Mark Rutland, Relaunch: How to Stage an Organizational Comeback (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook, 2013), 206 pages.
A walk in the clearance section (because I hate paying full price) of my local Lifeway Christian bookstore led me to the present volume on leadership. The price, packaging, and presentation of this David C. Cook book persuaded me to purchase it. I am very thankful I did and now I feel I’m playing catch up on leadership insights from Dr. Mark Rutland.
Dr. Mark Rutland has 13 books under his belt that can be obtained in many formats, and he also maintains an active teaching, humanitarian and blogging presence through his National Institute of Christian Leadership and Global Servants organization. In Relaunch, Rutland provides insights into his ministerial roles as Associate Pastor (Mt. Paran Church of God) and Senior Pastor (Calvary Assembly of God), and his presidential posts (Southeastern University, Oral Roberts University). These experiences serve as a springboard to show his credibility to speak to leaders about the core issues of turnaround leadership in a variety of settings.
ReLaunch: A Survey
ReLaunch is about turnaround leadership. It is comprised of 14 chapters, arranged in three parts followed by an epilogue all wrapped within 206 pages. In Part 1 (chapters 1-4), Rutland casts a common sense vision for understanding the intangible nature of leadership. Leadership is, in a nutshell, the art and skill to understand an organization’s goal and dream and to connect all its actions into realizing the dream, so that when the leader’s work is “done” the organization is in a better position for the next person to lead. Leadership then is to make the dream a reality by being the everyday “driving force” behind this achievement. Here, Rutland spends some time surveying key experiences within three organization’s turnarounds (Calvary Assembly of God, Southeastern University, and Oral Roberts University).
In Part 2 (5-11), Rutland articulates and sets forth seven steps which are critical to turnaround leadership within a failing organization. Turnaround leadership, according to Rutland, cannot be accomplished without facing institutional reality and communicating the organization’s vision relentlessly top to bottom (Steps 1-2). Turnaround leadership must focus on alignment for the organization within the correct niche market, by its message, and through the most effective medium (Step 3). This requires creating an executable strategy by finding which system within your organization that can make the most impact (Step 4). Rutland demonstrates that in a turnaround you must either restore or create the organization’s dream and this is done by shifting its internal culture so that its members can support the organization’s promise to the world (Steps 5); moreover, this fuels the need to keep an eye on quality, which is to say it that the organization clearly delivers what it publically promises (Step 6). Finally, Rutland underscores the psychological importance of measuring and celebrating success within a turnaround because these actions promote meaning and value, and generate higher levels of positive energy within the members of the organization as they drive towards turnaround (Step 7).
In Part 3 (12-14), Rutland closes ReLaunch with a section on how to build a turnaround team. I believe these chapters alone would be worth the purchase of the book. The premise upon building a turnaround team is to have the proper alignment within the organization. In such a case, adding new members (“hiring”) which fit the goals, vision, and culture of the turnaround is critical because, otherwise, you are starting “the old cycle over again.” This boils down to finding the right person, at the right time, for the right reason (“job”). Rutland spends time developing a system he uses to put the right people in the right roles (his helpful Finder-Binder-Minder-Grinder system). Unfortunately, the changes which take place during a turnaround are hard for the established members (employees, board members, volunteers, etc.) of the organization. Rutland discusses, then, the last resort a turnaround leader must face when preexisting employees can not adjust – he talks about the troubling art of firing. Rutland shows compassionate insight. It is important to clearly promote your new vision and continue to hold everyone accountable to this turnaround goal to recapture the old dream (or create a new one). He counsels, “Some can make the change. Some can be retrained. But not everyone can make the turn.” Finally, Rutland address the importance of forming a board and sketches the difference between an emotional (undependable) board, a legalistic (robotic; holds to if-then thinking) board, and a holistic (balances the tensions found in emotional/legalistic thinking) board. Rutland praises those boards which respect their limits, supports their leader’s role in the organization, and “empowers” their leader to do their best.
ReLaunch ends with the Epilogue where Rutland speaks to the inner life of the turnaround leader. It is honest, frank, and interwoven with experience of a leader who has “nosedived” and had his own inner turnaround within his life and family. Rutland warns that a leader must keep pushing forward and never fall into the trap that defeat or victory are final experiences. Also, leadership is costly because it is all-consuming: “There is always a cost.” I found a sense of great depth when Rutland discusses “the most important truth” he has learned: to be a healthy leader, “stay free in God’s hand.” In other words, be willing to take the roles you are “called” into, execute its duties faithfully, but understand that you do not need to have it; moreover, learn that you can be “good” (acceptance) if you have to leave that role. Your identity should not be tied to your role, but instead, tied to your God.
Strengths and Weaknesses
ReLaunch is about turnaround leadership and Rutland succeeds in providing the key principles and steps which can deliver what he himself has accomplished and promises – turnaround. Rutland clearly articulates, with a narrator’s voice, addressing the philosophical terrain of turnaround realities. There is no fluff in this book, it is direct honesty, based on real life examples and personal illustrations. If anything, ReLaunch provides excellent insights on how to point out the turnaround benchmarks when discussing the future of your congregation, school, and organization. This is not a book on theory alone, but practice, and framed by someone who has lived on the front lines. The seven steps are “shovel ready” and awaits a bold leader to employ them when faced with the need to stage an organizational comeback. ReLaunch is a real book for real leaders.
