“They’re great players but not necessarily great partners.”
That was Paul Azinger’s zinger describing this year’s United States Ryder Cup team: great individual players but poor partners. Every game-changer movement has been the product of partnerships, but not just any old kind of network. There’s an essential feature that is largely absent in the American faith community. This might explain why there are many individual ministries but few effective partnerships.
For those unfamiliar with the Ryder Cup, it’s a team competition between Europe and the United States held every two years. On the first day of this year’s tournament, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson were both off the green and in danger of losing the hole. Both took aggressive swings. Both overshot the pin. They lost the hole. It wasn’t until Monday’s singles matches that the Americans rallied, eventually losing to the European team by a score of 14½ to 13½. It wasn’t that long ago U.S. teams hardly ever lost.
From 1927 to 1982, the United States dominated the Ryder Cup. Then Tony Jacklin was offered the job of European Ryder Cup captain. “My first instinct was to tell them to stuff it.” Jacklin knew the players generally ignored the captain and called their own shots. But he took the job and instituted a hierarchy. Now he called the shots. During his tenure as captain from 1983-89, Jacklin led Europe to two victories, including the first ever win in the U.S. He remains the most successful Ryder Cup captain in history.
Tony Jacklin changed the game by making the European Ryder Cup team function more like a hierarchical organization. Great individual players became great team partners. This reality—that great partnerships and networks operate as hierarchical organizations—often gives Americans, especially the faith community, the heebie-jeebies. Consider, for example, the “faith and work” movement.
According to one observer, there are over 1,000 “faith and work” ministries worldwide. That’s not a typo. Most are headquartered in the United States, but throughout the world there are over 1,000 organizations focused on “faith and work” according to one observer of the cultural landscape. When a friend of mine asked him how much collaboration exists between these ministries, he paused a long time and then replied: “My gosh, you’ve hit the nail on the head. There’s not much at all.” Why is this so?
Faith ministries often struggle to secure their own funding and are therefore protective of their donor base. To maintain this base, most ministries call their own shots and highlight their own successes. Collaboration would mean forming a partnership that operates as a hierarchical organization with someone else—a captain—calling the shots. Our observer of the “faith and work” scene can’t see this happening at the moment.
The irony is today’s high-performing leaders, companies, and athletic teams operate as hierarchical organizations. In the late 1980s, David McClelland and David Burnham began to notice a profound shift in what motivates high-performing leaders and companies. For decades, the top-down, directive, institutional leadership profile was most effective. They call it Imperial leadership, where an organization calls the shots and tries to get others to do what it thinks is needed to accomplish the goals. The hallmark of this form of influence is a drive to have a recognized impact.
But beginning in the early 1980s, Imperial leadership was no longer predictably producing top quartile business results or high employee morale. Between 1992 and 2005, McClellan and Burnham studied 90 successful and 90 average leaders in eight countries among 18 companies. By a large margin, leaders producing top quartile results were now operating by a different type of motive. McClellan and Burnham call it InterActive leadership, where organizations work together in creating the conditions that motivate everyone to achieve organizational goals that make a difference. The hallmarks of this form of influence are empathy and teamwork. But it requires a captain or coordinator who turns individual players into great partners. It takes a Norm Chow.
Norm Chow served as Brigham Young University’s offensive coordinator from 1982 to 1999, during which time he helped coach the Cougars to their only national title in 1984. Chow later was the offensive coordinator at the University of Southern California, where he helped USC win the 2003 Associated Press National Championship. His role effectively made the team a hierarchical organization—the other coaches reported to him.
The effectiveness of InterActive leadership explains the allure of one of my favorite old shows, “Mission Impossible.” Peter Graves played Jim Phelps, the captain. Barbara Bain was Cinnamon Carter, a top fashion model and actress who brought brains and savvy to the team. Greg Morris was Barney Collier, a mechanical and electronics genius and owner of Collier Electronics. Peter Lupus played Willy Armitage, a world record-holding weight lifter. Martin Landau was Rollin Hand, a noted actor, makeup artist, escape artist, and “master of disguise.” Each was a gifted player in their own right and ran their own businesses but became great partners under a captain, Jim Phelps.
The effectiveness of InterActive leadership also underscores Malcolm Gladwell’s critique of social media in The New Yorker. He writes that the features of effective partnerships are absent in today’s social media, in platforms such as Facebook. “We are told that the new tools of social media have reinvented social activism. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns.”1 Not true says Gladwell.
He cites the civil rights movement—as opposed to Twitter—as an effective partnership. It’s a bit of a straw man argument since, in most cases, social networks have never been perceived as effective tools for inducing partnerships and accountability. But Gladwell does make an important distinction between traditional activism and its online variant: effective partnerships are hierarchical organizations. In the 1960s, the N.A.A.C.P. was a centralized organization, run from New York according to highly formalized operating procedures. Gladwell cites Aldon D. Morris’ study, “The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement,” that shows individuals were held accountable for their assigned duties, and important conflicts were resolved by the minister, who usually exercised ultimate authority over the congregation. Facebook and Twitter are not hierarchical organizations. There is no single central authority for controlling the network. No one calls the shots. Social media can produce some players but no great partnerships.
The reality that InterActive leadership is most effective requires real wrestling with current arrangements, including how this one, The Clapham Institute, operates. Even a small organization can become arrogant and assume that “we do it differently (and better) than everyone else, so we can’t really collaborate unless we call the shots.” We might have given off these kinds of airs in the past, but no more. We need partnerships under captains who strategically deploy human and financial resources to change the world. Otherwise, we’ll keep repeating the American Ryder Cup mistake.
Mickelson and Johnson’s mistake was calling their own shots. The smart, strategic move is one partner sacrificing his shot and simply hitting his ball on the green while the other hits aggressively for the pin. But that requires a captain calling the shots. The British press sensed that the Americans pretty much ignored their captain, Corey Pavin, dubbing him “Snorey” Pavin. The European team on the other hand functioned more like a hierarchical organization. Their captain, Colin Montgomerie, called the shots. That might explain why the Europeans have won so many Ryder Cups since 1982.
“Getting’ good players is easy,” observed the old baseball manager, Casey Stengel. “Getting’ ‘em to play together is the hard part.” What will it take for the American faith community to collaborate in partnerships and networks that operate as hierarchical organizations with a captain calling the shots? It’s a question worth considering, since changing the world is much more difficult than winning the Ryder Cup.
1 Malcolm Gladwell, “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted,” The New Yorker, October 4, 2010, pp. 42-49.