Mission Drift: Business Lessons From Non-Profit Crisis

Leadership is a sacred trust. Whether you lead departments, divisions, companies, non-profits, families, schools, churches or youth sports teams, your leadership matters. People are hungry for great leadership. One of the pillars of life-giving leadership is charting a course that is on mission.

Mission Drift

Today’s launch of Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches by HOPE International executives Peter Greer and Chris Horst marks a critical opportunity for leaders and stakeholders to revive their thinking about how and why they lead their organizations.

Amazon: "Mission Drift" by Peter Greer & Chris Horst

Mission Drift by Peter Greer & Chris Horst

While the book is geared toward leaders and stakeholders of faith-based non-profits, the authors’ insightful analysis and considerable research will expand the horizons of for-profit leaders as well.

Shadowboxing, Legacy & Significance

In reading my advance copy, I found Mission Drift to be a most beneficial sparring partner in shadowboxing issues of legacy, significance and what it means for an organization to be Mission True today – and for generations to come.

Peter and Chris, CEO and Director of Development, respectively, for HOPE International, give voice to many encouraging stories of great leadership of Mission True organizations. Conversely, they also contrast with cautionary tales of organizations that have decidedly drifted in their mission and the implications of those drifts. However, the book is intentionally not an exposé of errant organizations. The authors strike an appropriate balance with grace and aplomb.

150-Year Mission

In one such example, Dr. Albert Mohler turned a drifting Southern Seminary into a Mission True institution that again became a “beacon” of faithfulness. Soon after taking the helm of Southern Seminary, Dr. Mohler wrote a letter to the seminary’s president 150 years in the future. Imagine writing such a letter for your organization! What a great example of intentional, visionary leadership.

Measuring Mission

In chapter 11, the authors discuss “measuring what matters.” They write, “What’s not measured slowly becomes irrelevant. In our organization, our fascination with metrics has sometimes undermined our effectiveness and outreach. Ironically, it was shortly after this one millionth loan celebration that we uncovered significant operational lapses.”

“It is possible to be successful in the things that ultimately don’t matter to your organization’s success. Using the wrong metrics can be a cause of Mission Drift.”

How do you measure the effectiveness of the pursuit of your organization’s mission? Do you measure more than just the easy-to-measure metrics?

To what extent does your Board of Directors, shareholders or other stakeholders actively shepherd and safeguard your organization’s mission? You can add a comment by clicking here.

Some for-profit leaders will also benefit from the book’s discussion of the importance and influence that Boards of Directors and other stakeholders have in ensuring Mission True organizations.

I highly recommend Mission Drift to leaders of for-profit and non-profit organizations who wish to build a legacy of significance and positive impact.


Employee Engagement Drivers – Insights from a Restaurant Server, Microfinance & Fred

It happened again at lunch yesterday. My friend Russ and I were minding our own business and enjoying our conversation, chips and salsa when we were ambushed by great customer service. Guzman, an enthusiastic 20-year employee of Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant, was the culprit. He inherently understands the key employee engagement drivers.

Employee Engagement Drivers - Guzman Understands

Guzman, a standout, 20-year server at Garcia’s.
Photo Credit: Todd Kemp

That’s not a typo. Guzman, our server, has worked at this Denver restaurant for twenty years, most of them as a full-time employee.

“Twenty years!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, twenty,” he replied proudly.

According to the Nation’s Restaurant News, restaurant employee turnover is chronically high, averaging about 44% in the casual dining segment. Guzman apparently didn’t get that memo. In fact, Guzman would score his employer high on any survey of employee engagement drivers.

It begged my next question. “Why have you worked here for so long?”

Good Manager + Good Team = Employee Engagement Drivers

Without hesitation, Guzman insisted, “I have a good manager and a good team. I like the people here.”

His ready, confident answer reminds me of another conversation with a 60-year employee who attributed her long tenure to serving a great boss and a great mission.

Guzman went on to say that his manager, the owner, has trained employees to take care of all the details. He knows how to handle everything that goes on in the restaurant. He said that while it doesn’t pay a lot, he has stayed here so long because he’s treated well.

