February 13, 2009 Tony Morgan

Outcomes or Execution?

Had an interesting conversation yesterday. I was talking with a friend about a familiar passage of the Bible. It’s called the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Jesus told this story. He told lots of stories. Read it.

I’ve probably read that passage a hundred times, but this new learning jumped out yesterday. Consider the “master” in the story. His reaction to all three servants is very interesting. When the servant with five talents doubled his money, the master said, “well done.” When the servant with two talents doubled his money, the master said “well done.” The master didn’t hold the servant accountable for how the money was invested. The master held the servants accountable for the results.

But the master’s response was different for the servant with one talent. That servant just buried the money. In this instance, not only did the master acknowledge the poor outcome, the master also recommended an alternative plan. “You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers.” It was only after identifying a poor outcome that the master was concerned with the execution.

I used to see this as a parable about how I invest my time, gifts and money. Now I’m also going to see this as a parable about how I invest my leadership.

The leader was more concerned about the outcome than the execution. When I know the “right way” to do something, it’s hard to release the execution to someone else. Frankly, it’s a lot easier as a leader to tell people what to do and how to do it than to release them to make it happen on their own. That’s messy. In the end, though, if I’ve identified the appropriate win, it’s the results that count.

It’s more about the outcomes than it is the execution.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.
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Comments (12)

  1. good stuff. One issue I’m having is that the “outcome” at my new place is undefined. Any of my fellow readers got recommendations on books to help my senior leadership begin to define wins?

    I’m passing along Groeschel’s “IT” book and thinking of passing on “7 Practices of Effective Ministry”. Thanks in advance for any advice!

  2. Bill Bliss


    Focusing on casting a clear vision allows the people to be creative to obtain a great outcome. When this is allowed by the leader, it also fosters growth, which in turn prepares people to gain talent, experience and confidence to do greater things. I think this is one of God’s ways of preparing us to do the works He has prepared for us (Eph 2:10). We hear about (and certainly experience) how God uses “trials” to help us to learn things. These trials are typically associated with hardships. I think of Joseph and a great book entitled, God Meant It For Good. These trials, we are told, happen in part to prepare us for things or experiences that God wants us to do in the Kingdom – the growth opportunities that a leader provides are along a similar track. I believe that Jesus will ask the leaders among us what we did with the talents (people) He gave us. I so want Him to say, “Well done.”

  3. Thanks Tony – this is a great lesson and I know will help see my own leadership, in church and business, move to a new level. I love how God’s Word keeps revealing new things time after time – His blessing is new every morning indeed!

  4. Susan

    This is great! This is where we’ve been moving the past year or two — it aligns totally with org development — empowering people — and allowing leaders and organizations (churches in our case) move to the next level. It’s a way to honor the giftings of others and to add value by not only giving away responsibility but authority which is balanced with accountability (outcomes). In working with churches, we’re partnering with them to move to outcomes not ministry (job) descriptions. If we set the outcomes through key accountabilities and boundaries (the never do) then people are free to acheive the outcomes in any way that fits their leadership, their team, their giftings. It’s amazing what can happen!
    We use an IPOD which has
    Initial key accountabilties (critical outcomes)
    Preferred key accountabilites (desired outcomes)
    Optional activities (may do if initial & preferred are hit)
    Discouraged (may never do — moral, character, and leader specific).

    It takes teams to a whole new level; it has staff focused on outcomes and staying at the 20000 foot level not 20 foot task level.

  5. If we were without scruples, outcomes and methods would be disconnected, but as Christians, we don’t have that option. Let’s argue from the absurd; we are suffering from a shortfall in giving. As Administrator, I am expected to help increase giving. I could increase the amount in the plate by giving the ushers shotguns. It would be a short-lived, and totally contrary to our core values, but it would solve the giving problem.

    Sometimes leaders have to let subordinates try and fail- sometimes they will come up with fabulous ideas that would never occur to us. But the ends never justify inappropriate means.

  6. Tony Morgan

    come on, hal. you don’t think i’m suggesting we should allow our teams to use “inappropriate means” to accomplish our mission do you?

  7. No, I don’t. But it wasn’t expressly stated in the argument what their constraints are. And I have discovered it is better not to leave too leave unsaid what constraints are inviolable.

    Thinking further about it I feel a little sorry for “one talent guy.” He worked for (actually, was owned by) a “hard” man (“difficult” in HCSB) of whom he was “afraid”. He had no guidance from the boss- just a challenge he was not up to. He was so risk-averse even investing with “the bankers” didn’t occur to him. Maybe this was not just a failure of the slave to perform, but the boss to select, prepare and brief the help and set reasonable expectations and adequately define a win.

    I used to work for a giant monster mega-bank. We joked that they used the “jumping horse” method of management development. How do you breed jumping horses? You run them up to a fence. Those that jump the fence you breed; those that don’t you shoot.

    I think what you are saying has to do with avoiding micro-management while supplying adequate coaching, training and support for our teams.

  8. Juan Diego

    Great post! I love it when we are encouraged to look at a popular parable in a different way. In regards to the comment about feeling sorry for the one talent I have to think that the servant knew the expectations. When the master returns he says, You knew I has a hard man, right?
    We also need to realize that just because we are the leader doesn’t mean we know everything. Once we discover that some one is gifted in an area where we are not it is typically best to let them do their thing, rather than jumping in to micro-manage it.

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