Saturday, September 04, 2010

Step One: Understand the Importance of Learning about Breakthrough Leaders and Stakeholders Who Will Be Affected by Breakthroughs

Many shall be purified, made white, and refined,
but the wicked shall do wickedly;
and none of the wicked shall understand,
but the wise shall understand.
— Daniel 12:10 (NKJV)

The breakthrough servant can only succeed by
successfully influencing both breakthrough leaders and
stakeholders. Before trying to have any influence, the
breakthrough servant must understand that the need to
carefully gather and appreciate the right information
about the backgrounds, experiences, philosophies,
circumstances, preferences, and observations of all
concerned is especially critical. Otherwise, breakthrough
servants, even with the best of intentions, may err by
encouraging the wrong changes or by failing to act
while breakthrough leaders are about to provide the
wrong benefits to stakeholders. Let’s look at how such
mistakes can happen.

It’s easy for anyone to provide benefits for others that
aren’t at all welcome due to misunderstanding what’s
desired and appropriate. Applying the Golden Rule
correctly requires us to put ourselves into the minds and
circumstances of those we are seeking to help, rather
than providing what we would find desirable if we were
the recipients. Learning how to employ the Golden Rule
properly is one of the ways that the Lord helps us grow
in wisdom, which is a great blessing that we receive from

Let’s look at some examples of how the backgrounds,
experiences, philosophies, circumstances, preferences,
and observations of others vary in ways that need to be
taken into account. Imagine that you have uncommon
tastes: Let’s say that you love to see people who have
dyed their hair bright orange and green; you adore
eating chocolate-covered grasshoppers; you delight in
seeing people wearing horizontally striped and polka
dotted outfits; and you take great pleasure in smelling the
odor of skunks. Next, imagine that you assume that
everyone else has the same tastes and faithfully seek to
make what you like more available to them. As a result,
others might not thank you for your efforts … unless
they happen to share your preferences. If you first
establish an interest group of people with those same
uncommon interests, all will be well. Otherwise, you may
repel more people than you attract.

Now imagine that you have very common tastes: You
love to see people smile; you enjoy eating chocolate; you
delight in seeing people wear outfits that complement their
skin, hair, and eye colors in subtly coordinated ways; and
you take great pleasure in smelling the fragrance of
gardenias. If you assume that others have the same taste
that you do in those aspects of life, you’ll often, but not
always, be right. When you act on that assumption, many
people will thank you for your efforts, but some will not,
such as those who are allergic to chocolate and gardenias
and people who are color-blind. Individual circumstances
also vary a lot, greatly affecting the felt needs of those in
quite similar situations. Let me share with you two true
stories that I recently heard Franklin Graham (the
American evangelist son of Billy Graham) tell that
perfectly make this point about how individual
circumstances can powerfully affect perceived needs.

In the first instance, a little girl was shivering in a refugee
camp in Bosnia during the last war there. The
temperature was below zero Fahrenheit, and she was
dressed in thin clothes huddled with her family in a
small tent. Unexpectedly, she received a shoe box filled
with Christmas gifts sent by donors from outside of
Bosnia. As she opened the package, she was delighted to
find a woolen cap that fit just right over her head and
ears. Digging deeper into the package, she found warm
gloves that she quickly slipped over her shaking hands.
It had been months since she had bathed or been able to
wash her clothes. The clean smell of the gifts uplifted her
soul. Ten years later, she recounted her joy from those
gifts as the little girl, now grown, handed over a shoe box
she had filled with gifts to Franklin Graham to be sent to
another needy youngster as part of Operation Christmas

At about the same time as the girl received her shoe box
filled with gifts, an aid worker with a similar shoe box in
another Bosnian refugee camp approached a small orphan
boy whose parents had been murdered by the Serbs. The
small boy refused the gifts. Through tears, he told that he
only wanted to receive new parents. The aid worker
patiently encouraged the child to at least look into the
package. Eventually, he did but he was still disconsolate.
The aid worker noticed that the package carried the
names and address of the donors. The aid worker asked
the boy if he would like to send a letter to thank them.
With the aid worker’s help, he eventually did and told in
the letter about his desire for parents. His letter was
received with great joy by the donors, a childless couple
who were looking to adopt. Six months later, the couple
arrived at the refugee camp to adopt the boy and to take
him home with them.

Further, priorities can also differ among people with
similar tastes and circumstances. Let me give you an
example. Imagine that two youngsters who love soccer
come from similar homes and circumstances and play
on the same soccer team. The two children are each
given two free tickets to attend a local match of top-
flight soccer teams. Who will the youngsters invite to
join them? One youngster may want to invite the
youngster’s soccer coach as a way of showing
appreciation for the coach’s help with learning and
playing soccer. The other youngster may instead want
to invite an uncle who is great fun to be around. In such
a situation, a donor would err in presenting the tickets
to a parent and asking the parent to take the
youngster. Should the donor make that mistake,
neither youngster would be able to attend the match
with the person of his or her choice.

Experience, as well, plays a role in creating
preferences. A new leader with limited experience may
be eager to bring in a totally new team of people to
work on making a breakthrough. Such a person will
often discount the knowledge and experience of those
who have been working in the activity. In the process
of developing a breakthrough, that leader will probably
make a lot of mistakes that could have been avoided by
keeping more people involved who are knowledgeable
about the activity and its stakeholders. As a result, the
new team might make performance worse rather than
better. Certainly, the breakthrough will be delayed and
may be less effective than it could otherwise have been.

A well-experienced leader who has specialized in one
activity may be skeptical that breakthroughs are
possible, particularly if this leader has never seen one
in the activity. This leader may also be skeptical that
anyone who doesn’t know the situation well could
possibly make any helpful suggestions or improvements.
The leader may not even try to make a breakthrough. If
the leader does try, the efforts may not work well
because thinking about possibilities is too limited.
Backgrounds matter in determining what a leader will
do. Many ideas about how to make changes are learned
at a young age. Let me share some observations I’ve
made. For instance, someone with technical training
gained in French schools may be inclined by that
background to look for breakthroughs built on superb
engineering analyses of what’s possible. That same
person may tend to be dismissive of ideas or potential
contributions by those who don’t have technical training
and aren’t well-grounded in logic.

Someone who majored in lease financing in an American
business school will probably first look for breakthroughs
by considering innovations in ways to finance leases for
the organization and its stakeholders. If the best
breakthrough opportunities lay instead in adding more
benefits for customers, such potential will probably lay
fallow under this leader.

I won’t drag out the point about subjectivity of leaders
and stakeholders any further. Just remember that
there’s no substitute for finding out what people really
want before you try to help them to lead or to gain a

Copyright 2010 Donald W. Mitchell All Rights Reserved.

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