What’s Guzman’s insight into employee engagement drivers and employee retention? Social capital.

Microfinance and Relationships

I first heard the term social capital a few years ago when I asked my friend Chris Horst why the microfinance organization for which he works, HOPE International, generated such high loan repayment rates (96%) among its clients. Rated in the top 2% of all non-profits by Charity Navigator, HOPE serves the working poor in impoverished countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Haiti. Its mission is to alleviate physical and spiritual poverty through microenterprise development.

Chris’ answer to high repayment rates was social capital. Clients are personally invested in the lives of their borrower’s group. The group decides who gets to join the borrowing cohort and is responsible for their peers’ repayments if somebody runs into trouble.

HOPE International CEO Peter Greer and co-author Phil Smith, in their book, The Poor Will Be Glad, say that the most powerful aspect of microfinance “may be its ability to form lasting, deep relationships, typically involving the borrower and the loan officer.” Herein lies the opportunity for significant transformation of individuals and communities.

Relationships + Employee Engagement = Extraordinary

Our restaurant server Guzman is friendly, attentive without being overbearing, and engaged. He gave us the kind of service that made me notice. He has a way of being that suggests he takes pride in his vocation. For Guzman, serving customers is his craft.

He provides the kind of service that Mark Sanborn writes about in his books, The Fred Factor and Fred 2.0. Here’s how Mark describes it in his latest book:

What makes anyone – regardless of their position or work – memorable and extraordinary? We are most impressed not just by the quality of a person’s work but also by the way he or she treats us. Relationships are key.

Leadership Insight – Social Capital

As we left the restaurant, another server who overheard our conversation called himself the “new guy,” having worked at the restaurant for only six years! Once again, that’s exceptional for an industry where nearly half the workers turnover every year.

People engage when they’re invested in relationships.

Loans get repaid as microenterprises grow and lives flourish. Good servers stick and help cultivate winning customer experiences.

Relationships are key employee engagement drivers.

Questions: To what extent is social capital a competitive edge for your team? What’s the single, most potent step you could take in the next week to grow your team’s social capital and boost your employee engagement drivers? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Unleashing Creativity – The Leadership ‘X’ Factor for Solving Tough Problems

As CEO of a creative services firm, Steve has lived with the issue for 13 years. It’s the tyranny of continuously generating billable hours. This service business model can be feast or famine as client demand ebbs and flows.

What nagging challenge have you lived with far too long?

On what problem would you love to unleash ingenious creativity?

Creativity Proposition

Every leader can unleash ingenious creativity by embracing one leadership ‘X’ Factor.

Leadership Creativity X-Factor

Leadership X-Factor for Creativity
Photo Credit: Todd Kemp

In a recent coaching session I asked about this challenge. Steve said he’d love to solve this, but how? Where to start? He asked for help. I agreed to facilitate a creative problem solving session for his team.

Thanks to the Creative Problem Solving framework in Gregg Fraley’s book Jack’s Notebook, we helped Steve’s team identify fresh solutions. He said they’ve “reinvigorated” the team and will likely increase performance.

The Leader’s Creativity Problem

As leader, would you like to harness more creativity to solve the tough issues?

Let’s face it: other people solve easy problems. Tough challenges end up at your doorstep because you’re the leader.

That’s why 60% of CEOs in a global IBM study of 1,500 CEOs from companies of all sizes and industries cited creativity as the most important leadership quality.

I see it differently.

Is creativity vital to a CEO’s leadership and company success? Certainly.

They ignore a vital prerequisite for unleashing team creativity, however.

Steve, CEO of the creative services firm, ironically, wouldn’t side with the 60% of CEOs surveyed. Working with him, I see that Steve has the ‘X’ Factor that unleashes greater creativity and other key cultural traits.

Unleashing Creativity – The Leadership ‘X’ Factor

Steve has it. The CEOs who gather monthly in our peer advisory forum have it.

Jim Collins’ research team identified this leadership ‘X’ Factor in his seminal bestseller Good to Great.

