Roger Parrott's The Longview

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The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders

David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


At age thirty-four Roger Parrott became one of the America’s youngest college presidents. Parrott is currently the president of Belhaven College, an innovative liberal arts institution recognized as the leading evangelical college in the Arts. He earned a PhD in higher education administration from the University of Maryland. Parrott serves in leadership of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, Mission America Coalition, and Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He has advised a wide variety of ministries in the US and internationally.

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Product Details:

List Price: $16.99
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434767493
ISBN-13: 978-1434767493


Lead As If You’ll Be There Forever

The heart of the longview does not begin with actions as much as attitude. Imagine that the organization and position you are in right now is what God wants you to do for the rest of your professional life. For many, it might be discouraging to truly feel “locked in” to your job. But contrary to the mantras of popular career gurus, this is one of the best things that could ever happen to you and your ministry, because only from that immobile position will your outlook on leadership be revolutionized.

To live without professional advancement opportunities would, of course, be demotivating and create an unhealthy situation for both you and your ministry. But to lead as if you must remain in that same position forever—and live with the long-term consequences of every decision—will shift your perspective, align your priorities, and build lasting strength in your organization, rather than allowing you to settle for the comfort and accolades of immediate results.

When a leader is thinking, living, and acting in terms of only the short-range, everyone around him suffers and may be handicapped for years to come because the decisions of today will either expand or narrow subsequent options and opportunities. The compounding weight of each shortsighted decision speeds the deterioration of the ministry’s foundation, while a long-term perspective strengthens that substructure for a higher reach in the future.

Longview Decision Making

When President Jimmy Carter held a thirteen-day summit at Camp David in 1978 with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, a formal state of war still existed between the two countries, with Egypt determined to reclaim the Sinai territory seized by the Israelis twenty-two years previously. In the woods of Maryland, these long-hoped-for negotiations came to multiple stalemates. But each time Carter found a way to keep the discussion alive, even though deep-seated mistrust between the two Middle Eastern leaders kept them from talking directly to each other, causing the U. S. President to shuttle between their private cabins, triangulating the dialog.

On the morning of the eleventh day, the arduous process appeared to disintegrate when Prime Minister Begin decided to leave the meetings over the wording of a side letter on the status of Jerusalem. He wouldn’t have his mind changed by the immediate needs of securing the peace in the Middle East and freeing his country from the relentless cycle of violence. But with brilliant insight, President Carter shifted the perspective from the immediate results to the long-term implications: as Prime Minister Begin was packing his bags to leave, President Carter brought to him eight personalized autographed pictures of the three leaders working together, and told the Prime Minister they were for him to take home to his eight grandchildren so they would always remember what the three men had tried to accomplish together. With a new long-term perspective, Begin unpacked and days later signed the Camp David Accords.

Now, while it is certainly true that a decision regarding what is best for the immediate may often be the same as the choice that is best for the future, it is essential that leaders get into the groove of thinking beyond the near horizon. Otherwise, they lose the proper perspective that allows them to consider long-term issues and ramifications.

It is fairly easy to bring about positive short-run change in most organizations. Wise leaders are aware there is always low-hanging fruit for change, and they know how to harvest it to get off to a fast start when beginning in a new position. But when short-term triumphs take precedent over long-term success, those same aggressive leadership skills can deteriorate into selfish decisions, fearful management, and self-deceiving evaluation. And the longer a leader continues in this pattern, the more troublesome the consequences and limiting the solution options. Eventually, a leader can become entrapped in a cycle that demands ignoring the mounting crisis of the future, in order to sustain the appearance of current success.

Measuring Long-Term Ministry Leadership

Relieving your immediate stress cannot guide a decision when the consequences are yours to shoulder long after the applause dies down.
Tough personnel issues are unavoidable if you must live with these people for the rest of your career.
Taking shortcuts to clean up a problem is unacceptable because your challenges will be even tougher in the future if you don’t do it right the first time.
Good stewards of God’s house don’t sweep problems under the rug.

The Short Run Never Works for Long

Here is a vivid way to grasp the problem that short-term perspective brings into your ministry. Think back to that time when you had a great employee who, because of family or career issues, began to seek a new position. The search was not far enough along for you to be brought into the discussion but, mentally, the employee had already moved on—and you knew it.

Even if the job-searching employee was one of your key players, that individual had already been demoted, in your view, from the person around whom you were building a future to one whose contribution was suspect at best.

In that rapid transformation, the only attribute that had changed about the employee was his perspective. He still came to work with the same skill set, same hours, same types of ideas, and same energy. But because his viewpoint was now focused only on the short run, you could not count on him to make decisions that were in the long-term best interest of the ministry. Now multiply that scenario into the life of a CEO or other top leader—not just a rising employee—and consider the potential damage.

