These are my notes from Bill Hybel’s closing message at the Summit.
Everyone wins when a leader gets better.
My vision for the Summit has always been that we leaders realize we all need, at the very least, an annual heart-check and gut-check and time of refreshment and encouragement and refining our leadership skills. That we treat doing this as a non-negotiable, essential part of our practice.
At the end of the day, we want to be able to stand before God and say “I did my absolute best with the leadership gifts you’ve given me.”
Could you imagine the impact of several hundred thousand leaders gathering annually for a recalibration? This is within our grasp and I hope you’ll join this great vision.
Matthew 16:18. Who is ultimately building the church? Will he allow it to be defeated?
I believe the local church is the hope of the world. But the first 18 years of my life, the one word I would have used to describe the church was “hopeless.” I thought that at the very best I would be minimally engaged with the church for the rest of my life. The church we attended when I was growing up was one I practically wanted to protect people from coming to so it wouldn’t do more harm to the reputation of Christ.
But in the next stage of my life, my perspective changed on the local church from “hopeless” to “hopeful.” I learned in one of my seminary classes about how God moved in the early church, and the professor would say things like “why can’t someone in this room chuck their life plan and give their life to building the local church like this?”
Vision is the picture of a future that creates passion in people. It propels people forward who would normally be comfortable with the status quo. It puts a bounce in your step when you’d normally be dragging your feet.
I was seized by a vision of what the church could be. Of the church’s vision and power and potential. I determined I would seek to play some role in this. I moved to Chicago to help a friend build a youth group, and without realizing it I had signed on to the ride of a lifetime. [Tells great story of how he was called to ministry and Willow Creek started.]
I then moved from “hopeful” on the local church finally to “the local church is the hope of the world.”
The hope of the world is not government, academia, business, but the church because it is to the church that God has entrusted the message of salvation, which truly changes people’s lives and hearts.
And I realized this meant we need to enable everyone in the church to make the maximum contribution they can, and we need to get leaders to lead, and we need to teach everyone to serve and to give generously, and invite young people to be a part of things as soon as they can. And then it occurred to me that we need to see every church reach its full redemptive potential. And I’m really eager to see that day.
What gives us confidence that the church will endure to the end of history? Many empires and massive companies that seemed durable have evaporated. Why will it be different for the church? Because Jesus is building the church.
Jesus is not directing the angelic choir, taking long naps, or doing crossword puzzles. He is completely focused on building his church, the hope of the world.
One of the greatest privileges in all of life is when Jesus taps you on the shoulder and says, “Hey Brian (or Fred or Melinda or etc.), I have a critical role for you as I am building my church in this world. And I’ve been preparing you your whole life for it.” How do you say no to that? How do you blow that off? How do you say “I’ve got my own thing going on, and I want to build my retirement and golf game instead.” Don’t be that guy. You’ll regret it forever. Don’t say “no thanks, I’m building my thing.”
In my view, the morning prayer of every sincere Christ-follower on earth should be “Lord, today I freshly commit myself to your work today as you build your church in the world. I commit all of myself to the role you’ve assigned to me in the building of your church.” Have you ever prayed that prayer? How about praying that prayer every day for the next 30 days? Could you imagine if the 2 billion people in this world who claim to be Christ-followers prayed that every day and sought to do it? Or the 160,000 leaders who are part of the Summit this year did that? My mind can barely grasp what would happen in the church and in the world if we were to do this.
Will you say to the Lord, “Yes, I will join you fully in your work of building your church”?
Some notes from John Ortberg’s message on the influence Jesus has had on history. Ortberg gave probably around 100 facts. This is just a small sample.
We are stewards of a movement that has reshaped history more than any other.
Jesus is not just the greatest king among kings, but is the King of kings.
Every world leader and king now has their birth and death marked in relation to Jesus’ birth.
Things did not change by accident.
Wherever you have an institution of self-giving for the lowly, whose recipients will never be able to repay, it probably has its roots in the movement started by Jesus.
92% of all colleges and universities started before the Civil War were started in Christ’s name.
Jesus revolutionized the arts. Dante, Bach, Luther’s hymns, Mozart, all did their work to the glory of God. Modern musical notation an invention of monks.
Separation of church and state, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” This is perhaps the most influential political statement ever made. It had been assumed in the ancient world that religion was the prerogative of the ruler. Jesus separated the realms.
