8 Key Lessons from ReLaunch: How to Stage an Organizational Comeback by Dr. Mark Rutland

Open BookDr. Mark Rutland has a track record of turning around organizations at the brink of disaster and getting them back onto the road of success and health.  In his latest book, “ReLaunch: How to Stage an Organizational Comeback”, Dr. Rutland offers his insights into turning around troubled organizations. I’ve watched his efforts at ORU with interest as someone who knows several ORU graduates and as a business coach who is seeking to prevent the need for a huge turnaround in the first place. Here are a few of my take-aways from the book:

  1. Faith plus action is a powerful combination. “Frankly, there tends to be more wrongheadedness, more magical thinking, in faith-based institutions than in any other. Faith is good, of course.  I’m a man of faith. But faith is no substitute for wise action.”  When I read this my first thought was, “Thank you for saying it!”.   I trust God and have seen Him make things happen for me that I couldn’t have done on my own. I also know that by planning and taking action that I’m better prepared for when He makes those connections for me.
  2. Leaders must remain humble and know that they don’t have all the answers. “When leaders lose their sense of servanthood, they yield to hubris, resist wise counsel, refuse to listen, and run past practical managers who are truly trying to make the vision work.  When that happens, train wrecks follow.”   Hire qualified people who are also passionate about your vision, then listen to their input.
  3. Visionary leaders need detail-oriented, by-the-book people on their team.  They’ll drive you nuts at times, but they will also keep you from doing something that could hinder your vision in the long run. “The manager’s tendency to see things in black-and-white is an important check on the leader’s exuberance.” 
  4. To my detail-oriented friends: Be wise in how you communicate to your visionary leader. If you’re always saying “we can’t” instead of “here’s how we can make that happen”, your leader will be sorely tempted to stop listening to you. Help them out by showing them how what you’re proposing actually facilitates the vision. “Managers have to understand that their job is not to stop the vision or even slow it; their job is to make the vision happen.”
  5. Bigger means that more structure is necessary to support the vision. As your organization starts to grow, hire people who will implement enough structure to keep your organization on a solid foundation but not so much that it stifles vision. “Leading a large organization is not just leading a small organization bigger.  The things that worked when the organization was small won’t work anymore.  If you treat it like a small organization, you will end up shrinking it to the size where that kind of leadership works.”
  6. Team members aren’t mind readers. Clearly define and communicate your expectations to get the best from your team. “If the key to quality is meeting expectations, you owe your employees a clear explanation of exactly what you expect.”
  7. Leaders: Be careful in how you communicate. This is especially true for churches where you’re not just their boss but you’re also their pastor. You can instantly tear down a team member or build them up, so use your words carefully. “In your position as leader, your actions are amplified; it’s as if you are talking through a bullhorn every time you communicate with your employees.  They hear your criticism more loudly than you mean it, and they hear your praise and thanks more loudly than it sounds to you. Use your bullhorn wisely.”
  8.  If you allow someone to stay who isn’t performing, you’re communicating that mediocrity is acceptable, you’re hurting the rest of the team members who have to do extra work to make up the slack and you’re not being a good steward of the money people have donated to your organization. “…it is not the purpose of your organization to keep unproductive people employed.  You have a fiduciary responsibility to your investors or, in the case of a nonprofit, to your members and donors.  You violate that responsibility when you hand over their money to people who are not doing their jobs.”


There are just too many great points in the book to cover here.  Whether you’re leading an organization that’s in trouble or want to prevent it from ever getting to that point, I recommend you buy this book and get your highlighter ready. Enjoy!

If you’ve read the book, what do you think? How could you apply these concepts to prevent problems in your organization?

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