A short-term leadership perspective is devastating in ministry, but the impact can be illustrated best in the corporate world, where results are totaled on the bottom line. “As goes General Motors, so goes the country” has been part of the American psyche for generations, and GM was always the most progressive in their innovation for the coming model year and in producing quarterly earnings that impressed Wall Street. But the Japanese automaker Toyota did what the captains of industry once considered impossible—it surpassed the century-long domination of General Motors as the leading automaker.

Could it be that a major factor in the growth of Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda, Subaru, and Mitsubishi is that Japanese leadership expected they would remain with the same company a lifetime? Fifty years ago Toyota’s board and top management implemented a comprehensive plan to accomplish what is being realized today. In contrast, GM’s leadership remained primarily focused on their latest quarterly earnings projections during those same years.

The best leaders understand they should always be held accountable for the long-term before they are rewarded for their immediate results. The pastor who envisions reaching his whole city, will always be more effective than the one who is concerned about making a glowing report at the next conference gathering. A fund-raising professional who desires to build relationships matching donors with their passions will always raise more money than one striving to meet an urgent campaign goal. Over time, even the school administrator who fixes the nagging plumbing problem will be appreciated more than the one who spends that same money to install new carpeting.

In the Harvard Business Review analysis “If Brands Are Built over Years, Why Are They Managed over Quarters?” Leonard M. Lodish and Carl F. Mela explore why short-term thinking dominates business marketing today even though branding is an extremely long-term process. They determined that companies have shifted their focus to quarterly outcomes over long-term success because of three factors. First, there is an abundance of real-time immediate data that allows corporate leaders to measure results in great detail in ways we could not in the past. Second, at the same time, long-term results have become even more difficult to measure, thus pushing the focus to a short-run agenda. And third, the tenure of managers is continually becoming shorter as they see their future linked to demonstrating immediate results.1

Endemic Nearsightedness

It is critical to understand that the root of this pattern does not rest only at the feet of self-serving or short-sighted leaders, because boards and constituencies have allowed organizational success to become measured by quarterly results rather than long-term success. Unfortunately, our culture rewards leaders for such shortsighted decision making. The New Republic reported examples of “Kenneth Lay of Enron pocketing an extra $101 million in the months before Enron’s collapse wiped out shareholders; Bernard Ebbers of WorldCom ‘loaning’ himself $366 million in the months before his cooked books wiped out shareholders; L. Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco paying himself $426 million, from 1998 to 2002, even as his self-serving decisions were wiping out shareholders and driving the company into the ground.”2 Ken Lay, Bernie Ebbers, and Dennis Kozlowski, along with a horde of leaders who never got their name in the paper, were focused on their own short-term accolades instead of the organization’s long-term needs.

The most public firings of CEOs seem to nearly always reflect a pattern of cheers for that leader through a relatively short period of repeated quarterly reports and then a startling discovery by the board of serious foundational issues gone awry. But these same boards have demanded, rewarded, and praised immediate success at all costs. The real irony is that these boards have also learned to solve their crisis with a short-term solution of firing the CEO, rather than doing the hard work needed to correct the foundational issues—and the cycle is likely to repeat down the road.

And then there are the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately employees or constituents that press leaders for decisions that feed the hunger of instant gratification instead of long-term results. From outside the corner office, pressure has mounted for leaders to make decisions only in light of short-run objectives if those choices will boost today’s benefits. The challenge of leadership is balancing the scales to assure ongoing organizational stability while also providing fulfilling opportunities for the stakeholders today.

By ignoring the long-term ramifications of decisions in order to solve the immediate challenge, organizations stockpile future problems and gloss over the most difficult issues. The foundational erosion caused by decisions guided only by short-term vision will eventually undermine or destroy all the good that has been achieved, because the damage will eventually be discovered and will be difficult and costly to repair.

This same pattern holds true in ministry:

We have become focused on measuring the short-term results of our work, i.e. the proposals we write to foundations promise immediate outcomes.

The transformation of lives for the long term is only measured in eternity, and thus it is nearly impossible for us to track the impact of our most significant work.

Boards and CEOs want to hire people who have demonstrated measureable results. But when we overvalue the short-term results that are more easily measured, we in turn reward leaders who produce immediate advances over long-term ministry significance. Accordingly, the most “productive” people are always being tempted to move to a new place of service.

Instead, the commitment to lead with a longview will transform how you approach leadership more so than any other shift you could make. No matter what your tenure horizon may be—whether you are just starting a new job, considering a change, or fast approaching retirement—if you make decisions as if you are will remain in your current position forever, you’ll make dramatically better choices and make them for the right reasons.

