I’ve started reading a troubling book by Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great. His latest research project looks at the other side of the hill - How the Mighty Fall – and the book dissects the pathology of decline. It happens in 5 stages.
First, ‘hubris born of success.’ The very success of a company leads to a kind of overconfidence and a turning from asking the penetrating questions to try to understand why things are going on, to a superficial rhetoric of success (we’re a success because we do this), and because successful enterprises have momentum, things can go well for quite a while.
Stage 2: This hubris from stage 1 can lead straight into the second stage, which is ‘the undisciplined pursuit of more’. This stage is marked by a straying from discipline and creativity to undisciplined leaps. It turns out that the biggest issue facing companies is not complacency ie. not changing adequately in time. Rather, far more dangerous is overreaching, too much change of the wrong kind without proper analysis and discipline, particularly where there is an obsession with growth.
The third stage is ‘denial of risk and peril’. This is a stage of denying serious internal warning signs, particularly if things are still looking fairly good in a superficial and external way. It’s the lack of critical analysis (and certainly self-criticism) which leads away from the hard-nosed, fact-based dialogue which characterises high performance teams, and to a dangerous taking of risks that are unsupportable.
Stage 4 is ‘grasping for salvation once things start going really bad’. When the inevitable occurs and a company finds itself in very serious trouble, there is a very big question: what will happen next? Sometimes, this re-invigorates discipline, but so often at this point Collins notes the companies he talks about grasp at saviours, charismatic visionaries, bold but untested strategies, radical transformation or dramatic cultural revolution or some ‘game-changing’ acquisition. But this grasping at silver bullet solutions can only make matters worse, which leads to:
The last stage, stage 5, ‘capitulation to irrelevance or death’. Bad!
A Diocese (or for that matter, a church) is not a company, and the rules are slightly different. However, it’s ringing warning bells for me!
PS it’s no answer to say that God is the sovereign Lord of the church. That is absolutely true! But it may be that in his sovereign Lordship, he allows particular churches / denominations, once mighty, to fall. He has in the past.