Vagueness is always on the side of the status quo. When organizations - whether Fortune 500 companies or small rural churches - start painting with vague generalities, they limit themselves to treading water.

When the purpose for moving forward becomes vague or cliche, the organization is destined to the status quo because you can't find clarity within vagueness. It's the difference between water color and oil paints. Both of them are nice in their own right, but you'll never pick water colors if you're trying to paint a clear, specific picture.

People need a clear, specific picture of how to move forward within the organization if they are going to move forward with confidence. At best, they flounder. At worst, they fill in the definition on their own and move forward in the wrong direction.

If you want your organization (it's true with your family too) to move forward, you have to fight for specificity and clarity. The more general your vision, or roles, or boundaries, or expectations, or policy becomes, the less likely you are to move ahead. Vagueness is always on the side of the status quo.


Andy Rodriguez said...

Love the leadership axioms you write, Chris. Let me make a case for the use of occasional, temporary and intentional vagueness in organizational leadership.

I work for a church planting organization in Japan, currently working to start a church in Nagoya (launch the 20th of Dec.!). (I know you know this, but your readers don't.) One thing that is certainly not vague is our vision and purpose as a ministry. We are a church planting ministry. We are not a campus ministry, through campus ministry is good and we may do some. We are not a benevolence ministry, though we will be benevolent people. We want to be as clear as possible that we are and always will be about starting churches in cities that are unreached. That much is clear.

But insistence of clarity of how that gets done has not always been helpful for international church planting. Here's an example. Suppose for instance in the name of clarity, specificity, and not-being-status-quo, we were to decide before we moved to Japan that our method of church planting was to develop a unit of house churches that would start in one of our home's and eventually multiply into many more. And each team member's role would be clearly defined.

I could make this sound really good, and I could impress a lot of missions committee's with such a well thought out and clear picture of how we were going to move forward with our vision. Many missionaries do this.

And then they actually move to that country.

We found that many well meaning missionaries come up with some grand, well thought out, clear plan of action for ministry that sounds great, but the realities of doing work in that particular country do not line up with their crystal clear strategy. And that as a result their work can actually be hindered because of hanging on too tightly to their brilliant and clear strategy.

We had actually thought we would go the direction of house churches before we got here but we wanted to postpone absolute clarity in strategy and roles until we have been here a while and took time to learn the culture and language. We built intentional vagueness into the system for a time. We learned that while house churches have worked well in other Asian countries, because of the specific culture and thinking of the Japanese, house churches don't seem to be the best model. We learned that even though a certain team member would be ineffective in a certain role in America and find it draining, in Japan he thrives on that particular kind of outreach. But if we were to go into our church planting efforts with absolute clarity and specificity we would have missed out on all these things. Instead, we kept the big picture crystal clear, while designing vagueness into the system for a while to determine what is the best way of accomplishing our main task.

So as a general rule I always want to be pressing into more and more clarity for roles, strategy, etc. But I think there is a time for leaders to build intentional and temporary vagueness into the organizational/ministry system to accomplish what should most definitely be clear - why we exist as a ministry.

Sorry about your Cowboys this past weekend. I was rooting for them! Join with me now in rooting for a Longhorn championship!

Andy Rodriguez said...

geez, that was longer than I thought it was going to be. Sorry!