Jesus changed how we think of human rights and dignity. The notion of individual rights, where did this come from? It was not self-evident in the ancient world. Today almost everyone says “I believe in a God of love.” Where did that come from? It was rare in the ancient world. Jesus brought a new way of thinking about God.
Jesus uniquely taught love your enemies. In the ancient world it was admired to help your friends, but harm your enemies.
The real question is not who was this man but who is this man?
His work is not done yet.
At the core of leadership is trust. Do people trust you? Do they trust who you have empowered to lead in your organizations?
To the extent that you are trusted, you are free to lead. To dream great dreams and go from here to there. When you lose trust, it’s game over. You can no longer lead. It all comes to a grinding halt.
Integrity = trustworthiness.
How are you doing? Is there anywhere in your leadership and your life where you are not fully trustworthy?
Is there anyone in your organization with whom you think you need to have a conversation about their trustworthiness? “One of the biggest regrets in my organization is knowing some people are off track and not going and talking to them right away. And then by the time I have talked to them, lots of damage has been done.”
Or maybe you’ve already had the conversation, and it’s time to take them out. They hurt too many people, they don’t tell the truth. Give first warnings, give second warnings. At some point, you have to take action.
Ury is one of the leading world experts on negotiation and conflict. He is the co-author of the best selling Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In and a faculty member at Harvard Business School. Here are my notes on Jim Mellado’s interview with him.
Jim: How did you get started in this?
William: I grew up during the cold war under the shadow of the bomb, and I could never understand why we were willing to put all of humanity at risk. The question I’ve devoted my life to is how do we live with our deepest differences?
Jim: Why is this relevant to everyone?
William: I see negotiation very broadly. Think of your own lives and who you negotiate with in the course of your day. Your kids, your spouse, your employees, your co-workers, your board. You spend a lot of time each day in the act of back and forth communication, trying to reach agreement on various issues. We are negotiating from the time we get up to the time we go to bed at night. Many of our decisions are made through a process of shared decision making. This is why negotiation is so central. It is a core competence for leadership.
William: Conflict isn’t necessarily bad because no injustice or anything gets resolved without conflict. We need to hear lots of different views that are very different. The question is can we deal with conflict in a constructive way, or are we going to handle it through destruction?
Jim: What is the biggest obstacle to negotiation?
William: It is not what we think it is. It’s not that difficult person out there. It’s us. We are the biggest barrier to us achieving success. It is an all too human characteristic to simply react — to act without thinking. The key foundation of successful negotiation is to get up on the balcony — a place where you can get a larger perspective. A place of clarity where you can see the ultimate goal. That’s key.
One of the greatest powers we have in negotiation is the power not to react.
Jim: What are the most significant skills we need to get good at to negotiate well?
William: You need to focus on underlying needs. You need to be creative. And you need to rely on objective criteria.
So the first is to separate the person from the problem. We often end up being soft on the people and soft on the problem. Or we make the opposite mistake, being hard on the problem and hard on the people. But you find successful negotiators drawing a line between people and the problem. They remain soft on the people while dealing hard on the problem. The harder the problem, the softer you need to be on the people. Soft on the people means listening, putting yourselves in the shoes of the other side, understanding how they feel (how could you change someone’s mind unless you know what it is?), and respect. It costs you nothing to give someone basic respect, and it means everything to them.
Jim: When I first read your book, I thought that was especially significant because one of the fruit of the Spirit is kindness.
William: Yes, this changes the game from face-to-face confrontation. You ought to see yourselves on the same side of the table, side by side, tackling the same problem together.
Jim: Unpack the second principle, focusing on interest, not position.
William: There is often a difference between interest and position. The key is to probe behind the specific position a person has to the underlying aims they have. Sometimes the aim can be accomplished in a different way. So the key is to always ask the question “why?”
Jim: Talk about the importance of developing multiple options.
William: What we bring to negotiation is our ability to be inventive. Once we see the interests, rather than just position, we can see that there are many ways of doing that. Creative options that meet the interests of all sides.
Jim: How about the power of objective criteria and fair process.
William: Often people think in terms of a fixed pie. But in the inventing process, you’ve asked “how do we expand the pie?” But now that’s say you’ve done that, and it is time to divide up the pie. How do you deal with that? In a merely positional process, this tends to be a question of will and ego. The alternative is to use standards that are independent of will and ego, objective criteria. You don’t have to “give in to the other side,” but defer to an independent standard of fairness that is objective.
