Global Leadership Summit at Gold Hill

Three years ago I went to my first Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit (GLS). I was supposed to go along to two days but because of a family tragedy I only made the first day. Still, it was a brilliant event and I promised to go back.

Three years later and I’ve now been to my second GLS. It was equally brilliant to the first one. Once again, I only made the first day, but it was planned this time.

Thoughts on event organisation

GLS at Gold HillThe Summit is held at Willow Creek Community Church outside of Chicago, USA. The content is then recorded, packaged and distributed to over 90 countries. Each location runs as its own event with the speaker programme appearing on the screen.

The first event I attended in Southampton was more participatory than this session at Gold Hill. In Southampton we sang with the band and were encouraged to clap each video (sounds strange but you get into it). After each session we were encouraged to gather into small groups (even those of us that had come on our own) to process what had been presented.

Gold Hill had a band, but we watched them as much as we joined in and clapping the videos only started to happen in the afternoon. Those that had come in groups were not encouraged to welcome those who had come on their own, so one of the things I appreciated about this event was missing.

The programme

We saw five speakers during the course of the day. These are my reflections on what they had to say.

Bill Hybels talked about leadership challenges.

He started by sharing how Willow Creek had engaged a outside firm to measure the engagement of their staff team. The results were above average, 50% engagement. But there was also a comment from one team member, claiming their experience was like being a ‘Grunt’ that hurt the church leadership. That wasn’t the working culture they wanted.

As an Exec team they wanted to change the culture. In order to do this they had to own the change. It couldn’t be outsourced to a personnel dept.

Along with this is the belief that managers should be trained. Even those to whom the skill comes naturally. If you have responsibility for people you should be trained to full fill tan responsibility well.

Twice a year they meet to discuss staff performance (review). At this point they ask what traits should ‘stop’, what things should ‘start’ and what needs to ‘continue’.

There is also an intention to resolve relational conflict. This can be tough and draining, but needs to be done.

On the question of developing emerging leaders, five steps were noted.

  • Put them in high challenging roles
  • Assign them to a short term task force
  • Real time feedback
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Classroom teaching

Carly Fiorina spoke on the challenge of Defining Leadership

She said a lot of things that made me think. A few of them include:

  • The highest calling of leadership is to unlock the potential of others
  • Management is the production of acceptable results within known constraints and conditions; leadership changes the conditions
  • Leaders are made, not born
  • A love of God makes leadership easier

She also gave a framework for leading and changing conditions.

leadership frameworkIt’s then up to the leader to consider each of these areas and decide if they are working well, or whether they could be improved.


Susan Cain
talked about The Power of Introverts

The basics of what Susan said at the GLS can be seen in her TED talk (currently 9 million views and growing).

She encouraged us to think about our working environments and whether they were geared up for extroverts or introverts, and whether this was matching the needs of the people in that environment. Do we need to make adjustments?

She also commented that the development of ideas are often best produced out of solitary time, rather than group work.

Consider how many times you’ve been asked to brainstorm as a group. Susan’s argument, evidenced by the science, was that we would do better to have more time working in solitude.

Should we try…

  • Ending constant group work
  • Forget networking, focus on service
  • Restore quiet to our culture
  • Rethink what makes a ‘natural’ leader

Ivan Satyavarata spoke on the Power Paradox

He put it like this, ‘A leader must be able to wield power in order to lead effectively. On the other hand, she or he must, at the same time, be genuinely meek, vulnerable and even powerless’.

The three areas he focussed on were,

Knowledge – do we hold on to knowledge to protect our power or share it freely?

People – do we love and empower them without using the relationship to manipulate or control them?

Kingdom – do we confront evil, even being patient and resolute when it seems unconquerable?


I came away inspired and challenged, which I guess was the point. The GLS is certainly one of the best leadership events I’ve been to and I wish I had the money to invest in more of the resources they proved.