Yet 88% of CEOs in the 2010 global study ignored it, ranking it dead last!

Innovators at AT&T’s Bell Labs who held the most patents had it.

Executives and associates at IDEO, a global design consultancy, are exemplars of the ‘X’ Factor. (See Harvard Business Review, January-February 2014, p. 53.)

Sadly, the ‘X’ Factor is readily ignored in many leadership circles.

Abraham Lincoln practiced it with aplomb. Consider these words written by the President of the United States to an up-and-coming leader:

When you first reached the vicinity of [your objective]… I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong. (Lincoln on Leadership, p. 104.)

Lincoln penned this letter of commendation to a victorious General Ulysses Grant during the U.S. Civil War.

Leadership Benefits of the ‘X’ Factor

The ‘X’ Factor enabled Steve to ask his team for help. Consequently, he gained fresh insights into long-standing challenges which reinvigorated his team.

The ‘X’ Factor causes like-minded CEOs in our peer advisory forum to seek help. They solve their tough issues and grow as leaders.

Evidence for it wouldn’t be ignored by Jim Collins. It is distinctive of Level 5 Leaders who built enduring great companies.

The ‘X’ Factor helped unleash vast innovation at Bell Labs.

It’s intentionally built into the culture at IDEO and drives innovation for clients.

The ‘X’ Factor marked President Lincoln’s leadership and helped his leaders achieve new successes.

The ‘X’ Factor and You

What problem could the ‘X’ Factor help you solve?

What issue confronts you, that if solved, could be a game-changer for you?

When you embrace the ‘X’ Factor you increase your capacity for exceptional leadership. With it, you harness the innate genius of your collective team.

What is the ‘X’ Factor?


An ancient proverb states: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Doug Guthrie, professor of International Business and Management at George Washington University, writes in a recent Forbes article:

 In the end, what we teach about leadership in business schools simply does not prepare students for leading, because we ignore the importance of humility in business and beyond.

Leaders who embrace humility can unleash ingenious creativity – and much more!

In what ways have you experienced authentic leadership humility, or lack thereof, and to what effect? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

How Healthy Leaders Respond to Evil – Arapahoe High School

Ten police cars zoom past me on the freeway with lights flashing. A few minutes later I arrive at my next meeting as I receive a text message from my daughter’s high school: “Based on the unfolding situation at Arapahoe High School, our school is in a lockout situation.”

What “unfolding situation?”

how healthy leaders respond evil arapahoe high school

Arapahoe High School Students Evacuate – December 13, 2013
Photo Credit: 9News.com

I tell the CEO whom I had come to meet about the message I have just received. Our daughters attend the same school not far from Arapahoe. We quickly tune in to a news channel to see live video of students running away from the school where a shooter has carried out yet another attack at a school.

I dash out a text message to my daughter who had been taking a final exam: “Where are you?” Send.

My son, at a middle school in the area, would still be in school and not allowed to use his cell phone. The district website confirmed his school was in lockout.

The Longest Minute

Have you ever brought a child into this world?

My mind flashes back to bringing them home from the hospital as newborns. My chest swells with a protective love for both of them. I am reminded in that moment, that I would give my life for them.

After a long, long minute, at 1:27pm, my phone lights up with a text response: “In the car with mommy. I’m ok :)”

“Ok good. I love you.”

“Love you!”

The Problem of Evil

At times like this, many of us feel powerless. It’s natural to ask why such tragedies happen. We may wonder where God is in all this. However, we shouldn’t be surprised when evil is wrought on this fallen, rebellious world. Grieved, certainly. Surprised? No.

Who among us loves everyone perfectly all the time? None of us do. If Augustine’s view of evil is true, that evil is essentially the absence of love, and if we all harbor a lack of love for others at times, then our own hearts have a tendency to give way to evil, even if in imperceptible or subtle forms.

A sneer. A harsh word not spoken in love. A white lie. An angry, dismissive gesture.

Such attacks at Arapahoe High School, Sandy Hook Elementary, Columbine High School, the Aurora movie theater and elsewhere, are at the very least, extreme expressions of the discord rooted in our own hearts.