Fast Wins Eventually Lose

One of my especially fun projects was starting a football team at Belhaven College several years ago, and building on our successful model, I had a number of college-president friends also launch football programs. One of my peers, who wanted to get started right at his University, hired a coaching staff who were strong Christians, well known in the football world, and wonderfully experienced—they knew their Xs & Os. They recruited talented players, created an intense football atmosphere for the team, generated lots of press coverage, and won football games. What the president didn’t realize at the time was his coaches were focused on gaining attention-grabbing success in order to move on to the big leagues of coaching.

The University discovered over time that the scholarships were overspent, the drop-out rate among players was astronomical, and many of the recruited athletes did not care about the benchmarks of character that were important in attracting students to a Christian school. The president finally overturned a rock exposing how bad it had become when a conference official told him about a horrible intrasquad brawl the coaches were trying to keep under wraps. His “go to” coaches became his “be gone” coaches in a hurry, and the school spent several years sweeping up the mess to build integrity into the program, balance out the money, and quiet the sports bloggers. Interestingly, none of those coaches ever made it in Division I football.

The consequences of not making decisions as if you’ll be there forever will create an unseen and quietly eroding process that always has the same predictable outcome—it is expensive and time consuming to fix. The harm created by near-focused leaders may be imperceptible at first and the impact not be seen for years or sometimes decades to come—but the problems created when leaders are not guarding the long-term future will be complex to solve and will limit the opportunities for sustained success.

What's Your View?

To protect against this crippling pattern, a bit of periodic self-evaluation will reveal your current longitudinal view in leadership responsibilities:

If you knew you could never have a different job, which decisions over the past year might you have made differently?

Do you find yourself putting off a difficult personnel issue or a hard decision in hopes that someone else in the future will have to deal with it instead?

Which of your recent decisions made you feel most proud? Were they made in light of the long-term implications or the short-term impact?

Have you purposefully made decisions recently that were best for the long run, even though another choice would have made you look good in the short term?

What will your legacy with your ministry look like twenty-five years after you are gone?

As you attempt to answer these questions yourself, consider that every leader’s responsibility is to fulfill a calling rather than gratify immediate desires. Jesus taught us the ultimate example of never wavering from a long-term view when we have been called to a purpose. In the garden of Gethsemane He prays, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.… If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me” (Matt. 26:38–39). Although fully God, Jesus was also fully man, and that is the cry of an anguished leader at the crossroads, one longing to give into the short-term options rather than the long-term objective. Had Jesus taken the immediate view and revealed His power, the mockers would have been silenced, His followers’ political dreams would have been accomplished, and the whole world would have been left amazed. But instead, He made a decision from the perspective of forever and prayed, “Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matt. 26:39). And like Jesus, a Christian leader’s proper long-range view must extend all the way into eternity.

Learning to make decisions with the mindset of remaining in your current position forever will change your perspective on all actions and will mandate that integrity, service, and lasting quality are the guiding forces behind your leadership. Along with a determined godly focus of your attitude, one tool to assure you maintain proper perspective is to listen to the people in your organization who have a long-term perspective in their DNA because they never expect to go anywhere else. Becoming a college president at age thirty-four, I didn’t assume my first school in rural Kansas would be my last. But to assure I was always protecting the long-term interests of the institution, I met regularly with a group I privately called “those who will be buried in the local cemetery.” I wanted to be sure that the perspectives of the long-term faculty, who would be part of the school long after I left, were always considered when I made decisions.

The day a leader begins to look at his or her responsibility in terms of a limited future is the day leadership effectiveness begins to spiral downward. This is part of the reason why freshly appointed leaders always discover previously unseen issues that need attention—they know they have to live with the problems if they don’t fix them now. In contrast, leaders who become complacent in a position will tend to make decisions in terms of how the results will shape what they expect their current tenure to be.

Eternal Results

During the modern missions movement God built His church through people who committed themselves to a long-term outlook.

William Carey, the first missionary to India, worked for seven years before he had his first convert.

Adoniram Judson worked for nearly the same amount of time in Burma before he saw his first convert.

Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China, labored for a quarter century and had fewer than a dozen converts.

The missionaries to East Africa in the early 1800s shipped their goods to their new home in coffins because they didn’t expect to return any other way.

These leaders, and thousands whose stories are not remembered, valued the longview significance of ministry over short-run measurable “success.” By tilling the soil for future returns, their results are recorded in eternity.

In an age of mobility and global connectedness, God is not likely to call you to only one place of service during your career. But no matter where He calls you, you need to think, work, live, and commit as if it is the only future God has entrusted to you.

Leaders who base decisions on a long-term perspective may not be as flashy in their immediate results, but they hire better people, build foundations of constituency strength, preserve organizational infrastructure, and leave a legacy that tells the full story of their success.

Great leaders will make decisions on their last day before retirement as if they were going to be in the leadership chair another quarter century

©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. The Longview by Roger Parrott. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.