3 Devastating Effects when You Fail to Create Great Systems

image by Sanwal Deen from unsplash.com

Most leaders love to think about vision, strategy, goals, and people development. But only a few leaders love to think about systems.

A system is an integrated set of repeatable steps and processes that leads to a desired outcome.

Not many leaders love to think about their systems. But designing and implementing systems is a critical skill for team and organizational leaders. If you fail to create great systems, you will suffer for it.

I learned this the hard way 15 years ago.

My Failure of Systems

In my first job out of seminary, I was the Director of a leadership development program for college students. I was the only full-time staff member with one other part-time staff member and a few student workers. The program invited 35 students each year to live together in dorms while participating in a 4-year training program in Christian leadership development.

In order to select the 35 students, we read hundreds of applications and then interviewed over 70 students in a group format. We had students come in groups of 10–20 and stay overnight while participating in group and individual interviews.

These interviews included multiple systems working together. From delivering applicants’ luggage to their room, to arranging meals for everyone, to organizing meeting spaces, to reading hundreds of applications. All of these systems were supposed to work together to help the program find the best possible students.

Unfortunately, I didn’t value systems.
I wanted to concentrate on casting a compelling vision to the applicants. I didn’t want to think about how their luggage was delivered to their room.

I wanted to woo the applicants to participate in the program. But I didn’t care about putting their files back in the location they belonged so that they would be easily accessible for interviews.

That felt boring to me.

And I learned the importance of systems the hard way.

I made a huge number of mistakes.

I lost applicant files.
I had luggage delivered to the wrong room.
I forgot to reserve meeting rooms, only to discover another group in the meeting rooms I needed.

I created a lot of problems for myself and my co-workers. And I caused tremendous confusion for the applicants, which only added to their interview-nervousness.

All of these mistakes helped me learn three important lessons about systems as a With God Leader.

1. Failure to have great systems sets your vision up for failure.

People may be inspired by your vision of the future. They may believe in your vision. But they want to know how it’s going to happen and where they fit into it.

Systems help turn a vision into reality by defining repeatable steps.

If you fail to identify these repeatable steps and execute them, you set your vision up for failure.

  • Churches that talk about loving people but don’t create an outstanding assimilation system fail to help people feel valued.
  • Restaurants that talk about food quality but don’t create systems for food preparation will fail to deliver consistently delicious food.
  • Hotels that talk about customer service but don’t create great check-in and cleaning systems fail to provide great customer service.

If you care about your vision, then you must care about the systems that will turn that vision into reality.

2. Failure to have great systems devalues people.

I often hear leaders (especially ministry leaders) say, “Leadership is about people. Systems are about tasks. I don’t like to think about systems because it’s not about people.”

Yet my failed experience shows how devaluing systems devalues people:

  • I devalued my co-workers. Every time I failed to put a file back in the right place, I made a co-worker search for it. This rightfully led them to frustration and anger.
  • I devalued my guests. When an applicant came to me and said, “My luggage didn’t make it to my room,” it led to anxiety for them and made them feel unwanted.
  • I devalued the organization. My failure to implement a great system made the entire organization appear scattered, disorganized, and lazy. It created the appearance that we did not care about our applicants.
  • I devalued myself. I created unnecessary and easily preventable problems for myself when I failed to follow the system.

Leadership is about people, but so are systems. Systems create a structure in which we value people as God’s image bearers.

3. Failure to have great systems misrepresents God.

Your leadership reflects the leadership of Christ. It reflects the character of God.

When you look at God’s creation, you see dozens of systems. Your body has immune, muscular, skeletal, digestive, nervous, and respiratory systems (to name a few). God created your body to work as a series of connected systems.

God created the earth with multiple systems.

We often have a misconstrued notion that creativity and order cannot fit together. But order allows creativity to blossom. (Check out Scott Belsky’s Making Ideas Happen for a time management system that incorporates creativity and order.)

The first account of God’s creativity (Genesis 1–2) occurs in the midst of order — God has a rhythm to the “evening and morning.”

In your leadership, systems allow for both order and creativity.

Systems create the order of repeatable steps and processes.
Order creates the freedom necessary to think and produce creatively.

Creativity flows from order. Not from chaos. Chaos stifles creativity.

God exhibits both creativity (Gen. 1–2) and order (1 Cor. 14:33). If you fail to create great systems, you mispresent God.

Systems don’t just make life easier for leaders and their people. They reflect the character and nature of God. With God Leaders who don’t value systems not only make their lives more challenging but also miss out on an opportunity to reflect God’s nature.

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Question: Do you value systems in your leadership? Why or why not?