Hard Fought Leadership Lessons

For the next few days I will be giving my impressions of presentations from the 2014 Global Leadership Summit (GLS), which I attended last week.

Bill Hybels was the opening speaker, with a presentation titled “Hard Fought Leadership Lessons.”

Maybe it is me, but when I think of leaders the first people that come to my mind are politicians. They are probably the most visible leaders in our society. After that probably military and corporate leaders, then perhaps community activists and the occasional figure from the arts or sports communities (though frequently I find people from those communities have leadership thrust upon them that they are not ready or qualified for). Bill Hybels fits into none of those categories; he is a Christian clergyman. However he knows a lot about leadership and what it takes to be a leader. His church, Willow Creek Community Church, is considered by many to be the most influential church in the United States. Hybels is the founder and senior pastor, and under his leadership the church has grown to have weekly attendance at its services of more than 24,000 people. In the 29 years since the church was founded, Bill Hybels has learned a few things about what it takes to lead others.

So what message did he bring to the Summit? For Hybels “everything that matters in this world rises and falls on leadership.” That includes world peace, “and how our world needs peace today.” With leadership being so crucial, he encourages people to not automatically reject ideas because of prejudices about their origin, because, “armed with enough humility pastors can learn from business leaders and business leaders can learn from pastors.”

According to Hybels, all leadership is spiritual (though not necessarily religious), and leaders by definition are visionaries. That, he says, can cause problems if a leader obsesses about achieving their vision. When they obsess, their awareness of the spirit of their team drops. People feel that their opinions are not valued, while the leader concludes that the team doesn’t share his (or her) obsession, doesn’t care about the vision, so he stops caring for them.

In any organization, Hybels says, “your culture will only ever be as healthy as the senior leader wants it to be.” Those leaders must give thought to how they are treating those under them, and the health of the entire organization, not just the financial health of the organization or the physical health of the workforce (though those are both important) but the spiritual health of the team (once again, the word is not being used in a religious sense). Taking care of the people is essential for the overall health of the organization. The leader sets the tone for what happens: “people join organizations, they leave managers.”

Hybels recognizes that not everyone in formal leadership is cut out to be a leader, noting that “it should be illegal to allow certain people to manage other people.” (I had to smile at that one. I have had some great bosses in my lengthy work career, but there were a couple of names that immediately came to my mind when he said that.)

The point of the Global Leadership Summit is to encourage those in leadership to get better at what they do. Bill Hybels set the tone from the outset: those in leadership need to learn some lessons if they are to be good at what they do. For me the biggest point from Hybels remarks was the reminder that leadership really is all about people, and anyone in leadership forgets that at their own peril.

Next post: Defining Leadership.


One comment

  1. Interesting and well-written comment.

    Leaders have to say ‘no’ to alternative visions, which may disaffect some. That may affect the spirit of others. Yet, some leaders gain followers because of their vision, despite being mean and unpopular. Steve Jobs comes to mind where he fired good workers who did not follow his vision. People leave leaders/managers but if they believe in the vision/mission they may, as adults, decide to minimize the negative effects of a manager on a spiritual plane. It depends how idealistic the personas are. Professional training may also have a role to play.

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