Summit provides a canvas for leadership

September 19, 2017

By Melissa Lauber
UMConnection Staff

Finding the right shades and perspectives to forge a portrait of a leader is an art.

But sometimes leadership begins with just an invitation. On Aug. 9 and 10, several people in the Baltimore-Washington Conference responded to an invitation to discover “why in the world we are here in the world,” and how to shape the church as fighters, uniters and champions of change.

Leading outside the lines

Leaders today are facing increasing challenges leading their organizations in an era of divisiveness and disrespect.

In the U.S., said Bill Hybels at the Global Leadership Summit, 25 percent of employees experience disrespect at work at least once a week. “We have a civility problem that’s getting worse not better,” he said. “We’re near a crisis point.”

To address this crisis, Hypes suggested that religious leaders need to speak out more forcefully, proclaiming “every human is made in the image of the Most High God and has intrinsic dignity.” This is not about tolerance,” he said. “We don’t get to choose who we respect.”

Hybels pointed to Randall Stephenson, the CEO of ATT, who recently said: “Tolerance is for cowards. Being tolerant requires nothing from you but to be quiet and to not make waves, holding tightly to your views and judgments without being challenged. Do not tolerate each other. Work hard, move into uncomfortable territory and understand each other.”

To move beyond tolerance, Hybels recommends every church leader ask: “What kind of organization do you want to be a leader of,” and then provide clarity by providing a written Civility Code that includes the following:

  1. Leaders must set the example on how to differ with others without demonizing them.
  2. Leaders must set the example of how to have spirited conversations without drawing blood.
  3. Leaders must not interrupt others who are talking and must not dominate the conversation.
  4. Leaders must set the example of limiting their volume levels and refusing to use incendiary or belittling words that guarantee to derail a discussion.
  5. Leaders must set the example of being courteous in word and deed to everyone at every level.
  6. Leaders must never stereotype.
  7. Leaders must apologize immediately when they are wrong, instead of denying or doubling down.
  8. Leaders must form opinions carefully and stay open minded if better information comes along.
  9. Leaders must set the example of showing up when they say they are going to show up and doing what they say they are going to do.
  10. Leaders must set “Rules of Respect” for everyone in the organization and enforce them relentlessly.

Creative leadership challenges

From the Global Leadership Summit:

  • Spend 15 minutes each morning, read and reflect on your life, your leadership, your character, faith and family. Are you getting better or busier?
  • Make this the year of the grander vision. At a certain point, mere financial or numerical success should bore you. You were created by a complex God. Be a change-maker in this world. What life are you waiting for?
  • Measure the health of the culture of your organization. The culture will only be as healthy as the top leader wants it to be.
  • Do you have a personal betterment plan for your leadership in the coming year? How will you grow as a leader? Take responsibility for growing as a leader.
  • Are you leading on the home front as well as you are at work? Devote time to the people and things that matter most to you.

They attended the Global Leadership Summit, an event simulcast to more than 400,000 people in churches throughout the world from Willow Creek UMC in Chicago, a nondenominational church with 26,000 members. The two-day event featured some of the most well-known innovators in corporate America and preachers who have proven their abilities to call on faith to transform culture.

“Can I come right out and say it? It’s time for church leaders to really lead,” said Bill Hybels, the senior pastor of Willow Creek, who hosted the Summit. “I believe that the great tragedy of the church in our time has been its failure to recognize the importance of the spiritual gift of leadership.

“The stakes of leadership are sky-high, the world is demanding a better brand of leadership,” he continued.  “Leaders should never apologize for the strength of feeling that accompanies their God-given visions. God designed leaders to experience their longing, their desire, and their drive deeply, and to express it fully. And when they do, they energize others.”

Portrait of a leader

Being catalysts for meaningful transformation was one of the common threads lifted up among the speakers, including Bryan Stevenson, the author of “Just Mercy” and the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama.

Stevenson, who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned, shared how he argued before the Supreme Court, winning a ruling that declared mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. He and his staff have also won reversals, relief or release for more than 115 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row.

Stevenson shared his struggles working in this country, which has the highest rates of incarceration in the world. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of its prisoners, he said. This mass incarceration has had devastating consequences for people of color: one in three black boys, and one in six Latino boys, is projected to go to jail or prison in his lifetime.

In his work for justice, Stevenson defined four principles that help enable leaders to change the world.

  1. Leaders must get proximate to the people they’re serving. You can’t be an effective leader from a distance, he said.
  2. Leaders must change the narratives that sustain the problems they need to address. For example, Stevenson said, we tend to share the common story that drug addicts are criminals. We could have used the health care system to address addiction, he said, but a narrative of fear and anger was created and so we use the criminal justice system.
  3. Effective leaders must stay hopeful.
  4. Leaders must be willing to do uncomfortable things. Physically and psychologically, people are programmed to do what is comfortable, Stevenson said. Change happens when great leaders are willing to put themselves in uncomfortable places, be a witness, and do uncomfortable things.

Shades of leadership

While essential, the spiritual gift of leadership is often hard-won, said Angela Duckworth, the author of “Grit,” a New York Times best seller, who has used quantitative research to discover why some people excel more than others.

The answer, she discovered, is the idea of “grit,” a unique trait that combines “the power of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of long-term goals.”