One of the more intelligent treatments of the problem of evil that I’ve read is by scholar N.T. Wright. His lecture on the subject “Where is God on the ‘War on Terror’?” distills some thoughts from his excellent book, Evil and the Justice of God.

How Healthy Leaders Respond to Evil

A quote often attributed to 18th century Irish statesman Edmund Burke, reads:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

So how could we respond? In my experience, study and observations, healthy leaders respond to evil in times of crisis in four ways.

1. Healthy leaders accept the reality that evil exists in the world.

Healthy leaders are not caught off guard by negative reality. They adopt a sober view that both celebrates the goodness of creation and, as Wright suggests, “at the same time, understand and face up to the reality and seriousness of evil.”

2. Healthy leaders submit and pray.

The CEO with whom I was meeting that afternoon prayed right then and there in his office as the events unfolded. Healthy leaders recognize their own powerlessness to single-handedly combat evil and choose humility, not revenge. They submit to and call upon a power that is able to guide, protect and mend in the midst of darkness, trauma and pain. As a result, these people draw strength from God who has wired them for connection to Himself.

 3. Healthy leaders act quickly to protect life.

Upon entering the building, the shooter asked for a teacher by name. According to Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson, the teacher, alerted to the situation, quickly left the school in an attempt to draw the student to follow him away from the school. Robinson lauded the move as “the most important tactical decision that could be made.” Local law enforcement were praised for their quick response at Arapahoe, entering the building within a few minutes of the initial attack, based upon protocols established in the aftermath of the events at Columbine High School in 1999. Healthy leaders act quickly and decisively to preserve and protect those under their charge.

 4. Healthy leaders grieve their loss.

In addition to being an example of a positive, energizing and inspiring force, leaders face the essential of handling loss and sadness. “Sadness is the emotional signal of the reality of loss,” writes Dr. John Townsend in his book, Leadership Beyond Reason. He continues, “The main reason I think leaders have a particularly hard time with this emotion is that sadness means you are helpless to change some reality. Leaders resist helpless situations.”

“Sometimes just ‘getting over it’ will make things worse for you over time. If you have lost something or someone important to you, you will most likely have sad emotions about the loss. It’s best to give it the value it deserves by allowing some time to be sad. It will do you good, and you will move on from there.”

Cherish Them

Upon my return home December 13, 2013, both my teens greeted me at the door as we gave each other big, long hugs and exchanged “I love you’s.” Cherish your loved ones each day, for tomorrow is promised to no one.

Questions: In what ways have you experienced leaders responding to negative reality? How did it impact you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Team Performance – Leadership Lesson From a Multi Grand Champion Horse

Have you ever met an individual so remarkable, possessing such connection, presence and command that they left you awestruck? He or she, you might think to yourself, is the real deal. A pro’s pro. A true leader. This is one who inspires great team performance. Recently, I had such an encounter with Tomas T.

Team Performance Leadership Lesson

Tomas T, Multi Grand Champion Rocky Mountain Horse
Photo provided by current owner. Regrettably, photographer is unknown.

It was the day before Thanksgiving. Glorious blue skies, mild temperatures and distant mountain peaks garnished with snow reminded me that it was another good day to be in Colorado. A few miles outside of town, we turned onto a dirt road lined with white fences announcing pastures, ranches and a country lifestyle.

Upon arriving at the barn, my friend Stacey greeted us and introduced my kids and me to her horses. She handpicked Tomas T to be my steed for the day, while my teens met Easy Money and Glory, their new equine friends.

For the record, we are horse riding novices from the suburbs. Greenhorns. We’ve enjoyed a few trail rides where horses just plod along, nose-to-tail. That’s about it.

This day would be different.

I would also unexpectedly experience a living parable of great team performance.

The Ride

After saddling up, Stacey gave us some beginner’s instructions on how to ride our respective horses. Each had its own – shall we say – motivational preference. We practiced riding in a small corral then progressed to the bigger arena. Much to our excitement, we surpassed our previous riding experiences, gaining some decent speed in the arena.

