Leadership Development

When Choosing Between Great and (Potentially) Greater

So I’ve got one last post (for now anyway) on the interesting leadership experiment taking place within the San Francisco 49ers organization.

Earlier this week I posted on what young leaders could learn from Colin Kaepernick — the 24-year old quarterback that has been thrust to the helm of a Super Bowl contender.

I also posted on what established leaders might learn from Alex Smith — the long-time starting QB for the 49ers — who had helped to lead the Niners to a 6-2-1 record this season, before getting injured a few weeks ago, and subsequently been replaced by his back-up.

Today I’d like to focus on the man behind this grand leadership experiment — 49ers head coach, Jim Harbaugh.

I think what I’m most taken with is his willingness to take (what appears to be) such a BIG risk.

Sure, if the Niners were a mediocre team I could better understand this move.

Or if they hadn’t made it to the NFC championship game last year (with the look of a team that will likely do it again this year), I could understand.

But with Smith as the starting QB the Niners have proven to be among the NFL’s elite teams — at least during the past season and a half.

So why take the risk?

Why rock the boat?

Why mess with something that seems to be working so well?


And I think in the answer — whatever it is for Harbaugh — is a key element of what makes him such a successful coach (so far anyway) in the NFL.

Most anyone can make the decisions between good and bad, or even good and great.

But few leaders are typically willing to risk something great — for something potentially greater.

So the next time I find myself in this kind of scenario — because I believe that scenarios like this can present themselves to those of us in ministry leadership as much as they can anyone, anywhere else — here are six things I plan to consider — because it is, indeed, a risk.

Consider the potential benefits

What are the upsides of this decision?

How can this move make us even better than we already are?

Are there ways in which we cannot achieve our goal(s) without this move?

How does this potentially shape (differently) our future — beyond the immediate?

Consider the potential ramifications

How might this move set us back — even temporarily?

How might it impact our team dynamics? Will it potentially damage relationships? If so, are we OK with that? How will we manage?

What will it do to foster trust in the current leadership of the team?

How might it impact or reputation — if it doesn’t end up working out?

Can we recover from this decision — if it doesn’t work out?

Is there an “X” factor?

Do we know everything we need to know?

Are there tangential things that we need to consider before we make this move?

Is there another way of accomplishing our goal(s), without disrupting our current system?

Have we considered ALL of our options as it relates to this move?

Is the risk worth the (potential) reward?

When everything has been placed in the balance and weighed, what do we find?

What — exactly — are we risking?

What — exactly — is the reward attached to this risk?

Is it worth it?

What happens if we’re wrong?

Make your decision — and be confident

In the end, we’ll need to make a decision, and fully get behind it.

Again, the decision to risk giving up something great — for something potentially greater — is much different from the decision to move from bad to good, or good to great.

You’re already in a situation where most everything seems to be working well, and most everyone is happy and on board.

If you’re willing to risk all of that — for something potentially better — then you had better be the biggest cheerleader of this new move.

If we lack confidence in this move, then there’s little reason for anyone else to get on board with it. And this, of course, will lead to no where good.

If everything falls a part — own it

Finally, after this great leadership experiment (and that’s really what it is, isn’t it?) is all said and done, we will know whether or not our risk was the right one to take.

If it’s right, we celebrate everyone who pulled together to assure that the decision made would lead to a successful outcome.

But if it doesn’t succeed…

If it doesn’t all work out in the end — then we need to take the blame. We need to own the decision and we need to be ready to potentially pay the consequences for messing with something that seemed to be doing very well before we decided to introduce our change.


Being a leader puts us in a unique position — often to be able to see things that few others can see, construct (or receive) a vision for how things could be, and to enact some changes that may (or may not) lead to grand success.

But there’s almost always a level of risk involved.

Risk, and a willingness to disrupt the status quo.


QUESTION: What’s your biggest obstacle when it comes to making decisions between great and (potentially) greater?


  • zack

    Guy, i have really liked these posts about the 49ers and what has been going on with them. As a football fan, i have glued to the tv to learn about it.
    Its is facinating thinking about this situation from the different perspectives. Makes me think of several Bibe characters: like Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and the disciples, Paul and Timothy and Titus. Each of them were leading and then gave way to those who would continue to cary the torch.
    Thank you for your thoughts as always. God bless. Peace.