That said – Bill Hybels puts classroom teaching in the mix of how you train and develop leaders, but it’s not his number one pick. You could sit in talk after talk and make endless notes but it wouldn’t make you a good leader. The essence is actually doing something, leading, gaining experience and learning from what you do.

Time to stop blogging and get on

Ira Glass receives an award for his, ‘stupid magic trick’

The name Ira Glass probably doesn’t mean much to many people outside of the US, but his radio show This American Life, is a wonderful repository of modern storytelling that deserves to have a global reach.

Ira’s unique ‘conversational’ tone of voice isn’t what you would expect from a radio host, but it works. It works, not really because of what he says, but because of the stories the programme shares.

Just take a look at the list of favourite shows.

  • Show 360: Switched at Birth (25th July 2008) – On a summer day in 1951, tow baby girls were born in a hospital in small-town Wisconsin. The infants were accidentally switched, and went home with the wrong families. 
  • Show 241: 20 Acts in 60 Minutes (11th July 2003) – Instead of the usual “each week we choose a theme, and bring you 3 or 4 stories on that theme” business, we throw all that away and bring you 20 stores-yes, 20-in 60 minutes.
  • Show 175: Babysitting (5th January 2001) – Stories of babysitters, and what goes on while mom and dad are away that mom and dad never find out about.

Anyway, this week Ira was given an award for what he describes as his, ‘stupid magic trick’, putting quotes together in an order with some music, by the Academy of Arts and Letters. I reckon his acceptance speech is worth a watch.

Finding our place in the world

TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading’ – at least, that’s what the website says. Contributors are given 18 minutes to give ‘the talk of their lives’, all of which are recorded and shared for free through the TED website.

Just occasionally someone of faith gets a slot to make a contribution, and occasionally that person of faith is a follower of Jesus.

This video is of Chris Seay, a Native Houstonian, Founder of Ecclesia Houston, Pastor, Teacher, Progressive Thinker, and Storyteller – or so his bio says. Enjoy…

HT Eric Bryant

Future church, Southampton

For those of you who weren’t able to make it along to the Future Church event held in Southampton last month. The audio from Mike Frost’s three main sessions are now available for download from the Facing the Challenge website.

The event was awesome and I had lots of conversations with people who are serious about changing the face of church. I’ve already blogged about some of my concerns, but there have been positive outcomes too with smaller groups emerging to discuss and implement some practical steps to making the church more missional.

I’m really keen to see a practical outcome. I think I grew up believing that the church was a talking shop, with all the right things being said but nobody prepared to put in the graft to make a change. I hope that this doesn’t turn out to have the same result. Oh, and yes, I do realise that I am as implicit in making a change as the next person.

In from Iran

This week has been international induction week at the University. While it’s really difficult to get everyone to turn up on time with papers and qualifications it’s good to see students arriving. For some it is their first visit to the UK so I’m quite pleased that the weather in Southampton has been good. It has to be a shock getting on a plane in Lagos at 8pm and getting off a plane in London at 8am, the temperature difference is quite significant.

Some of the students have arrived in the office with their luggage, looking for somewhere to live, others are sorted and are quite keen to get in and out as quickly as possible. There’s a lot of waiting around to register.

After a while of seeing lots of students you start to notice trends in nationalities. You know that problems that certain students are going to face just from the passport. Some of my stereotypes have been reinforced (which is a shame) others have been challenged and changed, for good I hope.

The most significant is the three students from Iran. They were each polite, friendly and comfortable in our office. I’m embarrassed to say that this wasn’t what I was expecting. They smiled and chatted about life and living in Southampton. One even brought a present of Pistachio nuts to say thank you.

After talking to each of them I have started to wonder if the difficulties between countries are being created by the few for the many. While our governments are posturing and facing up to each other the ordinary people are getting on with their lives, trying to make a living and to contribute in some way to the communities in which they now live.

