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.


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.

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.