Friday, July 22, 2016


In a recent conversation with one of my mentors, the discussion of mission and model came up as we discussed colleges and universities that thrive or merely survive (or not).  Mission is a driving factor and is what one actually DOES…what is it that an individual or an organization is called to do to impact the world?  Model is the way in which one delivers that mission…what is the shape or form in which the mission is delivered?  The mission of Concordia University Texas is “developing Christian leaders,” a mission that has driven our institution for many years.  Other organizational missions might speak to a certain type of experience for clients or customers…or helping people live a certain type of life…or delivering a service in a certain fashion.  All organizations (and individuals) have a mission – whether they know it or not.

All organizations (and individuals) also have a model through which they deliver that mission.  Again, for my institution, our model is one that is shaped by higher education and primarily delivers classes that lead toward a degree.  Some institutions of higher education become even more specific in their model, focusing only on one type of delivery method (i.e. face-to-face or online).  It is my belief that the model can change while the mission remains the same…and this might be necessary to remain relevant in an ever-changing world.  If my model of communicating my thoughts on leadership was only through pen and paper, you might not be reading this blog.  My thoughts could possibly be shared with one or two people…or perhaps several hundreds if I mimeographed*** the letter and sent it out to friends and family.  However, the ability to impact hundreds of people in a very short time would remain elusive to me and I would not be living out my personal mission.

There are multiple organizations which I support in various ways who currently struggle with the issue of mission and model.  A mission and model which were well married years ago is no longer working – what should change, mission or model?  A mission and model that worked well for a day and age in which communication was not instant is no longer relevant…what should change, mission or model?  A mission and model that made a great impact on a few number of people is no longer financially sustainable…what should change, mission or model?

I would posit that mission trumps model.  Please note that I did not say ALWAYS in that sentence, for I believe that sometimes mission and model might be so inter-related that one might or should not exist without the other.  All organizations (and individuals) will wrestle with this question, especially in a time that is experiencing exponentially rapid change.  For leaders, the wrestling begins with being clear about the organization’s mission (and don’t underestimate the power of re-wording or changing the mission to better reflect what the organization actually does).  Once that is accomplished, leaders consistently take a hard look at their current models to determine their viability…make hard decisions to change or drop current models that might not work…look for new models that might extend the mission…and scan the horizon for what might be next. 

A final word of warning: the model is important, for it often has stood the test of time and has served the institution and people well.  Don’t just “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”  Think carefully about how a new or different model will impact the mission, and be sure that mission drives the decision in choosing an altered or new model.

***for a demonstration of what a mimeograph actually is and does, watch this video

Friday, July 15, 2016

local/central control

Over my month in Maine, I read several books that brought to my attention the tension leaders face when deciding on where to best have the decision making process lie…locally or more central.  The English and Their History spent many pages talking about the British Empire, and its struggle to maintain control locally when much of the decision making was done so far away from where the actual people lived and rule.  Founding Quartet discussed the struggle the American colonies faced when writing the first constitution – more local control in the states or more central control in the federal government.  This is an issue that faces most organizations, whether it is a system of schools, a multi-national corporation, a healthcare organization, a small business, a church body, and even a family unit.  Who gets the final say?

Leaders have the opportunity to shape this discussion and put in place the processes and guidelines that will clearly delineate who controls what and how that control is decided and lived out.  The question often becomes what is best for the organization as a whole…more central control or more local control.  While I am a believer that local control is, for the most part, a better decision, I am sure that there are times that central control might best serve an institution.  So how might leaders go about making that decision?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • what type of work is being done?  Is it highly prescriptive, requiring that everyone do exactly the same thing...or is there room for achieving the outcomes in different manners?
  • how does communication work in the organization?  The ability to deliver a consistent message, no matter the type of communication, might determine the need for local or central control
  • how quickly do decisions need to be made?  The speed of decision making might dictate different times and places for central control and/or local control
  • how financially strong is the organization?  There are times in an organization's life cycle that one type of control is better than another...the key is being able to move between the two types of control as necessary
  • is good policy in place?  If people know what they are to do, how they are to do it, and what to do when things go wrong, it is much easier to have local control rather than being more centralized
  • what type of culture is in place?  The issue of local or central control is often embedded within an organization long before the leader arrives on the scene
The BIG issue really lays with how the leader of the organization is she a person who wants central control and believes that is best for the organization...or does he believe that local control produces the best result and is willing to let go of central control?  All leaders have to understand how they see the world on this issue and determine whether or not their deep seated belief is best for the organization.  Only then can they properly decide on the six issues presented above.