Strange Leadership: An Interview with Greg Atkinson

Leaders are strange. Strange Leadership is…well…strange.

Some leaders show their peculiarity by their lack of results and actual leadership. Others push their organization to think in innovative ways.

Strange Leadership

I recently interviewed Greg Atkinson, author of a new book called, Strange Leadership: 40 Ways to Lead an Innovative Organization. His book contains various sections geared towards helping the leader think in an innovative way in his or her context. Atkinson makes sure to avoid pushing a cookie cutter approach onto others. In a sense, he allows for strange leadership.  

See below for a list of questions I asked Greg regarding his book and strange leadership in general. The answers to the questions are his answers:

1) Why the title Strange Leadership?

I started writing the book almost four years ago. The original title was “The Birth of Innovation” but I wasn’t sure about it. As I thought about the book more, I looked up the word “new” and then one of it’s synonyms was “strange.”

A light bulb went off in my head. Many leaders in the past have certainly seen themselves as strange. Think about Noah and how strange he would have felt as he constructed the ark. Think about all those who innovate and envision new ideas that noone has ever thought of. Although we weren’t not intending for it to be related to the current discussion on Strange Fire, I think the introduction will explain the motivation behind our decision to focus on strange leadership.

2) Who is the book written for?

The book is inclusive of anyone involved in leadership in a non-profit but the specific focus of this book is church leaders such as pastors. Some of the people who could most benefit from the book are those people who have never seen themselves as innovative.

Think about the innovative churches out there. What do we often do? We go out and copy them. But that isn’t innovation. That is imitation. We need to assess our own context, stop imitating others, and see where God leads us to innovate based on who we are and where we are serving.

When I think back to books like Experiencing God by Blackaby, I see that innovation best occurs when we find where God is at work and joining him. If a pastors feels he is in a dull season or his ministry is in maintenance mode, this book could light a fire under the pastor.

3) What type of churches could benefit from this book?

I talk about all sorts of churches in the book. I did not write the book for any one type of business, organization or church but for any leader in any context who would like to innovate and investigate how to best serve God.

4) How would a pastor utilize the book with a team?

A pastor could potentially take the discussion guide and go through a 40 week (or less) process with a team. The chapters are short. From beginning to end, the book talks about prayer and seeking God’s direction. It doesn’t prescribe what you are supposed to do. The book discusses more about a mindset that you can use to approach leadership and innovation in your unique context.

What I have learned is that innovation is not a magic pill. You have to become sensitive to the 40 ways that I discuss. If you do this, you are more likely to be attentive to ways in which you can innovate and improve your leadership.

5) What are 5-10 of the 40 ways that you can lead an innovative organization?

Great question. A while back I started giving speeches about 5 ways innovation can happen in an organization. But then a pastor would come up and give me an additional idea. See below for some of the 40 ways which are also some of the ideas share with me by numerous humble pastors seeking to help me flesh out my thinking.

A. Decision – If you don’t make a decision to grow, you will never grow. I talk about making the decision to follow God wherever He leads and whatever the cost.

B. Desperation – Church plants are in desperation mode and struggling to get off the ground. Declining and established churches are also in desperation mode and struggling to stay afloat.

C. Subtraction – One of my favorite books of all time is Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. People think about adding more and more ministries. For leaders oftentimes, the best thing they can do is to eliminate something. The greatest thing you can do is to put your finger on what God is not using anymore and set it aside. Be careful making this a quick fix though because taking away something often affects other people.

D. Inspiration – What are the things that add wind to your sails? I describe in great detail the things that inspire me. Michael Card’s book Scribbling In the Sand is also helpful here.

E. Intersection and Execution – I saved the best chapter for last. Actually the last 5-6 are some of my favorite. There is a chapter on intersection and how things often line-up. If you don’t act on your ideas and bring them about, they will just be a collection of ideas and not something that makes an impact.

F. Situation – God used a door getting shut at Seacoast Church to force Greg Surratt and others to create a video venue. Often the situation leads us to innovation.

G. Frustration – TD Jakes once said, “Your misery is your ministry.” The very thing that frustrates you the most may be the one thing that God wants to use to teach you and to grow your organization. Don’t write off the staff member who drives you crazy. Ask how you can better leverage their strengths and abilities.

6) What advice do you have for a strange leader who constantly innovates? For a leader who seems himself as dull/boring? 

If you are a strange leader, continue following God where he leads and doing innovative things in ministry. Being a strange leader is a beautiful thing and I want to see many more of them.

If you are a dull or boring leader, I wrote this book to call you back to prayer and your relationship with God. Prayer shouldn’t be something we add to meetings but it is the meeting. Chris Hodges once said, “You can’t delegate prayer.” You have to pray as a leader and I hope this book lights a fire under other leaders.

7) What else would you have to share?

I was helping my son to learn how to ride a bike. My son said, “Dad, just hold me and help me until I get it and then let go.” That just struck me in the heart. We go with God for a while and rather than being dependent on God, we start to live as if we are independent of Him. We need to return to an authentic desperation for the leading of the Holy Spirit and joining God where he is working.

Book Resources:
Team Discussion Guide – This discussion guide will help you walk your team through Strange Leadership. – Website with resources about Greg Atkinson’s new book Strange Leadership.
Church Leadership 101 – Free eBook by Greg Atkinson.