The World Needs Leadership

I have here in the past mentioned, or more accurately lamented, that there seems to be a lack of leaders in our society.

There are those we follow due to their celebrity: heroes of Hollywood or stars of the sports world. Shaping and influencing culture does not necessarily make them leaders; they may just be the first lemmings off the cliff. True leaders plan.

Our business “leaders,” who in centuries past might have been beacons in society, are now nothing more than slaves to the bottom line. It is about money, not about building a better mousetrap, just a more profitable one. A business that treats workers or the environment with justice, because its leadership desires that (as opposed to being forced by regulation), is indeed rare.

Our politicians rarely make a misstep, governing with one eye always on the public opinion polls. The problem there is that polls will tell you what people think they want. They are not as good at telling you what people need, and political leadership has suffered as a result. No-one wants to make an unpopular decision; no-one wants to take a risk for a principle.

Our society doesn’t just have a leadership gap, it is a leadership vacuum. Which is why the Global Leadership Summit (GLS), which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, is important? The summit is a two-day gathering of leaders talking about leadership, men and women from politics, business, academia, the arts and the church coming together to discuss what leadership is, what makes a leader good and what can make good leadership better.

There are 9,000 people in attendance onsite at a church in a Chicago suburb. Another 80,000 or so watch on big screens at satellite sites – and about 100,000 more watch the proceedings on DVD in subsequent gatherings in more than 100 countries.

I have attended the GLS the past few years. Some speakers I find inspiring and challenging. I must admit there have been others I found less inspiring, who have been favorites of others attending the Summit, so it is very much a matter of individual taste. On the whole I have found it to be excellent value for the money. Even the speakers I haven’t been that thrilled with have made me think, and I have already entered the dates for 2015 in my calendar. Every year there is an impressive list of speakers, which in the past has included people such as Jack Welch, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, Mark Burnett and Bono.

Bill Hybels, the man who had the vision for the GLS, believes leaders are made, not born, and to a certain extent I agree with him. There are those who are born leaders, but they can frequently squander their leadership opportunities. Instead of inspiring others to great things they make bad movies. Okay, maybe that’s my prejudice showing. Not everyone can be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was going to put an example of someone I considered a bad leader here, but decided not to. I understand sometimes circumstances dictate choices, and good leaders can become bad and vice-versa. I will make some comments on bad leadership from time to time, but not today.

Leaders can learn though, I do believe that. True leaders understand that there are always ways in which they can improve. Not everything that is discussed at the GLS applies to the situations I find myself in, but enough do that I keep going each year.

For the next few days I will give you some highlights from the 2014 Global Leadership Summit, as least from my perspective. I hope you enjoy them. Tomorrow, my reflections on Bill Hybels’ “Hard Fought Leadership Lessons.”

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