One of the most famous stories from the history of McDonalds is the failed attempt at the Hula Burger. Company founder Ray Kroc had a meatless sandwich in mind to make money during Lent: pineapple on bread with a slice of cheese. His demand for the Hula Burger came to a head in 1962 when a franchisee in Ohio put his Filet-o-Fish sandwich up against the Hula Burger, with the winner getting the company go-ahead. The final score: Fish 350, Pineapple 6.
The man who had taken a unique drive-in restaurant idea and turned it into the "billions and billions served" fast food giant didn't get his way. And for all of us who have an irrational love for the McDonalds fish sandwich (seriously, where do they find square shaped fish?), thank you Lou Groen.
And if you like the idea of grilled pineapple and cheese, you can get the Hula Burger recipe online.
The takeaway lesson from this is simple: as leaders in the church, ministry, or any organization, we are not guaranteed to get our way. Leaders who demand their way aren't really leading, they're dictators. Our job as leaders is to ensure the best and the right ideas are pursued, even if they're not ours. Those who seek out the best will find more fruit, more buy-in, and more traction than if decisions are shoved into people's laps.
Let me offer five ways we can make sure that the best and the right ideas are both heard and implemented:
1. Listen - It sounds simple, but it's not always so. Leaders spend a lot of time talking, it's part of the job. But if we're going to see the best and the right ideas come to the top, we have to spend time listening. And that listening has to be listening that understands, not listening to respond. Listening to understand hears out the reasoning, it is engaged, and it is reserved in its response.
2. Solicit feedback - A lot of times our way of soliciting feedback is the same way we engage in grocery store small talk. We see someone in the dairy section we know, we smile and wave and say "Hey how are you?" and we're on our way to the bread aisle before they can give an answer. We're not really interested in how they're doing, we're just conditioned to ask empty questions like that. As leaders, what kind of tone are we setting when we ask for feedback? Are we allowing ample time? Are we giving attention to those sharing? Are we making eye contact and engaging? Or are we blowing through an agenda or a conversation so we can move on to the next thing?
3. Be humble - Defensive leaders want their way. They're not humble, they're proud. They think everyone else is there to serve them. Humility flips the script. Humility reflects the attitude of Christ and the call of servant leadership. Humility for a leader can be as simple as admitting we're wrong, or acknowledging the accomplishments and contributions of others. Leaders who are defensive, proud, or unyielding are insecure, selfish, and if they're serving in a ministry environment toxic.
4. Discuss ideas, not people - One of my friends in ministry just turned 36, and in sharing that mentioned being told once before by a pastor he served under that you weren't allowed to have an opinion on things until you're over 35. So now that he was 36, he was able to fire away with opinions. When people are the focus of a discussion, or lack thereof, we're not discussing ideas anymore. Good ideas can come from the most unlikely of circumstances. A good idea can come from someone not necessarily in that particular ministry area. And (gasp!) a good idea can come from someone under 35.
5. Celebrate others' victories - When something goes really well, celebrate it. When it goes well, make sure the person who was behind it is recognized and appreciated for it. Leaders who don't insist on their own way will have no problem giving the spotlight to others, and won't take it personal when other people are recognized and valued for their accomplishments.
How have you as a leader helped to ensure that the right and best ideas are championed?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.