Since it began in the summer of 1995, I have attended every Leadership Summit but one. You’d think they would eventually get stale and boring!! But for me, what is now called the Global Leadership Summit has proven to be a much needed annual reminder to stay focused on the basics of spiritual leadership, while always providing me with a number of profound new insights that aid in thrusting my leadership journey forward. I guess I’m a slow learner who needs a good annual refresher course while being challenged with a few new ideas at the same time.
I came to the Summit this year after a year of seeing the big ship Redwood slowly begin to move in a direction where we are catching a bit more of the wind of the Spirit. Once again we are beginning to move forward with a little more ease. This comes after a couple of years in which from a leadership perspective we’ve experienced a bit of the doldrums. Nothing hugely disastrous, just not enough movement forward for a variety of reasons including my own leadership inadequacies.
For Redwood the years 1995 through to 2006 were pure adrenaline. The charts kept pointing up and to the right – increased attendance, increased giving, increased involvement, yada, yada, and the ride was pure exhilaration. It led to our moving into a new facility and establishing a ministry to the poor and disenfranchised in our city through the Opportunities Centre in our old facility. Life could not be sweeter.
By about 2008 the city of Thunder Bay was working through a massive economic downturn including significant population loss while I had hit a lid in terms of my own leadership capabilities. That deadly combination created a great deal of stress for myself personally that while not felt throughout the church, was certainly felt by the leadership core. God chose to work in those years through the Global Leadership Summit in particular to give me both the tools and the passion I needed to work through the issues, so that I myself and Redwood would be in a better position to catch the life giving wind of the Spirit.
I came to the Summit this year with a sense that we are just on the cusp of catching something a bit more robust than just the gentle breeze of the Spirit that we have begun to be more recently blessed with. At the same time I remain very much aware that we continue to live in uncertain times for the North American church as a whole. And while Thunder Bay is doing better economically, a sense of uncertainty is still very much here. So all this and more contributes to a bit of uncertainty still lingering in the air at Redwood. The question is: “Will this slight breeze of the Spirit, sweet though it is, yet again become the gust we so long for?” This twinge of uncertainty left me wondering what role the Summit would play in the life of myself as well as those attending the Summit with me that would impact the future of Redwood.
Quickly the Spirit ambushed me through the speaking of inspiring leaders from both within and beyond the Christian community. Let me touch on just a few of the multiple highlights and God moments for me.
Perhaps some of the most helpful teaching from this GLS targeting what I’ve been wrestling with came from LEN SCHLESINGER, current president of Babson College, who has 20 years of teaching experience at Harvard, as well as hands on executive experience in companies including Limited Brands. He pointed out the half-life of a Fortune 25 Company is a mere 10 years!! The problem from his perspective is that we were taught in school to learn and base our strategies on cause and effect, thinking that the future can be extrapolated from the past. His point was passionate and strong, “the future is not a linear extrapolation of the past.” And his plea was equally strong, “If you can’t predict the future, create it!”
For those issues that we are passionate about, and we in the church certainly are passionate about a few issues, Schlesinger calls us to simply launch into action without over-thinking!! Just take action with whatever financial and human resources you have in hand and take a small smart step toward your goal and see what happens! Then evaluate what you learn and if you like the results, take another step. His mantra: ACT. LEARN. REPEAT. Wow, talk about counter-intuitive!!
BRENDA SALTER-MCNEIL and STEVE FUTRICK continued this theme with a call to interpret these catalytic times we find ourselves in through the eyes of faith and then act. Popular blogger SETH GODIN drove it home with a plea that “if it’s worth doing, do it!” What I heard from many of these speakers was a strong bias towards action. Act now in the direction of your goals. Next evaluate whether it works or not. Then take a next step, act again. And for the Christ follower, do so in tune with the leading of the Spirit.
BILL HYBELS AND HENRY CLOUD both gave some very practical tools on how to work with our teams and key leaders for the accomplishment of these goals that we need to act on. Cloud divides the world into wise people, foolish people and evil people and gives a very different strategy on how to work with each group, reminding us that we are all fools sometimes. Very helpful thoughts here, especially his loving but firm approach to “fools,” which includes all of us from time to time.
And then as we launch into action with this audacious faith, it only happens effectively as we lead with humility and vulnerability. Australian rector JOHN DICKSON as well as business consultant PATRICK LENCIONI simply restated the obvious that leaders like myself need to be called back to time and again. Like I said, I’m a slow learner, and I just need this basic stuff over and over again.
I could keep going, so much good thinking packed into a couple of days, but let me wrap up with two other thoughts. Kudos to Bill Hybels who demonstrated godly leadership in his gracious response to Starbuck’s CEO Harold Schulz’s withdrawal from the Summit because of pressure from the Gay community. Check it out by clicking here. This was not only a great leadership moment, it was for me a proud moment to be called evangelical.
And the ultimate highlight for me? Hands down it was just the chance to spend a few days with the team from Redwood. Ten of us in total, 8 from the staff team, one board member and my son Graeme. It was just sweet to hang out with this dedicated group of leaders, who love God, love each other and are passionate about the mission Redwood is on. It was great to talk leadership and dream about the future!! It was also not too shabby getting to a Cubs game at the historic Wrigley Field after some classic Chicago deep dish pizza at Giordano’s.
A great few days with an awesome team!! I’m really looking forward to what God does with it!!
And to the folk at the Willow Creek Association, both in the US and Canada, thanks for all you do to feed and inspire guys like our Redwood team and myself.
But I’d better stop writing and start doing!! Now is the time to ACT, LEARN and REPEAT, seeking the gusts of the Holy Spirit to lead us.