Eighteen months ago I left a leadership position in a large parachurch organisation, following a call from God to come to lead the Willow Creek Association in Australia. From a leaders perspective it may seem like an odd move and almost a “step back” in leadership. But what I have discovered about leadership and the size of the organisation has been quite surprising. Let me share some of my experiences and insights.
Larger enterprises don’t necessarily demand better leadership. In fact in some ways smaller enterprises demand more of a leader than larger ones. Let me elaborate. Larger enterprises generally have more “elasticity”. They can spring back from errors of judgment with less impact. In a team of 60, a few poor performers are felt less than in a team of 6. A minor poor financial decision in a budget of millions is very different to one in a budget of less than a million. The point is this, the value of preciseness in leadership in a small enterprise can be a matter of life or death. In a larger enterprise, while preciseness is important, the consequence of some “slack” may not mean shutting the doors tomorrow.
Each decision a leader makes is an important one, and it may seem as though the larger organisations require better decision makers. But in the context of risk, there may be far greater risks for the decision maker in the small organisation than the large one. The wrong staff or volunteer appointment, the wrong financial call may lead to a quick demise of the organisation or church. The perception may be that the pressure on decision makers in larger organisations is greater, but this is not necessarily so. In a small tight knit group the decision that Greg a lovely guy who has poured his life into music ministry, is not actually particularly gifted in this area and needs to be moved aside, ripples through the small church in a way that would not be the case in a larger one. And the leader who makes this decision knows that s/he is risking many relationships amongst other things.
Larger organisations have the capacity to engage specialists, whereas smaller organisations tend to demand a broader range of skills from fewer people. The youth pastor may also be the part time receptionist and graphic designer for church publications. And when s/he resigns you can’t just cover the gap by pulling a staff member from a less critical area, because everyone is engaged in a critical area.
So I want to hail the leader of the small enterprise who faces challenges and pressures in ways that leaders of larger organisations don’t. Sometimes we feel at Willow Creek that there is a perception that we exist for leaders from larger churches and organisations. Not true! God has called each of us to lead where we are, the phrase you will find firmly attached to our Global Leadership Summit.
CEO, Willow Creek Australia