Our family worked for the Woodwards Department Store for many years. My mother met my father through a Woodwards dance put on for the Air Force servicemen. My sister worked for Woodwards. For one month, I worked for Woodwards at age 17 in Women’s Shoes. I had no idea how complicated it was to find all those hundreds of shoes hidden on massive shelves in the back of the store.
For many years, Woodwards in Oakridge was our favorite walking destination. My mother and grandmother loved Woodwards’ famous $1.49 Day sales to which massive crowds would always flock. Woodwards to me was an unshakable permanent institution that had always been there, and would always be there. It was as Canadian as hockey and maple syrup. Woodwards had been there for one hundred years since Charles Woodwards founded it in 1892. Then suddenly one day it was gone. It had been swallowed by its conforming to the status quo.
In Seth Godin’s bestselling book Tribes, he comments that the organizations that need innovation the most are the ones that do the most to stop it from happening. It is very easy to get stuck, to embrace the status quo, and hunker down. Godin says that this will result in our implosion. Organizations with a future must be willing to be risk-takers, to embrace creativity and innovation.
Godin says that it is not fear of failure that cripples leaders. It is the fear of criticism. No one likes to be publicly criticized. 21st-century leaders need to be willing to get out of the boat and pay the price of going first. In my thirty years as an Anglican clergy, I have sometimes wondered whether I acted too early. At other times, I have been concerned that I was not moving fast enough. Leaders have to be very sensitive to the still small voice. Timing is everything in leadership. We don’t want to rush ahead of God, nor do we want to lag behind.
Godin says that “the largest enemy of change and leadership isn’t a ‘no’. It’s a ‘not yet’. ‘Not yet’ is the safest, easiest way to forestall change. ‘Not yet’ gives the status quo a chance to regroup and put off the inevitable for just a little while longer. Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late….There’s a small price for being too early, but a huge penalty for being too late.” There have been times in my life when the boat almost left and I was not on it. There was a time in North Vancouver when I had to make a tough decision that I personally hoped would just go away. I was stuck in the ‘not yets’. One of my friends sensed this and challenged me to not be a ‘maybe Ed’. When the time came eight and a half years ago, God gave me the courage to push through my ‘not yets’ and my ‘maybes’. The rest is history.
Seth Godin teaches that every tribe needs leaders. Managers make widgets and create bureaucracies and factories. Leaders have followers and make change. The secret of leadership according to Godin is simple: “Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there.” One of my most palpable fears as a teenager is that I would end up stuck in a job that I would hate and have no way out of. In my thirty years as a clergyperson, I have often felt overwhelmed and inadequate for the task, but I have never regretted devoting my life to serving others as an Anglican priest.
As the leader of St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver, I have seen many changes and challenges over the past 23 years. One of the reasons I am still at St. Simon’s NV is because of the climate of innovation built into its DNA. Our lay leaders are passionate, committed, and sold out to Jesus Christ. I admire deeply their willingness to risk all in order to be faithful to their mission and calling. Seth Godin says that ‘The safer you are with your plans for the future, the riskier it actually is.” Leadership is a choice: a choice to risk all to be faithful to the vision of a better future. The very nature of leadership, says Godin, is that you’re not doing what’s been done before.
We live in a culture that worships size, buildings and money. Many of the Woodwards of yesterday have become the dinosaurs of today. No organization is immune, no matter what its numbers, facilities or financial resources. If we refuse to innovate, we choose to die. Remarkable visions and genuine insights, says Godin, are always met with resistance. And when you start to make progress, your efforts are met with even more resistance. The forces for mediocrity will align to stop you. Never give up.
Criticizing hope, says Godin, is easy. Fearful bureaucrats can always say that they’ve done it before and it didn’t work. But cynicism is a dead-end strategy. Without hope, there is no future to work for. Godin observes that without passion and commitment, nothing happens. So often no one in an organization really cares; no one deeply believes in the bigger vision. No one is willing to sacrifice so that breakthroughs can happen. Real leaders are willing to pay the price. Real leaders are willing to risk all for the greater good. Real leaders care. I challenge each of us reading this article to come up to the plate and choose to be a real leader. Say no to the status quo.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-an article previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada
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