After some practice, it was time to head out to the dirt roads of this charming ranching hamlet. Once on the open road, these horses love to run and compete with each other. My kids squealed with delight as each horse challenged the other to gallop faster down the country lane.

The Horse

As Tomas T churned his legs, I became enthralled at his sheer power, determination and focus. As we raced to the top of the hill, I held a tight rein so as to partially throttle back this Multi Grand Champion. Even so, the speed was exhilarating.

Tomas T was on a clear mission: to win the “race” back to the barn.

And yet, this powerful animal was also incredibly sensitive and responsive to his rider. Before we left the corral, Stacey had taught me that verbal cues or a squeeze of my legs would be enough for Tomas T to get his giddyup on. He did not need to feel the heels of my boots in his side.

I also learned how to signal him with a combination of a light touch of the reins and the easy pressure of my foot. This tactic could be used to quickly and completely disengage his forward momentum if needed. Stacey talked about how Tomas T, a Rocky Mountain Horse, was trained to respond to the subtle body position changes of the rider. He attends to the slightest cues from touches to various parts of his body, in addition to the reins.

In a word, this horse has presence.

The Rocky Mountain Horse Association’s magazine profiled this majestic “Rockie” about 10 years ago. The horse’s previous trainer testifies about the stallion: “Tomas T carries himself with great pride and presence.”

As I rode Tomas T, it was clear to me that he was fully on mission and fully present.

The Leadership Lesson for Team Performance

Leaders often find these two dynamics in tension with each other. Like Tomas T, great leaders attend to both. They integrate the practice of mission alongside the practice of presence. Being on mission, Tomas T was full of action, determined and focused on the goal ahead. Being fully present, he was aware, connected and responsive to his team member – me! He had distinguished himself, after all, for his ability to drive high team performance with his rider.

Great leaders are fully on mission and fully present.

Such leaders are able to lead teams with soul, draw out the highest team performance and sustain engagement and team performance.

May we all draw inspiration from Tomas T as we lead!

Questions: How do you practically integrate mission and presence in your leadership? What barriers get in your way? What’s the impact on your team performance? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Leadership Impact – Why Your ‘How’ Matters – Part 2

A Tale of Two Leaders – Coach and CEO

In my previous post in this series, I described how a youth football coach neglected to own his leadership impact and one of the consequences of his approach.

Leadership Impact: Football Helmet

Photo Credit: E. Kemp

A few weeks before this incident, I met a dedicated woman who has served as an employee at a faith-based youth services non-profit for nearly 60 years. When asked the secret to working there for so long, she replied:

“I serve a great boss and a great mission.”

I have the privilege of working with her boss, Dan, the CEO. He’s a talented yet humble servant-leader who owns his leadership impact and continues to work to improve his leadership. A seasoned executive, Dan is not satisfied with where he is as a leader. He knows that to stay true to his mission and reach the vision he has cast, good stewardship insists that he sharpen and magnify his leadership strengths so that he can finish well.

Three Big Implications

I submit to you that every leader should own their leadership impact ‘How’ because of three Big Implications:

1. Implication of Engagement

The football coach demotivated and ultimately lost some players with his approach. Some just tolerated him. Few seemed to respect him. The coach didn’t own his leadership impact ‘How’ and lost sight of a mission that was bigger than X’s and O’s, wins and losses.

Dan’s leadership approach, conversely, inspires and helps draw out the best in his team. Dan is highly regarded by his executive team and Board of Directors, as his 360 review makes clear. The contrast between these two leaders suggests an important lesson for us:

When you own your leadership impact ‘How,’ your team will engage.

2. Implication of Performance

It was never clear to me that the coach successfully scared any players into executing their assignments well. The coach’s means of influence simply did not motivate these young learners. Consequently, team performance suffered in various ways. A reasonably talented football team finished 1-7 on the season. Sadly, one kid who needed the positive influence of sports, team and coach, quit the team demoralized. Over the course of the season I heard some parents express their dissatisfaction with the coach, including Mr. “HIT Somebody,” who nearly did so in a lively exchange with the coach during the last game.

