I’m a 10 working for a bunch of 3’s.

This morning I’ll be sharing some thoughts from Bill Hybel’s excellent “Axioms.” with our volunteers.

Today’s chapter is called “Hire Tens.”  When I read the title I had this Sesame Street image.  A humanized number 10 would be greeting people when I walked through the door.  Another one would be serving coffee at the cafe.  A bunch of 10s on the stage leading worship.  You get the idea.

What it means is that there are people who are excellent in every thing we do.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s call that person, who is excellent, a 10.  From one perspective, we would want people who are “10’s” in positions everywhere in our lives.

The problem is that if we ourselves are not 10’s, we won’t tend to attract and keep 10’s.  We won’t attract 10’s mostly through our own insecurities.  Who wants somebody beneath them to do better than them?  Deep down, most of us fear that we are frauds in everything that we do.  Who wants to expose that?

Somebody whose number is lower than us is easy on the ego.  They are easy to manage.  They are easy to control.   For me, I feel a little bit like I’m a little league player asking a pro to play ball with me, when I’m contemplating these decisions.

And even if we overcome this, even if we invite this outstanding specimen to partner with us, it can be hard to keep this person around.   Being the person who is a “10” is hard, when the other people aren’t.  It’s easy to feel limited.  Hemmed in.

Insitutionally, there is a very scary result of all this.

If the person at the top of any group is a “10” and he will only attract people lower than him, the best he’s going to get is 8s or 9s.  If the 8s or 9s only attract people lower than them, all that’s going to be filling those mid-levels in are 6s amd 7s.  If these mid-level folks won’t attract and keep above them, they end up with 4s and 5s.  These 4s and 5s are really the public face of an organization.  Collectively, they have more impact than the 10s and 9s at the top.  This is a bad thing.

There are several things that we have to do to buck this trend.

The first is to always do our best to excel.  One of the ways we do this is by being transparent.  By being open about learning from those who are “under” us.

We have to have the courage to invite people on to our team who might make us feel uncomfortable.  Who might be more difficult to manage.  Who might have better ideas than us. 

Secondly, in whatever position we are in, it’s vital that we serve with humility.   If we’re part of an organization that excels, there will be times that we’re actually better at aspects of what we do than our leader.

In these cases, it’s a tremendous art form to handle ourselves.   There are many things which are so important, it’s down right painful to watch them mishandled.   It’s hard to know that things could be done better.

In my experience, there are numerous ways to do most everything.   In my experience, a team that tries to do things in all these ways at once gets nothing accomplished.  It might be that there is a more efficient way than the way it’s actually being done.  Often times, though, the inferior way is better than everybody doing it their way, even if some of those ways are better.

Sometimes, a leader needs a trusted advisor.  Sometimes, a leader needs a flock of worker bees.  If you’re really a 10, if you’re really great at what you do, you’ll know the difference.  And the way we’re built, most of us, we want to be advisors more than worker bees.  So it’s worth checking our motivations, all the time.

If the leader cares about what we’re doing she’ll seek us out, eventually, if we’re as good as we think we are.  Eventually, we’ll become that leader, if we’re as good as we think we are.

In my experience, nothing reminds of us of our inadequacies as quickly as leadership.  Perhaps it’s just me.  But I can name numerous times that I’ve thought “if only I ran the show, things would be different.”  And when I do run the show… I find out quickly, why things are the way they are.

One of the things that’s central to all this is recognizing who it all belongs to.  It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a secular job, a ministry, our finances, family, or friends.  It all belongs to God.

God could perform all of these things better than the best 10 out there.  If God was only interested in perfect results, He’d simply do all these things himself. 

But he’s interested in growing and shaping us.  He’s interested in partnering with us.  He’s accepted the idea that our performance will never meet what he could do.

If this isn’t an inspiration to get better at what we do, I don’t know what is.  And if this isn’t a model for how we should behave when we’re a 10 and our leader is not, I don’t know what would be.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

3 thoughts on “I’m a 10 working for a bunch of 3’s.”

  1. My new boss- the one two grades above me- is a great example of this.

    I think she hired my direct manager because he’s not a 10. She can manipulate him. She can mold him into what she wants. But my team suffers for it because he’s not the leader that he should be.

    If she had hired a 10, he would be gunning for her job.

    She might be at risk.

    So she went with a yes-man. And our department suffers for it.


  2. You know, Nathan, that’s a pretty interesting point that I missed:
    if we’re underqualified for our job it’s almost rational to grab onto more people who are underqualified for theirs. The net result of course is collective underperformance.
    In some cases the obvious solution is to figure out a way to become qualified. But that might not always be a viable option. I wouldn’t, for example, like to be on the learning curve of a brain surgeon who was working on getting himself up to snuff.
    It leads me to the realization that there’s this moral component to accepting a job. Accepting one that we’re not qualified for almost inevitably will lead to a no-win situation.


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