6 Takeaways from the 2011 Leadership Summit

Last Thursday, Joleen and I attended the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit. We expected it to be a great event, but it exceeded our expectations. I knew it would be leadership intense, but I was blown away by how spiritually intense it was, especially Friday morning’s focus on “tough assignments.”

Presenters at the Leadership Summit come from both the church and the business communities, often alternating between each. The event took place at Willow Creek, near Chicago, but was beamed to 185 sites across North America (we were in Wexford, PA), and eventually to many other sites around the globe. It’s estimated that 165,000 people will have participated in this year’s Summit!

There was a lot to chew on. For now, here are 6 takeaways from the 2011 Leadership Summit …

Leaders must be learners.
Okay, this wasn’t new or life changing, but it was a good reminder. I love Bill Hybels’ statement: “Leaders need to be insatiable, incurable learners.” Hybels added later, “Leaders rarely learn anything new without having their bell rung.” Based on some of the reaction via Twitter, many people had their bell rung in the opening session of the Summit!

Pray for divine mandate.
Perhaps the single biggest takeaway for me was Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil’s challenge to pray for divine mandate. She suggested that we pray, “God, break our hearts for what breaks yours!” noting that it’s also the most dangerous prayer. It’s about getting our marching orders from God.

Dig ditches.
Steven Furtick spoke on 2 Kings 3.9-20 where Elisha tells the people to dig ditches and wait for rain. He challenged leaders to be active and to trust God for rain. Furtick said, “Only God can send the rain!” but we must be active (i.e., dig ditches).

Develop humility.
John Dickson talked about humility from his book Humilitas. But more than that, we saw an example of great humility in “Mama Maggie.” Mama Maggie Gobran, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee this year, has been serving the poorest of the poor in Cairo, Egypt for 20 years. In her talk, and in her response to being cheered and welcomed by thousands of people to the Willow Creek stage, she simply showed tremendous humility. It was very powerful!

Redefine success.
In his second presentation, Bill Hybels redefined leadership success. His talk focused on the prophet Jeremiah. Talking about tough assignments from God, Hybels said, “Jeremiah is not the picture of a successful leader.” And yet, Jeremiah was faithful to God’s call. This will take some more reflection, but it was pretty powerful to hear Bill Hybels, arguably one of the most “successful” pastors in recent decades, redefine success!

Stir the pot.
I’ve written about leaders being pot-stirrers before, but we heard from a great pot-stirrer at the Summit. Michelle Rhee, who now leads a grassroots effort called StudentsFirst, served for three years as Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. Public Schools. During her brief time there (which ended when the mayor who selected her lost his next election), students’ scores and graduation rates rose dramatically. Her experience in D.C. was recently told through a documentary, Waiting for Superman. After being interviewed by Jim Mellado at the Leadership Summit, I want to see the documentary.

Rhee demonstrated great courage in leading the D.C. school district. If I remember correctly, one of her first actions was to close 23 schools (15% of the schools) and to fire a number of principals (two-thirds, I believe). She took a lot of heat for that, as the documentary details. Her office and her home were picketed by angry citizens. She was yelled at by angry mobs during public meetings. When asked how she handled it, she made a great statement: “I would much rather deal with anger than apathy.” What a courageous leader!

In my next post, I’ll share come next steps I want to take after having attended the Summit.

2 thoughts on “6 Takeaways from the 2011 Leadership Summit”

  1. Lots of good insight and guidance. I have had great admiration for Michelle Rhee. What an amazing and gutsy job she did with the DC schools. Would also like to see that documentary. Let me know how we can see it?

  2. Thanks, Nancy. This was the first I had heard of Michelle Rhee. We were interested, in part, because she is Korean-American. As I said, a tremendously courageous person/leader!

    We’ll have to check to see where the documentary is available.


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