This has been reinforced by this week’s This American Life podcast. If you don’t listen to this you’re missing out on a treat. Episode 340 The Devil in Me can be found on their website, and tells the story of Sam, who joined the US Army and ended up serving in Iraq. What happens to him there really clouds his view of Iraqi Muslims and makes his life back in the US really difficult. That was until he enrolled in his local college and has to face up to his fears by joining the students’ Muslim Association. Listen to it, it comes highly recommended.

9/11 remembered

My memories of September 11th 2001 are mixed. I remember the weather being pretty good and work being fairly ordinary. I remember someone saying about a plane crashing into a skyscraper in New York and us all trying to get on different internet sites to see what had gone on – but the connection being so slow. One colleague was looking at the BBC site and I had managed to get into the New York Times but updates were infrequent.

Then the second plane crashed and I guess that we all felt that it wasn’t just an unfortunate accident. Then the towers collapsed and another plane crashed into the Pentagon and I started trying to get in contact with friends who may have been in Washington.

That evening I watched all the news until it became too boring and repetitive, realising that the world had changed, but not really knowing how.

I have lots of thoughts about September 11th 2001, but today isn’t a day for thoughts. I have memories of those big black clouds and the dust that was left afterwards, and the days afterwards and the growing picture walls of missing people.

On September 11th 2001 almost 3000 people died when two planes flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, another was flown into the Pentagon and a fourth, flight 93, crashed in Shanksville PA. Today there are many people who still feel the pain of losing someone they loved in that attack and tonight my prayers are for those people.

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ASBO at Greenbelt

I read with great interest that ASBO Jesus is going to be at this year’s Greenbelt

I wonder what kind of reaction he’ll be able to get out of this? Maybe not the same reaction that his worship leader cartoon manages.

I was brought up to think that there was something very wrong with Greenbelt. Strange thing is, having just poked around their site for a while, I’d really like to be able to go this year.


Bono: “That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.”

Read the rest here

Wearing Sunday best

I know that there are a whole variety of opinions around what to wear to a church service. Some people are still suit and tie, others a little more informal. However, I’m sure few people would decide to wear a crown as part of their Sunday garb. Well, somebody did this morning. An African looking gentleman sat through the service wearing a crown and a very large medallion around his neck. Maybe he was an African king, or just decided that his Sunday suit could do with a little ‘bling’.

I have my doubts that the crown was real gold. He managed to nod in agreement at a few points during the sermon. I doubt he’d have been able to do that if it was solid gold.

The Beautiful Nun – Reviewed

That was a good evening. I’ve seen worse shows in proper theatres, so this was a nice surprise, because the cast and the script were pretty good.

The plot revolved around three groups. One was the Catholic school, run (or ruled) by the beautiful nun, Sister Mary Anthony. Then there’s the army, ruling the country and commanded by Captain Gonzalez; opposed by the rebel force, run by Consuela Lopez.

The actors were superb, especially considering that this play was part of their exams, which must have increased the pressure quite a bit. The exceptional actors were Sister Majella, played by Hannah Taylor, who managed to make you believe that she was a fifty year-old nun, and Captain Gonzalez played by Rob Chapman – who even managed to stay in character to the bitter end when the cast were taking their bows.

As a plot it was pretty full on with quite a bit of long dialogue, which I don’t think helped the actors. However, there were some interesting issues, and questions raised through the play.

The army are seen as the custodians of the state, where as the church run the school but don’t necessarily hold any power in the community. As was said by Captain Gonzalez, “all that was accomplished by turn the other cheek was crucifixion.” The response to this really comes in the second act, when Sister Mary Anthony argues that, “some must die for others to be saved.” The question being, exactly what part should the church play in society? Conversely, there’s the question of what part does the army have to play in the care of the people.

The resolution to the play came with some rapid death, and loud gunshots. I think the script could have brought out a lot more in the second half, instead it seemed to try to pull together a lot of strands very quickly.

I don’t know if the Beautiful Nun will ever make commercial release, but if it does it’s well worth a look.