Chua Wee Hian’s Notes & Quotes August 2018

On my birthday in July, my son Steve gave me a copy of Samuel Chand’s BIGGER, FASTER LEADERSHIP.

“Sam has been a great friend and counsellor. He shares many of your observations and insights on Church growth and leadership formation”.

I glanced at the subtitle “Lessons from the Builders of the Panama Canal”. Instantly I told myself,  “I’ve been there in the mid-80s. Yes, it was an engineering marvel, shortening the trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the narrow isthmus. That Canal was built more than 100 years ago. “How can anyone glean effective and dynamic leadership based on one visit and reading up the history of this massive lock?” He repeats his over-arching principle on the cover and at the end of each chapter. “The size and speed of an organisation are controlled by the systems and structures”. But as they say, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

As I began to dip into its content, I found myself nodding and actively interacting with Chand’s penetrating analysis on leadership, systems and structures. But more important, his practical solutions.  Out came my marker pen, and I began to highlight key sentences and paragraphs.

Chand observes that numerous companies and churches go through a life cycle. They begin as a dynamic movement, gather momentum and grow. Soon they operate as institutions and become part of the establishment. Then for a period of time, they stagnate or plateau. When there is no renewal, they decline. Some close down while others feebly limp on. Here is his cycle.

1.The entrepreneurial (discovery) phase is the exciting beginning, when every dream seems possible.

2.The emerging (growth) phase is when the vision begins to take definite shape, leaders are empowered, and the organization sees real progress.

3.The established (maintenance) phase is a time when leaders take a deep breath, enjoy their success, and watch their systems function well. But this phase is also dangerous because it can lead to complacency.

4.The erosion (survival) phase is evident when the organization shows signs of decline, and the earlier vision seems unreachable.

5.The enterprising (reinvention) phase is the result of a deeper grasp of the need, a renewed vision, fresh enthusiasm, and new strategies to meet the need. Giving an existing organization as fresh charge of vision and energy is difficult, but it’s essential for future flourishing.

Most congregations I know are either stagnating or declining. Pastors will give me myriad reasons why this is occurring and usually they release a long blame list – spiritual climate, materialism, rapid changes, difficult and demanding people, young people finding the church irrelevant, lack of spiritual leaders etc.

Chand uses the construction of the Panama Canal to illustrate down to earth lessons on effective and poor leadership.

The French who had successfully built the Suez Canal in mid 19th century could not replicate their feat in Panama. Instead of hot desert air, their engineers and workers encountered tropical mud and heavy downpour. Equipment rusted. Thousands of workers died because of malaria and yellow fever. Chand challenges us to spot mosquitoes in our companies and churches and ways of eradicating these. His chapters on handling conflicts, exploiting creative tensions and tapping the rich veins of diversity make scintillating reading.

Chand’s approach is unique; his principles are applicable to the CEO of a company or the lead pastor of a church. I was deeply stirred how the Americans under President Roosevelt and Secretary Taft tackled initial setbacks caused by inclement weather, difficult terrain and mosquitoes. They engaged the best doctor to fumigate and destroy these pests. They appointed and empowered General Washington Goethals in 1907 to complete the building of the Canal. Finally, in 1914 ships could dock and sail through the canal.

To whet your appetite, I have selected priceless nuggets of leadership truths for you to process and share with your fellow leaders.

Better still, why not purchase the book and discuss key leadership strategy and tactics with your team?


“Many businesses and churches have fallen in love with ‘the way we do things around here,’ so they seldom if ever evaluate systems and structures according to the pressing need and the compelling vision. Culture changes and the delivery systems become antiquated in a hurry. We need to stay alert and nimble, always keeping the vision fresh and open to creative new ways of fulfilling it.”


“In churches and in companies, the ability to argue agreeably is a sure sign of emotional health and organizational strength. The problem occurs in two ways when disagreements are interpreted – or meant – as personal attacks, and when these are allowed to fester into resentments. Most of us want to be known as nice Christians, so we don’t normally come out with guns blazing when we’re hurt and upset. Instead, we can smile as we stab people in the back with gossip, and we build secret – or not so secret alliances against the offender.”


“All change involves loss. So acknowledging the losses before they happen gives the leader credibility in the eyes of his or her team.”

“Recasting a new vision is usually more challenging than casting the original one. The disappointment is a harsh reality, but it doesn’t help to focus on the past. A fresh picture of the future is needed. The leader must construct the new vision in a dozen ways, describing what fulfilling the vision will mean to the people who are touched by it. A clear picture of he future helps people stay positive, and soothes their recurring anxieties.”


“Mosquitoes are bad attitudes, and carriers are those who are infected by these attitudes and spread them.

Organizational mosquitoes?

Those with:
• Passive-aggressive behavior
• Unresolved conflict and resentment
• Gossip and secret alliances
• Lack of accountability
• Being a know-it-all
• Insisting “It’s you fault not mine”
• Jealousy and envying others.”       p.93

Q: What in your culture is breeding ground for mosquitoes?  p.99

“No matter how beautifully we construct our systems to achieve larger size and speed, we’ll feel as though we are running in mud if we don’t have the right people in our structures.”


“The capacity to learn is a gift. The ability to learn is a skill. The willingness to learn is a choice.”

“If you don’t grow, you gotta go.”


“Equipping people involves training in skills, but it’s more than that. We equip people to see their unique contribution to the greater vision so they’re highly motivated everyday. We also equip them to communicate well with every one on the team and in their spheres of influence. We equip them to excel up and down the chain of command with all their peers. We empower them with clear direction and authority to get their jobs done – without them feeling abandoned or micro-managing them.”


“The ability to embrace and use tension is one of the biggest tools in our toolbox to widen the canal to provide greater size and speed for the organization. Tension is an enemy if we are afraid of it and we let it poison relationships. If we teach the benefits of creative disagreement, we will stimulate creativity and uncover more opportunities. It’s well worth the time and effort.”




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