Many people have an innate sense of grit that often means more to achievement than talent. Duckworth offers a Grit Scale test on her website. But for those who wish to nurture their “grittiness,” she recommends setting a goal that stretches you; then diving into vast amounts of deliberate practice, working hard at one small thing while seeking feedback and reflection; and embracing challenge, believing in and pursuing growth.

While leaders with grit persevere, immersing oneself in the pursuit of excellence may have too high a cost for many people, said Juliet Funt, the CEO of Whitespace at Work, who also spoke at the Global Leadership Summit.

Workplace overload and reactive busy-ness are taking their toll on productivity and people’s health and wellbeing, said Funt. She prescribes “whites space” (a term denoting the unprinted area of a piece of printing), or taking a strategic pause, to allow workers to recuperate, recharge and intentionally take a moment for introspection and creativity.

While taking this pause seems logical, people tend to be driven into “the tyranny of the urgent” by being overdriven, being a perfectionist, information overload, and being frenzied to accomplish many tasks. To defeat these “thieves of white space,” she recommends asking the questions:

  1. Is there anything I can let go of?
  2. Where is good enough good enough?
  3. What do I truly need to know?
  4. What deserves my attention? 

Adopting this “reductive mind-set,” Funt said, strips away some of the unnecessary stress and busy-ness and provides more intentional possibilities for creativity and introspection.

Throughout the Summit, speakers provided insights into helping people achieve at work, in ministry and throughout their lives. For too many leaders, there is a gap between what they believe and how they act, said Laszlo Bock, the former senior vice president of Google’s People Operations, who is often credited with making Google one of the premiere workplaces in the nation.

The role of the leader is to help to give their employees a sense of meaning in their work, Bock said.

Research indicates that one-third of American workers see their work as not having much meaning and being “just a job.”  But research also indicates that meaning matters, to productivity, profits and people’s sense of wellbeing.

Bock recommends leaders apply three principles to help bring meaning to work: “finding a compelling mission, being transparent, and giving their people a voice.”

Within those three principles, leaders should remember that “the only thing that drives performance in organizations is having a goal and making sure other people know that goal.” 

He recommends trusting employees, giving your people more freedom than you’re comfortable with, and asking people what they think. “The experience of work should be meaningful,” Bock said. “Treat your people right and they will do great things.”

For those in the church, leadership often means asking deep questions and being willing to take risks in the spirit of innovation.

Creating unique art

At North Point Community Church, one of the largest churches in the country, they recently sat back after 20 years and did an “autopsy” on their success. One of the things they found, said the Rev. Andy Stanley, is that part of their success was having a “uniquely better product.”

Twenty years ago, North Point broke with the prevailing model of church and created an engaging church experience for the whole family, especially men, Stanley said. “It’s not that North Point was the best, they had something unique to offer,” he said.

But just being different wasn’t just enough. “You can be uniquely bad,” said Stanley. Unique becomes better when you do what you’re supposed to do, but do it better than the competition. “‘Make it better’ is one of our staff values.”

Uniquely better often arises when someone is trying to solve a problem. Multi-site churches started out as a response to the problem of overcrowding. They became something uniquely better, Stanley said, and today, it’s grown into a church-growth strategy.

Creating the uniquely better is almost impossible, he said, but leaders can enable their churches to recognize the uniquely better and make it their own. This is easier, if one follows a few simple steps:

  1. Be a student, not a critic. We naturally criticize things we don’t understand or can’t control. We must stop that, Stanley said. “The moment you criticize, you stop learning.”
  2. Keep your eyes and your mind wide-open. Listen to outsiders, they’re not bound by our assumptions. Closed-minded leaders close minds.
  3. Replace “how,” with “wow!” The moment someone says how, and begins to demand specifics about execution, all the creativity vanishes. “Let’s be people of wow, rather than how,” Stanley said.
  4. Ask the uniquely better questions: Is this unique? What would make it unique? Is it better? Is it better … really?

One of the important things is to dream, and good leaders encourage their people to dream, too, Stanley stressed. “Keep your eyes, mind, heart and hands wide open.”

Color me fearless

Throughout the Summit, which broadcast live from Willow Creek and simulcast to 625 sites around the world, participants learned from several other speakers including Cheryl Sandburg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook; Marcus Lemonis, the star of The Profit television show and CEO of Camping World and Good Sam; Comedian Michael Jr.; Business Creativity Expert Frederick Härén; Marcus Buckingham, best-selling author and founder of the Marcus Buckingham Group;  and Immaculée Ilibagiza, a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda and advocate for peace and forgiveness.

The event closed with a challenge by Gary Haugen, founder and CEO of the International Justice Mission, an organization that uses the law to protect the poor from human trafficking and violence in the developing world.

“Nothing undermines a leader like fear,” Haugen said. “Fear is the silent destroyer of dreams.” Jesus commanded his disciples to “fear not,” more than any other instruction he shared.

“Fear is the destroyer of the love that inspires the dream. It replaces that love with a preoccupation with self,” he said.

Haugen offered a few suggestions to encourage bravery:

  • You must relentlessly inventory your own fears. Ask, “In this situation, what am I really afraid of?”
  • Switch from playing defense to playing offense. No great dream has ever been built on the fear of what might go wrong.
  • Successful leaders forge a community of courage around them. Lone rangers do not make great dreams come true, ever. Courage, like fear, is contagious.

Some of the best leaders are able to “open their hearts and minds to the spirt of God and see what’s next,” Hybels concluded. It’s a question waiting to be asked.