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Mistake at Netflix: 3 Things We Can Learn

illuminateIt is rare in the corporate world when you hear a sincere apology, but Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO of Netflix, offered one to subscribers this past week.

What’s more, instead of wrapping it in the vagueness of corporate-speak, he started his letter, “I messed up. I owe you an explanation ….” Hastings was responding to customer criticism over how Netflix abruptly separated its DVD and streaming functions and then increased the monthly cost for DVDs from two dollars to ten.

The response by Hastings is a healthy reminder to us that we must lead our congregations with love and humility. Here are three things to take-away:

When you mess up, say so – Don’t tap dance around the issue. Don’t blame other people. Don’t blame your circumstances. Don’t make excuses. Admit your mistake and move forward. The way you respond to your mistakes, particularly the big, costly, embarrassing ones, says a lot about your leadership. Releasing your pride allows grace to flow in.

Don’t make isolated or elitist decisions – This happens more than it should in churches. You get focused on an issue, and as you come up with a plan to fix it, the people become an abstraction (or a “distraction”). In other words, they become numbers to move around, statistics to defend or defy a point, but they are no longer flesh and blood — real people with real problems — in your discussions.

I remember working with a young pastor who wanted to start the church’s Wednesday night activities at 4 p.m. so he could have more time to teach. Perhaps because he’d gone straight from college to seminary to the pastorate, he failed to grasp that most of the working people in the congregation didn’t get off work in time to get to church by four in the afternoon.

The thing that the leadership of Netflix forgot is that their success was based upon living, breathing people who had developed a sense of ownership in the company. The people in your congregation have a sense of ownership in the church, every bit as much as you do. Some of them may have been there longer than you, worked just as hard as you, or sacrificed as much as you for the success of the church. God may tell you to take the church in a new direction, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respect the people you are leading. (Read John Bisagno’s article on facilitating change and the importance of involving ‘people of influence’ within your congregation as you announce change.)

Explain change — Tell people what you are doing, where you are going and why. My experience (from working 31 years in communications) is that when you do not tell people (congregation, staff, family) what is going on, the rumor mill will take control and take you places you never would have imagined. And then you spend a lot of time trying to correct false information (speaking backwards) instead of telling people about God’s vision (speaking forward).

You know those times when you end up in a mess with someone (like your spouse) not because of something you did, but because of how that person found out about what you did? It is like that.

Simple, straight-forward communication that shows you are sensitive to the investments others have made in your congregation will stop a lot of problems before they even get started.

Graphic by John Emery.




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