Leadership Summit 2011. No surprise that Bill Hybels is the opening speaker. Bill is the Founder and Lead Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, IL, and started Leadership Summit. Here are my notes from Bill’s talk.


  • Summit is unapolegetically Christian. The summit is agnostic in who they can learn from, though. It’s all about the learning. When the leader stops learning, the leader stops leading. Leaders need to be insatiable learners.
  • We set the challenge bar high, or the speakers won’t be asked back. We believe you are the smartest audience in the world.
  • We are respectful of others deeply held convictions who are here, even those who aren’t believers.
  • We believe leadership really matters. When a leader gets better, everybody wins. Every leader can get better.

Q1: What is your current leadership challenge level at work?
  • Three levels. Appropriate, Under, and Dangerously Over Challenged.
  • What level are you? (I think I’m at the high end of appropriately challenged, on the line of dangerously challenged.)
  • Where do you think you do your absolute best work amongst those levels? (I think I do my best when there is some pressure/stress.) You do your best just above the line between appropriate and dangerously challenged. Knowing that, if you are a leader you should step it up. If you don’t, your leadership skills will atrophy. If you are in the high end of dangerously challenged, you are in trouble. You will break down in body, mind and spirit.
  • Do we sometimes not tell our leaders about being overworked because of their response? Do we set a bad example to those under us?
  • There is a discipline in replenishment. What is it for you? Your replenishment bucket has holes in the bottom if you are being dangerously over challenged. Now, there are seasons where it may happen. Try to avoid them if can, but if they happen you deal with it and get out of it as soon as you can.
  • When you’re stressed your performance actually goes up, but over time if you keep that up it will flatten out, then go down and actually bottom out and crash.
  • You don’t want to be under challenged because you don’t bring your best game. Be in the appropriate challenged level or just above that line.
  • How do we get a handle on who is getting overworked? Identify where they are on the levels. Leaders would want to know that before the fact it bottoms out. I’d also want to know if they are underchallenged. Under challenged people leave because they aren’t challenged.
  • Do you think it is possible for organizations to be in one of these three levels? Yes. There are times where a leader can overrev the staff with a number of initiatives being launched at the same time. “You’re killing me!” “But it’s for Jesus!” It’s also possible to underrev the organization and put the staff to sleep.

Q2: What is your plan for dealing with challenging people in your organization?
  • How do I know who you are talking about? You want to find out? The line exercise. If we had a 50% drop in revenue, who would you say goodbye to first? We sit with managers first and ask them to list out from first to last, and who you would say goodbye to first. There are some people at the end of the line that you could live without. They aren’t necessarily bad people, but it forces you to ask them questions. Are they carrying their weight? Are they working on the right issues? Are they on mission? Are they no longer a fit? The line exercise brings tremendous clarity.
  • Willow’s future is tied to the quality people we can attract and develop. The key to our future is tied to attracting and retaining fantastic people. It’s also tied to people who are no longer fantastic.
  • “Fantastic Fred” is a good guy, but he has lost his joy. He has a bad attitude and walks around the halls spreading that attitude. how long are you going to allow that attitude to spread that around your organization? A week, a month, a year. “c’est le vie, It sucks to be a leader in France.” Leaders have to have a point of view on this. As soon as we identify a pattern of bad attitude with someone, we address them about it. We ask questions about how they are doing and want to know how we can help. But we also tell them that it needs to be resolved within 30 days. We will let fantastic people go if they have bad attitude because the fallout from the bad attitude is huge damage. You need point of view, though, at your organization. Staff need to know this.
  • How do you handle underperformers? How long do you live with someone like this? How long do you live with someone not worthy of their hire? We allow three months because the factors may be deeper and multi-dimensional. For their sake, the team’s sake and the church’s sake.
  • The toughest challenge is when you must let someone go who loves you, loves God, loves the work, but no longer has the capacity, the talent elasticity to do the work for the church to go to the next level. The moral failings are easy decisions to make as a leader. People respect that. When a leader sits down with a longterm staff person who no longer can cut it for the role that will be required in the future, it almost always leads to heartbreak in the future. This challenge takes 6 to 12 months. We affirm for them, we honor their service, we give them generous severance, we try to reassign them if we can, but we will deal with them if we must.
  • If you don’t deal with challenging people in your organization, you discourage and demotivate your best people. Fantastic people do not want to be dragged down by whiners and underperformers.
  • Challenging people deep down are not really happy people. 90% of the time they’ll leave, get a job someplace else and then come back to you and say how well they had it before.

