The first two sentences of an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) shared a scandalously honest perspective on leadership and strategy—topics that migrate en masse from the business world to the church market.
Michael E. Raynor and Mumtaz Ahmed wrote: "Much of the strategy and management advice that business leaders turn to is unreliable or impractical. That's because those who would guide us underestimate the power of chance."
To ensure their point cuts deep, they continue with even sharper words: "Gurus draw pointed lessons from companies whose outstanding results may be nothing more than random fluctuations. Executives speak proudly of corporate achievements that may be only lucky coincidences."
That view certainly won't pack the seats at leadership conferences. Imagine a keynote talk titled: "Honestly, We Were Lucky."
Raynor and Ahmed then offer research that points readers toward three rules for what to focus on—and what to not focus on—to achieve business success.
Imagine a column for leaders titled: "Just Focus."
I experienced similar learning, though much simpler, a year ago. My daughter, now a high school senior, expressed desire to one day play college tennis. To me, such a dream seemed to require plenty of luck to actually happen. At least that's how I worded my sentiments when talking with the seasoned tennis professional where my daughter plays.
After he stopped laughing at me, he shared a few strategies for my daughter (and me) to focus on to capture collegiate-level attention. He also articulated a few items that don't matter to college coaches but often distract young players' and families' effort. "Forget luck; be deliberate," is my paraphrase of his wisdom.
His approach worked, reinforcing the HBR article's premise that focus wins over luck. This logic seems insultingly obvious. Or is it?
Let's look at this idea in practice at church.
I recently visited with the outreach pastor of a church that decided to focus their efforts. Instead of continually adding programs, spreading their work thin, and hoping that some of it would make a difference (a nice way to say luck), this church narrowed their work to have greater impact.
A church narrowed their work, cut sacred programs, and stopped activities that had gone on for years? Scandalous! But effective—read on.
This pastor described how the church now pours precious time and talent (yes, some treasure too) into a single desire: "We want to eliminate as much 'risk' as we can in the lives of at-risk kids in our community."
He continued, "We learned what to focus on and what we should stop doing so we could do more of what we knew would work. It required brutal honesty to admit some of our stuff was random and needed to go away. But what's happening now is worth it."
A quick summary of what they do: Three years ago, their church launched a KIDS HOPE USA mentoring program in partnership with a local elementary school. They saw firsthand the difference that a one-to-one relationship between an adult and student makes in an at-risk child's life. Then next year they added another program with another school. Same thing the year after.
The church decided to fully adopt the focused desire mentioned earlier. This led to a discovery that many men in the church have hearts for fatherless kids. It also prompted leaders to ask questions in the community, which helped them learn that the help single moms in their area wanted most was a man to build into their kids.
So the church stopped a few other initiatives to create space and energy for a new Wednesday night event exclusively for single moms and kids. While ladies in the church offer programs to serve the moms, men from the church form one-to-one relationships with the kids. "We had to stop many things to pull this off and do what we really wanted to do, what we knew would work," the pastor said.