In contrast, with Dan at the helm, his team has made great strides forward in transforming the lives of at-risk youth around the U.S. Of course, many elements contribute to a successful enterprise. For Dan, one element shines in contrast to the football coach:

When you own your leadership impact ‘How,’ your team will perform.

3. Implication of Sustainability

It is possible to engage teams and even produce results in the short-term with bullying tactics. Under such conditions, however, team engagement and results are typically not sustainable.

Some players on the football team finished the season questioning whether they would even continue playing football. A few chose not to attend the end-of-season party. One parent said she was “so done” with the negativity her son experienced from the coach. Another parent said he would switch to a different program next year because of this particular coach.

In his eight years as CEO, Dan has intentionally changed the culture of his organization. He made some staff changes. He cast a fresh vision. He defined and measured some new key performance indicators. Today, Dan’s team flourishes. Moreover, he has positioned the organization for even greater impact in the years ahead. These two figures have another lesson for leaders:

When you own your leadership impact ‘How,’ your team will become sustainable.


In her book, How We Lead Matters, Chairman and former CEO of Carlson, Marilyn Carlson Nelson writes:

“Never forget that your role as a leader is to be a steward for future generations.”

Stewardship is the purpose of leadership. We lead in order to serve a greater mission or purpose, so that others may flourish, and to sustain these positive effects.

Purposeful leadership invites us to own our leadership impact ‘How.’ Why should you own it?

1. Implication of Engagement – when you own it, your team will engage.

2. Implication of Performance – when you own it, your team will perform.

3. Implication of Sustainability – when you own it, your team will become sustainable.

Let’s own our leadership impact ‘How’ and help our teams flourish!

Question: In what ways have you noticed leaders own (or ignore) their leadership impact ‘How’ and what were the implications? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Leadership Impact – Why Your ‘How’ Matters – Part 1

A Tale of Two Leaders – Coach and CEO

It was the second game of the regular season as the warm Colorado summer rolled into early September.  My dad was visiting for a week. Watching our kids’ sports activities were some of the ‘Day in the Life’ of our family experiences that he naturally signed up for.

Minutes after unfolding our chairs under the port-a-shade, another dad, an imposing 6’5″ and looking as though he may have played linebacker himself, began shouting at our special teams unit lined up for kickoff. “HIT somebody! HIT somebody!” he urged, as though the force of his voice alone might cause a fumble. Coaches stomped up and down the sideline, shouting their own instructions at players. Welcome to 12-and-under youth football.

Football Leadership Impact on Team Performance

My son, #2, playing outside linebacker.
Photo Credit: Angel Kelchen

Within a few minutes we saw my son’s team go down by a touchdown. Before the end of the first quarter, a two-score deficit separated our team from a seemingly superior team.

What happened next was utterly shocking.

As our defense ran off the field, one of the coaches, a big, intimidating and loud man, stormed onto the field. With great intensity, he lit into several players, belittling them with profanity.

Did I mention these kids were 12?

The coach received some feedback and cleaned up his vocabulary, though his approach remained consistent throughout the course of the season. Overall, he coached by fear and intimidation with an occasional sprinkling of affirmation.

What are the implications of ‘leading’ a team of 12-year-old players in such an intimidating manner?

Your Leadership Impact ‘How’ Matters

During the second game of the season that coach lost the hearts of some of his players. Within a couple of weeks, I would learn from a boy we drove to practice in the carpool, that this coach continued to demotivate him in practices. This boy also lacked a father figure at home and soon quit the team. For this kid, any potentially positive leadership impact that the coach might have had on him was squandered.

What if this coach had understood his mission to be training boys to be young men and to impart the value of fun, team, discipline, athletic skills and healthy competition?

What if he had decided to be a mentor to these lads?

What if he had owned his leadership impact?

What positive difference might he have made?

On a scale of 1-10, to what extent do you own your leadership impact?

In Part 2 of this series we look at the contrasting real-life example of a CEO and examine some lessons learned from both coach and CEO.