After a couple month hiatus, I want to pick up on the series entitled “Be Strong and Courageous.” You can read the first post here. In this series, I am unpacking five leadership principles from Bill Hybels about the courage that leadership requires.
The second principle that Bill Hybels taught us at this year’s Leadership Summit was this:
Leadership requires the courage to define your current reality.
Sometimes the reality of a situation is not easy to confront. Maybe the product or idea that you created has run its course, but you can’t let it go. Maybe there is a leadership deficit in you or in your team that you don’t want to admit. It can take many forms, but the best leaders can define reality and respond accordingly.
Bill taught us that a leader is always leading in one of three modes: downturn, status quo, or growth.
– If you are in a downturn, you need to “put out the fire”
– If you are in a status quo mode where you are just maintaining, you need to“start a fire”
– If you are in a growth mode, you need to “pour fuel on the fire”
There is one particular example of a project within CARE for AIDS that required us to confront the reality of a situation and make a hard decision.
The first few years of CARE for AIDS, we had an exciting project called the Textbook Drive, which was launched by one of my co-founders, Zach Fallon. The project grew to over 30 campuses, and we were mobilizing hundreds of students to collect used textbooks from their peers. Then, we would resell those textbooks and use the proceeds to advance our work in Kenya. At its peak, it was netting about $125,000 per year, which was about 20% of our budget.
But… as good as it sounds, we saw the writing on the wall. We knew the book industry was changing rapidly. Book rentals became extremely popular and eBooks were slowly gaining more market share. We saw that it was only a matter of time before the resale value per book would fall to a point where our margins would completely vanish. We knew we couldn’t wait until it got that bad. We were already drifting from a growth mode to a status quo mode.
So… we started a fire. We killed the project all together. We did extensive research to design a timeless college fundraising model, and we reinvested the book drive money to pilot this new idea. In one year, we went from 30 campuses to 3 campuses. I was terrified because we had killed a good, reliable revenue stream for something unknown. But it had to be done. There were a lot of failures in the first year, but we learned a lot. Now we are embarking on year two with hopes of matching, if not exceeding, the revenue from the best book drive year. And the potential for the years ahead is unlimited.
In leadership, we must be willing to see our current reality for what it is, and when we can’t see it, have others around to tell us. Then, we need to respond with bold and courageous decisions. If we are declining, stop the bleeding. When we are maintaining a status quo, take calculated risks to create a spark. We can’t do the same things and expect different results. If we are growing, we have all the more freedom to try new things because the momentum will not easily be stopped.
What mode are you leading in right now? What action do you need to take to lead courageously?