The Power of Simplicity In Leadership
Updated: Jun 27
In a world of increasing complexity there is a greater and greater call for simplicity. In one episode of the Simpsons, Marge visits a new supermarket, Monstromart. The slogan of the retailer: “where shopping is a baffling ordeal.” Product choice appears unlimited, shelving reaches the ceiling, nutmeg comes in 12lb. boxes, and the express checkout reads, “1,000 items or less.” The scene is humorous because it mirrors our current lived experience. People are overwhelmed and baffled by more and more complexity in their real life choices: 27 varieties of Crest toothpaste, 53 varieties of Campbell's condensed soup, eight sizes of Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice. This glut of choices is not just in the grocery aisle, but it follows us wherever we go as our phones are transmitters of "infobesity" or information overload. News, images, texts, alerts, and entertainment bombards us 24/7. The side effects of this infobesity include fatigue, lack of productivity, stress-related diseases and poor decision-making.
In a similar way, when needless complexity develops in an organization or team the cost is huge in terms of both emotional health and productivity. As teams develop momentum, there inevitably follows increased complexity: more events on the calendar, increased decisions to make, larger numbers of people to account for, added layers of permission, expanded problem solving, accumulating paperwork, among other issues. This leads to mission drift. This can lead us to staying in meeting-mania-mode.
As this happens, there must be a conscious effort to KISS (keep it surprisingly simple). This is what Jesus did. He simplified the seemingly complex. He always promoted the simplicity of faith. Here are a few examples:
Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, "Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20)
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2-4)
In this article we will look at how to avoid mission drift by harnessing the power of simplicity.
As Momentum Grows
Frame your mission around what your team does great. Jim Collins calls this finding your "hedgehog." This comes from an ancient Greek parable (2500 years ago), told by Archilochus, about the fox and the hedgehog. In the story, the fox wants to eat the hedgehog. Every day, he waits outside the animal’s burrow and, each day devises a new way to attack the hedgehog. Day after day he fails because he is wounded by the hedgehog’s spines. Eventually, the fox is forced to give up. The moral of the story? According to Archilochus, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” As your team develops momentum, work to discover your hedgehog and build your efforts around that.
Break down goals to achieve measurable outcomes. As you discover your hedgehog, establish measurable and realistic goals. Focus on the outcomes and allow people freedom with accountability to get there. Define your requirements which will help to bring those outcomes about with questions like: Do we need it? What can we do? How can we speed up? What is no longer necessary? Who are the best people to oversee this?
Empower decision making to those closest to the decision. Ownership generally needs to be given to those who are closest to carrying out the decisions to be made. Problems are generally best handled by those who are directly affected by the problems. Otherwise there is the experience of stifling red tape and bureaucracy.
Eliminate the good to focus on the great. When momentum grows, it is easy to let the allure of many good ideas steal from your great ideas. The fact is that we cannot say "yes" to every good idea without stepping into overload. All ideas need to be embraced or rejected against the measure of whether they will help advance your great idea. The ability to say "no" for solid and understandable reasons is part of any healthy organization. Otherwise, your team will be chasing many missions at the expense of your core mission.
Simplicity creates clarity which then establishes priority. It guides your “yes” and affirms your “no” in decision making. You reduce busy work, decrease mistakes and most importantly empower people to do the activities which count the most. Steve Jobs clarified the power of simplicity, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Are you called to multiply disciples, contact Anthony at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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