Leaders deal daily with complex issues. Because they have the context as well as the ability to think conceptually, this is often second nature to them. Unfortunately, those they try to communicate their ideas to often find the complexity confusing. And what is confusing cannot be grasped by those who need to understand it.

Ministry or business is complex. Complexity is confusing. The job of a leader is to simplify complexity.

Simplifying complexity so that people can grasp a concept or paradigm is one of the hardest tasks a leader often faces. Especially for those leaders who love complexity and whose minds naturally move toward complexity. But if the average individual cannot grasp your concept or paradigm, it is difficult to move in the direction that is desired. It results in confusion rather than in clarity.

There is also the desire by many leaders to share everything they know or have thougth through with those they are selling an idea to. The reality, however, is that much of that complexity is not important. What is important is the underlying principle to the complexity that people do need to understand. 

A good example of this principle can be found in the negotiations between the United States and Russia during the Reagan administration over nuclear weapons. This was a very complex and complicated issue that almost did not come to a settlement. But it did and President Reagan's statement explained the concept to the public exceedingly well: "Trust but verify."

Those three words took immense complexity and work and explained the concept brilliantly. So succinct was that expression that it has found a way into our vocabulary. In three words a much larger story was told. But in a way that the average individual could understand. It became the guiding principle for the agreement that took place. 

In the church I serve, we have a deep commitment to becoming a church that is friendly and accessible to everyone. That means no matter what their age, their background, their race, their socio economic status or anything else that might define them, they are welcome here. This is not an easy task and there is a great deal of complexity that goes into making this a reality. However we can articulate that complexity with simplicity: "A church for everyone and anyone."

Simplicity also builds culture. When staff talk about a church for everyone and anyone, the simple statement reminds them of a commitment that is fully understandable: it means something. And the simple statement is becoming a part of the culture of the church. Complexity does not build culture. Simplicity can!

One of my rules is that if something cannot be explained on one sheet of paper it is too complex and will not be remembered. It is one thing to do the hard work to arrive at a paradigm that you want to embrace. It is another to simplify that paradigm so that everyone can grasp it easily. It is the difficult construction of an idea and the necessary deconstruction in order to make it understandable.

If something in your organization cannot be easily explained, is not remembered or is not lived out, ask yourself if it has been simplified in a way that is memorable and easy to explain. If not, do the work of simplifiying complexity.

In my book, Leading From the Sandbox I show how an entire organization's purpose, values, culture and central focus can be articulated with one picture. 

  • Nov 14, 2020
  • Category: News
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