Q.  It would seem to me that in our ever-changing environment, innovation is a must for leaders. Would you agree? Why or why not?

I fully agree, with a caveat: we must be cautious and wise. Innovation could be defined as a "new idea, device, or method." As Executive Leaders, we must be routinely innovating; or more appropriately, we must be continually discerning the innovative ideas generated by our teams. Just because an idea, device, or method is new does not mean it is right. Even when we determine it is right, the question of sequence emerges. Is it right for our team to implement right now?

Innovation, risk taking, creativity, idea sharing, best practice sharing… these are all worthy disciplines that have their place in YFC, but they are not all the same. Historically, I have grouped these concepts together too generically, and I suspect others have, too. 

For example, I love our culture of open-handed idea sharing. There is this sense in YFC that if one leader is experiencing success that anyone else in the movement can ask for it for free. But idea sharing is not the same as best practice sharing. Best practices are researched, studied, proven, and canonized. I look forward to the day when we can accelerate and circulate ideas and best practices in YFC. Both are useful, but they should carry a different weight to the Executive Leader. 

Q.  When you think about innovation in leadership… what does innovation mean to you?

About a year ago, Bill Housley exposed me to the Gartner Research models (http://www.gartner.com/technology/research/methodologies/), which, among other insights, suggests that the most innovative leader has (a) completeness of vision and (b) ability to execute.

The best innovators I know are also focused and disciplined.

Q.  Can you share some examples, either at the chapter level or at the national level, where you see innovation being used to improve the movement of YFC?

Locally, Scott Arnold in Columbus comes to mind. He has launched dozens of creative ways to reach kids inside of the five City Life domains. But Scott always attaches measurable outcomes and impact. He has earned the respect of major giving partners, foundations, and civic leaders with his ability to articulate and prove the outcomes along the way. 

Nationally, I see Brian Muchmore do this every day with the Cities Initiative. His process involves a thorough chapter assessment (peer driven), a strategic planning session, an action letter summarizing the innovation needed, and follow-up assist visits to aid in execution. It is one of the most effective processes I have ever witnessed. I am convinced that we will reach thousands of more kids for Christ as a result of this faithful, difficult work being accomplished by many Executive Leaders in our movement. 

Q.  Pretend like you are talking to an Executive Director who has been in the trenches for 2-3 years. They are facing some significant challenges in their ministry. They know they need to make some changes, but they just don’t feel like they are ready to step out and implement some of these changes… what would you say to them?

I’d say “don’t go it alone.” Strengthen the team around you and go after a bold vision together. Organize a prayer team that will cover you throughout the process. Find a mentor (locally or remote) who has done it before. If you’re married, check with your spouse first to make sure you both have the resolve to weather the difficult task ahead. Maybe this change requires strengthening your board first. If that’s not possible, recruit an “advisory team” of proven, trusted leaders and lean on this group to accomplish the change together. 

I’d also say “subdivide the grand objective into small victories, and share those with your team along the way." You will need these small celebrations, especially when critical voices rise along the way. 

Finally, spend 2/3 of your effort planning, preparing, and fundraising (sometimes quietly!) for the change. Even if you end up needing to make changes to your plan, have a written plan that carries the idea through to completion. "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” (Abraham Lincoln). 

Q.  Have you read or seen anything (blog, book, youtube video, etc.) that has encouraged you to be creative and innovate? Can you share a couple with us.

  • Dan Palotta’s TED Talk, “The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong,” really rocked my world (https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pallotta_the_way_we_think_about_charity_is_dead_wrong?language=en). Fair warning: He does not approach the conversation from the same worldview we, as YFC leaders, will. His challenge must, of course, be applied with absolute integrity, and there are plenty of examples of non-profits that have abused their finances. That doesn’t make him wrong; it just reminds us that sin can strangle any approach.
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