health of our organizations than the rise of the celebrity CEO, the rock-star leader whose deepest ambition is first and foremost self-centric.” –Jim Collins


It’s obvious how self-leadership affects how we “lead up” (our bosses) or “lead down” (those reporting to us).

But it really came into sharp focus for me nearly 20 years ago when I read one of my all-time top 10 favorite organizational books: the massive best-seller Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by Jim Collins.

His research team studied 1,400 Fortune 500 companies over a 30-year period to identify those that had made the leap from good, solid companies to great organizations based on a set of criteria with tight parameters over an extended period of time. They spent five years isolating the factors that distinguished these examples from carefully selected comparison companies that failed to make the leap (or if they did, failed to sustain it). These were not flash-in-the-pan companies. They defined “great results” as cumulative stock returns at least 3.0 times better than the general stock market over fifteen years, a performance superior to most widely admired companies.

Collins gave the research team explicit instructions to downplay the role of top executives to avoid the simplistic “credit the leader” or “blame the leader” thinking common today. But the data uncovered something surprising.

In their study of the CEOs of those eleven companies, a surprising pattern emerged. It wasn’t the flashy, ubiquitous leaders that shone. The good to great CEOs were a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will, or corporate resoluteness. It was an odd duality: modest and willful…humble and fearless. As a matter of fact, as soon as the CEOs began doing book tours and appearing on talk shows, it didn’t bode well for the organization.


When I first read the book years ago, I remember being shocked.

I thought immediately of Jesus, who on the one hand would say,

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

And then the New Testament turns around and describe Him with a fierce resolve toward the Kingdom’s mission:

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem . . . At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ (Luke 9:51; 13:31-32).

I’m looking for Leaders 2.0 who will mix those two seemingly contradictory character attributes and create ministries and churches that will not settle for mediocre effectiveness…but genuinely want to see the Kingdom powerfully advance. To use corporate language: I want to see the name of Jesus become the most famous brand in our city.


As it’s often said: it’s not about us.

But it does rest on us to declare with words and action that the Kingdom has come. It’s our mission.

Humility and a Kingdom resolution. Broken and fearless.

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