Are You Uniquely Better?

Are You Uniquely Better?

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018 - 11:00am

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining Stephanie Meeks, the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in a “fire side” chat at the Participate Social Capital 2018 Conference in Alexandria, Virginia. After our talk, which focused on the long-standing partnership between American Express and the National Trust, we listened to the Cause Keynote, which was delivered by Gary Haugen, the CEO and Founder of International Justice Mission, an organization focused on the eradication of modern day slavery.

In Haugen’s address, he spoke of an inspirational figure who had caused him to see things differently within his organization. That leader is Andy Stanley, who founded North Point Ministries, a network of six churches in Atlanta and 30 churches around the globe, 20 years ago. Stanley’s concept, which is reflected in the title to this blog posting, is focused on why organizations are founded and why they sometimes fail.

According to Stanley, organizations are often founded because they have a uniquely better product or service that they can offer. Founders believe that no one else is doing what they want to do, and the only way to accomplish their dream is to start something unique. But, over time, other people start doing what they’re doing, and all of a sudden they’re not only not unique, but their organization is also not uniquely better. In fact, someone is probably already examining their business model and is designing an organization or product or service that is uniquely better.

Stanley asserts that the more successful your organization, the less likely it is that you’ll even recognize “uniquely better” when it comes along because it will play by different rules. So, the best hope that organizations have is to develop leaders who can recognize “uniquely better” rather than resisting it.

Stanley lays out four ways that leaders can look for and recognize “uniquely better”:

  • Be a student, not a critic. Never criticize something that you don’t understand. The moment you start criticizing something you don’t understand, you stop learning. When you stop learning, you stop leading.
  • Keep your eyes and mind wide open. Listen to outsiders who aren’t bound by your internal assumptions. If you shut your mind, you also close the minds of people around you. The innovators will leave and take their ideas with them; only the status quo-ers will stay.
  • Replace How with Wow! The moment someone asks how (how are we going to pay for it, how are we going to do that?), the creative idea dies. It costs nothing to lean in and say Wow!, and by doing so you might just catch the next big idea.
  • Ask uniquely better questions. Ask “Is this unique?” “What would make it unique?” “Is it really better?” If you are pursuing the uniquely better, you will be pre-disposed to see it.

These are powerful lessons for leaders of companies, foundations, not-for-profits and CSR programs. How often do you criticize an idea before you really understand it? How often is the status quo cherished over change? How often do older generation leaders in your organizations shut down younger generation ones?

Are you curious about what you don’t know or dismissive of it? Are you constantly learning or complaining? Do you lean in or lean back?

While every organization and leader can’t be an island, you can strive to be both unique and uniquely better!

If you have a comment or question, please follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and start a conversation there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog posting with friends and colleagues.  



Jocelyn Seidenfeld
+1 (212) 640-0555
American Express