Seats on the Bus

In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins says, “We expected that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and strategy. We found instead that they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats – and then they figured out where to drive it. The old adage, ‘People are your most important asset’ turns out to be wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are.”

He hit the nail on the head. Ministry is not just all about having people around doing things; it’s also about paying attention to what they are doing as well. Unfortunately, I think this ideas sort of locks many of us up. We think, “How am I supposed to find the exact right seat for everyone?” Ugh. Some of us can hardly figure out where WE fit in, much less trying to figure out which seats on the bus everyone else is supposed to fit.

MY RECOMMENDATION: START WITH SECTIONS.

What if we just started by getting people in the right section of the bus instead? Generally, we have three kinds of people in our church: Creatives, Doers & Leaders. Yes, I know. Sometimes people can be a mixture of one or more of those. But generally speaking, if we know what kind of people we’re dealing with, we can seat them where they fit best and worry about finding their exact seat as time goes on.

The back of the bus – Creatives

Everyone knows that the troublemakers like to sit in the back. If you’re sitting back there, you probably want to be far away from what’s really going on. You aren’t interested in where the bus is going right now. You just want to utilize your creativity to dream, talk, and get into just enough trouble that the bus driver doesn’t notice. 

This is where strategic thinkers and creatives sit. They are big-picture people. They like to try new things. They are sometimes critical thinkers (I didn’t say critical people!) They are the ones you want in the room when you’re dreaming about the future, evaluating how things are going and discussing creative, new things to do or ways to do them. 

These people don’t need a lot of authority to make choices, they just need a platform for their thoughts and ideas to be heard. Great leaders will gather them together to hear them out and learn from them. They also tend to be early adopters, ready to jump in with both feet when it’s time for change.

The front of the bus – Leaders

If you’re sitting at the front of the bus it’s likely because you want to be close to the action. You want to see who’s coming in and out the door. You want to talk to the bus driver. You want to see where the bus is going next and you want to play a part in how you will get there.

This is where the the leaders sit; the ones who make decisions. These are the people in your organization who will actually decide the future and direction of the church. Sometimes the Creatives & the Leaders are the same people. However, often it’s wise to have them sit in a separate section of the bus. Of course, if you’re driving a small bus (a small church/ministry) you don’t always have that luxury. 

In a perfect world, the Creatives come up with some great ideas, feedback and insights and the Leaders can then determine which one’s will work best for the bus based on it’s mission and where it’s going.

The middle of the bus – Doers

If you’re sitting in the middle of the bus you are likely in your own world. You’ve got your iPod in or your just hanging with everyone else in that section. Sometimes you like to listen in on the talk in the back of the bus and sometimes you like to sit near the front to get a feel for the action, without having to be involved. You aren’t cut out for the intensity of the back of the bus and you aren’t really super interested in where the bus is going. You just like being IN the bus.

This is where the doers sit. These are the people who will do whatever is necessary to keep the bus moving and support the vision of the leaders. They are the ones who will dig their heels in and grind out the plans you have made. Your doers don’t make a lot of decisions, and they don’t want to. They do the work based on the decisions that have already been made, and they do it well.

About Your Bus

Here are a few closing observations about how these sections work (or don’t work) in different ‘buses’ or ministries.

  • In my experience, the middle of the bus (Doers) is where the vast majority of people sit, like 90%. There are usually only a few seats in the front and a few seats in the back dedicated to Creatives and Leaders.
  • If a bus has too FEW Doers, it end up coming up with a lot of ideas/plans that never get done. Innovative ideas & new paths don’t get built. The bus doesn’t stop when it should to take on new passengers. It sometimes doesn’t get cleaned properly and needs a fresh coat of paint. You get the idea.
  • If a bus has too FEW Leaders, the bus tends to take loopy circles and gets distracted going places it doesn’t need to go. It also runs inefficiently and needs to spend a lot of time in the shop with repairs. Often, the bus looks great but is going nowhere important.
  • If a bus has too FEW Creatives it takes the path it’s always known, even when there are better paths to take. The bus stays old and eventually becomes uninteresting to prospective new passengers. 
  • The smaller the church, the more Creatives and Leaders have to double up and also be Doers. There is less of a clear demarcation between the different seats.

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2 comments

  • p May 1, 2014   Reply →

    Does any one who has lived through the US civil rights movement have a problem with seats-on-a-bus analogy? Jeez!

    • Wayne Hedlund May 1, 2014   Reply →

      Sorry you find the analogy offensive. It’s not meant to be. To be honest, I was thinking of my kids when I wrote this. My son likes to sit in the back and my daughter likes to sit in the front.

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