It’s been a few days since I returned from Chicago, and I’m aware since my last post all has gone quiet. I’ve been making this annual trip to the Leadership Summit in South Barrington for several years now. Why?
- World-class presentations. I’m a professional communicator, so I am always scrutinising public speakers for an insight into effective communications. At the Summit, delegates receive a range of different styles – from the coldly cerebral to this year’s black gospel tour-de-force from Kenneth Ulmer. Some of these speakers provide me with insights into good communication skills, simply by observing them engage a large audience (7,000 in the new Willow Creek Auditorium, plus another 50,000 simul-casted to 70 other sites around North America).
- Applications to Business. I am an entrepreneur. I love being about building a great organisation. Willow Creek has a reputation for breaking the mould, introducing the world of business to the world of church, and in my case vice versa. A fascinating example of this this year was when the Senior Pastor of Willow Creek, Bill Hybels, interviewed Ken Blanchard (author of numerous popular management books from The One Minute Manager onwards) and John Maxwell (21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership) together on stage. Blanchard was introduced as moving towards Christian spirituality in his later years, discovering Jesus Christ as ‘the greatest leader’, whilst Maxwell has transitioned the opposite way, from a career as a pastor into providing compelling leadership seminars to business.
Whatever one’s views of Christian spirituality, business people generally can accept that developing churches in a post-Christian culture is probably one of the hardest things to do. Also, I find that churchey people are far less defensive about accepting lessons from business these days.
In previous years at the Summit I have encountered Jim Collins, Daniel Goleman, Stephen Sample, Warren Bennis, Marcus Buckingham and other great commentators on leadership in the business world. It is also at Willow that I have across great writers such as Doug Hall, Roger van Oeck, William Bridges and Robert Quinn.
And all that in the context of a conference aimed primarily to help church leaders grow. This environment is so stimulating because it is mould-breaking.It challenges one’s prejudices and preconceptions.
- Spiritual Insight and Renewal. I am a follower of Christ … or at least I try to be, with less success at times. This reason is more personal, but still vital.
It was interesting at this conference that one of the speakers, Jack Groppel, spoke on the Fully Engaged™ method from a sports and business perspective, yet sitting at the top of his personal energy pyramid – above the Physical, Emotional, Mental – sat Spiritual. In this model’s view of personal performance – about managing one’s energy rather than time – I didn’t feel Dr Groppel was merely playing to the gallery, throwing a sop to these church leaders, but that managing one’s spiritual wellbeing was seen as vital.
And so it is.
- Time Away to Reflect Privately. My Myers-Briggs colleague, Bill Patterson, tells me I’m an introvert. I suppose I am. (I always tell him I’ll have to go away on my own and think about that..) I find going away like this and having more discretionary protected time very energising.
I suppose I could have hacked it as a monk.
One of the big advances in my own self-awareness is something pretty obvious when I write about it: thinking takes time. I like the writer’s life, the reflective life.
- Processing all these experiences with my friend. My friend Mike is similarly a Leadership Summit ‘junkie’. We are engaged in leading in very different spheres, so that is probably why we sharpen each other up. As in previous years, we have stayed at the Marriott Schaumburg. So most evenings we would share a quiet Miller Lite in the ‘Bobby London’ bar (I think it’s supposed to be like a British pub – keep trying, Marriott) and mull over what particularly provoked us, or what connections we were making within our own business contexts.
Mike’s a strategic thinker, and “get’s” the vision thing. The Bible says, “Iron sharpens iron”; I don’t think the text was just referring to metal-working. I always come away stimulated and somehow enlarged by my conversations with Mike.
- Church Application. I have a small non-professional role in my church. My leader, Tim was not able to come this year because of family circumstances, but I need to ‘de-brief’ him … soon.
- Combating Cultural Myopia. Tony Robbins first articulated this for me. Basically, we all have cultural blind spots in our thinking and in our commerce with each other. By travelling to another culture – and Chicagoland is another culture for us Brits – we can learn much about ourselves and the things we take for granted.
For example, I think we British do have an unhealthily high level of cynicism. I suspect this a post-colonial thing: we are trying to be at ease with being a small player on the world stage, where most of the world map is no longer in pink.
So it was kind of sad to see some of the Brits in our party purveying their cynicism in their little Church of England huddle, with all of their prejudices intact as they left O’Hare at the end of the week. It reminded me of the dwarves at the end of the CS Lewis’s The Last Battle. We all need to get out more. We Brits do. God knows, the Americans do. Arabs do.
(Anyway, I’ll stop there as I can feel myself getting into an unhealthy rant… I need to go and have a little lie down ….)
I may post more on individual learnings from this year’s conference in other posts.