Q3: Are you naming, facing and resolving the problems that exist in your organization?
  • Goes back to a little church I was a part of when I was a kid. No students, no baptisms or conversions in 20 years, they never were addressed until they were put up for sale. The people gave up and quit. This was disillusioning for me as a kid. I wanted to stand up and shout, “Is there a leader in the house?!” In the early church, problems arose around food distribution and ethnic profiling. Everything was suddenly at risk. The leaders addressed it. (Acts 6) The issue was resolved and built trust throughout the church. The church continued to grow and unlikely people came to faith. We must do the same.
  • The life cycle diagram. Every initiative, program and idea has a life cycle. If it’s good, it will accelerate in the organization and then it will be booming. Know that nothing booms forever. It has a season. Beware of that because it will decelerate and then tank. Identify different programs, initiatives, ideas and ministries and see where they are on this life cycle. If you see stuff that is decelerating, you need to address it before it tanks. You need to change the trajectory on them so they are cycled back to accelerating.
  • Part of your job, as a leader, is to look problems in the eye and address them. Are you just going to let things tank, or get them on a new upward curve? It can give your organization a self-esteem that you can solve problems.

Q4: When is the last time you reexamined the core of what your organization is all about?
  • What business are we in? What’s our main thing? Are we clear about our core?
  • I started to feel restless about the core of what Willow is this past year. The Bible is clear that we, churches, are in the life transformation business. We are in the people transformation business. There is only power powerful enough to do this transformation. It’s the power of the Gospel. The power of the Good News of Jesus. The power of the Good News of Christianity. Do we know it, though? Do we know that message?
  • In/what 5 words, explain the central message of Christianity. No hyphenated words or Christian words. Businesses, do the same for your organization, what 5 words describe your work? At Willow, the first word is love. Christianity is driven by love. (John 3:16) This differs from other major religions. God loved you the moment you started sucking air. Another word on the list is evil. There atrocities and evil. Think about the recent evil in Norway. Why do we promise to not sin, we still do it? There is evil in the world. We are loved, but we are sinners. Next word on list is rescue. God will rescue us from the evil and sin we do. Substitutionary atoning work of God. Rescue and redemption is a gift. Another word is choice. It’s a choice you make to follow God or not follow God. Final word is restore. God restores us to ideal, we join team to restore the world to what God intended.
  • At Willow, as we discuss these words it refines our message and gets us excited for it. Fight for it. Be clear about your core.

Q5: Have you had your leadership bell rung recently?
  • Has any talk, book, experience, talk, or crisis rocked your leadership world lately? Leaders rarely learn anything new unless their bell is rung in someway. Thailand has 65 million people. 95% Buddhist, 4% Muslim, less than 1% Christian. I gave a forgettable talk in Thailand to leaders. What followed me was a Thai leader who challenged other leaders to get 1 million people in Thailand to be Christian. Everyone in the room began to stand to their feet and cheered. Was challenged after hearing such a bold vision cast, such a fearless call and confidence in God. I’d lost a bit of boldness along the way. I had my bell rung.
  • How sick are you of being stuck where you are at your organization? Will you do whatever it takes? Will you get on the solution side and create action? Don’t make excuses and have a defeated mindset. Think and create bold solutions. We need our bell rung.
  • Your God given job, as a leader, is to move an organization from here to there. Whatever it takes, however long it takes. If you don’t believe that anymore, step aside. There is too much at stake in this world for leaders to walk around with defeated mindsets.
  • Can your next five years be your best five years? Why not? Why go out with a whimper? Why hobble to the end? How you finish is how you are remembered. Finish strong.

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