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Leadership Principle #32:  Since the future defies description, our plans should never be above getting dumped in the ocean.
“Then the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the fish three days and three nights.”  – Jonah 1:17

There are two things I hate about planning and budgeting.

First, they rarely match future reality, thus most of the activity involved in perfecting them is a waste of time.

Second, I’m convinced traditional budgeting and planning more often limit an organization than grow it. A lot of management teams haggle over line item budget numbers every month, with little bearing on what actually happens in the real world.

Jonah builds the case for creating plans that bow to the winds of change, not the whim of the leader. Jonah learned that forces stronger than he were in control of his plans to go to Tarshish.

I’m not advocating chronic plan abandonment, but I am in favor of updating it often, and never again looking at the original plan after it’s changed. Sometimes the operational plan needs to get tossed altogether because of drastic new circumstances.

In late 1999, when we wrote our business plan, we expected to exit in five years. But 9/11 happened, followed by the “dot bomb” of the Internet and tech stocks. Plus, 2001 was the advertising industry’s worst year since the 1930s. After the mini-recession of 2002, we recovered and got back on plane – until the big recession of 2008-09.

Jonah’s lesson has been proven over and over: it is difficult to predict where we’re going. At the same time, it is foolish to operate without a plan.

Plan adjustment has been the norm for some of today’s leading organizations:

• J. Willard Marriot started with an A&W root beer stand before venturing into hospitality
• 3M started as a failed mine that turned to sandpaper manufacturing in order to survive
• Boeing’s first plane was such a flop that the company went into the furniture business to stay alive; its latest plane, the 787 Dreamliner, has broken sales records [source: Jim Collins’ Built to Last, chpt 2]

If your ministry or business needs to go from the equivalent of a root beer stand to an upscale hotel chain, improvements here and there may not be enough.

I believe that planning plus prayer equals progress. There’s another variable thrown into that equation that could drastically alter your path: an unexpected trip inside a whale.

-- This post is from chapter 32 of Leading from the Lions' Den: Leadership Principles from Every Book of the Bible (B&H)

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Tom Harper
Tom Harper is president of Networld Media Group, a publisher of online trade journals and events for the banking, retail, restaurant and church leadership markets. He is the author of Leading from the Lions' Den: Leadership Principles from Every Book of the Bible (B&H).
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