Elevating Excellence

In a great episode of The West Wing, one of the president’s senior advisors, Sam Seaborn (played by Rob Lowe), was attracted to and wanted to date the daughter of the chief of staff, Leo McGarry. Leo decided to have a little fun and gave his daughter, a public school teacher and a staunch advocate of public schools, a position paper that Sam had written advocating a school voucher program. The chief of staff’s daughter, Mallory, was incensed and started a fight with Sam. Only later did she learn that Sam didn’t agree with the position paper—he had just written it to argue the other side in the internal debate about the issue going on in the White House. The point is that you need the smart people to look at and discuss every side before you can make a good decision.

Your business needs to be willing to pay for top talent to get top talent.

This seems to be one of those taboo subjects in the world of church administration, so I am going to address it head-on. I think it is pretty clear from the above that I advocate putting together a small team of a few highly placed executives to help the leader run the organization. It is also clear that the executives need to be high quality (just think about who they need to interact with). The result is that you need a great team. To get that, you need to pay for it. People who serve in faith-based organizations all share the common element of a true desire to help advance the vision. However, that altruistic feeling will not replace, over the long term, some degree of financial success and reward.

Remember this—all good executives have options and usually plenty of them. You don’t want people who don’t have the ability to go elsewhere.

So find the team, empower the team, and pay the team fairly. Setting salaries should be the result of informed decision-making. You need to obtain quality information on salary levels for comparable organizations in your area. Apply that information and build in incentives and you will be well on your way.

Remember, you only need a few highly compensated executives to make your organization run well. After all, it only takes a few highly dedicated individuals to change the world. How do we know this is true? Because it is the only thing that ever has.

The bottom line is that you don’t need a big team. Even the largest faith-based organization can be effectively managed with a pastor/leader and two to four really good senior executives—everyone else are the subordinates who do the actual work based on the vision and direction of the senior team.

Having too many managers can bog down an organization as fast as not having enough. In my view, a quality, faith-based organization can be run effectively with a CEO/pastor, a chief operations officer to run the business operations, a chief financial officer to manage finances, and an associate to run the pastoral staff. Everyone else should be part of the teams that report to these people. On the next level, the senior executives should then each have a team reporting to them. Also, the organization should be relatively “flat,” with a minimum of “middle management” who simply takes what their boss says and conveys it to their subordinates. Everyone should meaningfully add to the organization.

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