I found the leadership insight focused as Rutland epitomizes his definition of leadership as tethering all of an organization’s parts to its dream and goals. This is particularly displayed in this compassion and awareness when discussing hiring and firing team members during the turnaround. Also, Rutland’s experience with working with a board demonstrates the common problems felt not only in the business world but also in the church. It illuminates that even within churches elderships (“boards”) may not always embrace a healthy culture (emotional, legalistic). Too many times, we tie such roles with a right to be right, but Rutland shows that boards and elderships may be vulnerable to being imbalanced. Rutland is spot on.
If I had to make a critique regarding ReLaunch it would be in terms of its top-down leadership approach (as assumed in the book) and its application to the leadership model of the church as revealed in the New Testament. Dr. Rutland assumes the equivalent role of pastor and preacher which is common in many circles of Christendom. The New Testament does not make these equivalent roles, instead, a pastor (= elder, overseer) is a distinct responsibility that applies to a very uniquely qualified man, as he serves within a group of other men of equal caliber. This does not apply to the role of preacher or evangelist. This is not to say that mentors cannot shepherd their fellow believers, but in terms of a distinct church role the terms are not equivalent. Still, this does not undermine the richness and essence of the book, but it does begin the leadership discussion from a different point than the New Testament. Rutland would probably disagree with that assessment.
Of course, Rutland addresses a readership from a broad spectrum. ReLaunch is not specifically a church leadership book, it is a book which may apply to a ministerial context like mine among churches of Christ. Nevertheless, the preacher often finds the need to be Chief Culture Officer (CCO) of the congregation; consequently, a preacher can within their role help lead an organizational comeback with the cooperative efforts of their overseeing eldership. But, as Ron Clark observes, “few books are written specifically for ministers about our style of ministry” where the pastor and the preacher are distinct ministries in the body of Christ. Clark observes that most church leadership material is based upon church models which are dissimilar to churches of Christ, or based upon business models which have been given a Christian spin. Again, this is not to say the principles are not applicable, nor does this speak to the quality of ReLaunch. The quality of the content of the book exceeded my expectations.
Aside from the exception and critique provided above, Dr. Mark Rutland provides a leadership model that is exceptional. An administrator, board member, president, father and mother, elder, preacher, deacon, and if there be anyone in between can yield a great deal of practical wisdom for a turnaround in their public professional lives but also in their private lives. The principles in ReLaunch and their capacity to effect meaningful change has broad application.
I would recommend this book to every leader in any context. I would also recommend ReLaunch to every incoming preacher entering an established church, to every incoming administrator entering a new organization. I would also recommend this book to every elder and leader who believe their church, ministry, or organization is in decline. The truth is, every organization needs to ReLaunch at times. We must at times create a new dream, but most of the time we must recapture the dream and relaunch to do so. Jesus even told the church in Ephesus to relaunch, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Rev 2:4-5 ESV).
- Rutland says, “Some dream well. Some define well. Others may tether well or excel at organizing. The art, though -the great craft of leading others- is the connection between the dream, its proclamation, and making the dream the driving force of everything that is done” (23).
- Rutland warns, “You can’t let the people who are devoted to the old ways do the hiring, or else you’ll just start the old cycle over again. You’re cultivating the soil in which your new vision and culture can grow” (161).
- Rutland counsels, “when you are honest about your expectations, and your team members are honest about their ability and their commitment, parting ways doesn’t have to be a crisis or a drama. In the end, you have to articulate exactly what you expect from your employees. You have to hold people accountable. If you’re going to turn a ship, there are going to be people who did things a certain way to get them into this mess. Some can make the change. Some can be retrained. But not everybody can make the turn. You need to communicate this to your staff long before it becomes an issue” (174).
- Rutland frankly says, “There is always a cost. If we don’t consider it before we begin to lead, then the cost may catch us by surprise midcourse. Emotional and mental exhaustion can lead to a dangerous level of toxicity” (198).
- By Christendom I mean to describe all religious groups (denominations, non-denominations, etc.) which historically follow Jesus of Nazareth as God’s Messiah (Christ), and accept the Bible as the revealed word of God. I make a distinction between Christendom and the Christianity revealed in the New Testament and supported by the Hebrew Scriptures.
- I have written several essays in connection to elders, overseers (“guardians”), and pastors. They are available on my blog: “‘Is the Pastor In?’: A Brief Look at a Misnomer,” “Guardians of the Church: A Reading of 1 Timothy 3:1-7,” and “Organizing God’s House in 1-2 Timothy and Titus.”
- Ron Clark, Emerging Elders: Developing Shepherds in God’s Image (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2008), 9; Jovan Payes, “Book Review: Emerging Elders,” BiblicalFaith.wordpress.com.
- English Standard Version of the Holy Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001).