Jim: What do you do if you aren’t able to reach an agreement?
William: We should go in to negotiations with what we call a BATNA — a “best alternative to a negotiated agreement.” This isn’t negative thinking, but positive alternative thinking. If you have an alternative, you are going to have more confidence. And this also gives you a way to measure the value of your agreement. Many times, people reach an agreement that is worse than their alternative.
“Organizational health is the single greatest competitive advantage in business. It is virtually free and accessible to any leader who wants it, and yet it is virtually untapped in most organizations.”
The reason? “Too many leaders think it’s beneath them.”
What is organizational health?
The best way to understand it is to contrast it with something we are more familiar with?
In order for any organization to be effective, there are two requirements for success. First, it must be smart. Strategy, marketing, finance, technology, etc. This stuff is important. Nobody should ever tell you it’s not important. The problem is it’s only half the equation, yet it gets 80% of the attention. If we are going to maximize our organizations, we also need to make them healthy. A healthy organization has minimal politics and confusion, high morale, high productivity, and low turnover.
“When I show most CEOs this slide, they say ‘I’d give my left leg to have the right side of that slide — organizational health. But I don’t know how to do that. They didn’t really teach us that in business school. Let’s go to the left side of that slide and tweak some stuff.’”
Many leaders are more comfortable in strategy and finance than organizational health. But if we want to change our organizations, we have to make them healthier.
“Every organization I work with has enough domain expertise to be wildly successful, but few tap into it because they aren’t healthy. There are politics and confusion.”
Southwest Airlines is an excellent company, but it’s not because they’re smarter. They are great because they are so healthy as an organization. As a result, they use every bit of knowledge that they have.
So, how do we make our organizations healthy? There are four organizations you have to master. They are simple, but hard.
1. Build and maintain a cohesive leadership team
Trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, results. Leadership teams must be cohesive. [See his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.]
2. Create organizational clarity
Many people this is just about mission statements. But many mission statements don’t work because they try to do too many things. Here’s an example: [Wait, it's too long and boring -- I'm not going to type it! Just imagine the most boring, hard to grasp sentence you've ever seen. It's from . . . Dunder Mifflin! And yet it's surprising how close to reality it is for many organizations.]
What you need to do is answer six critical questions. If you can answer these six questions, you can create clarity in your organization and the result is true empowerment.
1. Why do we exist?
This is your core purpose. This is not just a restatement of what you do. For example, the purpose of Southwest Airlines is to democratize travel — making it cheap and possible for everyone to fly. Your core purpose helps you make all your decisions. For example, in the issue of whether to charge fees for checked luggage, Southwest asked “would this help democratize air travel?” The answer was no, so they don’t charge.
2. How do we behave?
These are core values. You can’t list every positive value here, however. That is too much and overwhelming. Get down to the one, two, or maybe truly endemic behaviors. So we need to distinguish different types of values. For example, there are aspirational values. These are things you aspire to, but which aren’t true of your organization right now. When you make these core values, you lose credibility. One of Enron’s core values, for example, was integrity! That was not a true core value for them. A core value is something you are willing to be punished for. You will hold to it even if it would be to your detriment.
When someone asks you to violate a core value, you lovingly recognize that this is not the place for them. This is how you know you believe in something — if you will hold to it even if it wouldn’t benefit you (externally).
Churches really struggle here. This is because they confuse core values with permission to play values. These are the minimum standards. For example: telling the truth. This is more of a minimum standard. Of course you won’t hire people who lie. Minimum standards are critical. But this isn’t what we’re talking about when we talk about core values. Here, one church is often very different from another. Everyone should be able to worship at your church, but this doesn’t mean anybody should be able to work there. There must be a core value fit.
“To work in a church, you should never do it because you have to have the job.” It should be only because you are able to contribute to the mission. [If you are there just to have a job, please leave as fast as you can! I know some people like this and there is no faster way to ruin a church!]
3. What do we do?
Many executives actually aren’t on the same page here.
4. How will we succeed?
This is the issue of strategy. Strategy boils down to three anchors, which become the filter for every decision you make. Every organization can do this. For example, at Southwest: make the customers fanatically loyal, don’t make the plane late, and keep fares low. They tell everyone in the organization these three things, and say: “As long as you do these three things, you can make whatever decision you need.” This empowers employees.
Most employees’ strategy boils down to this: I’m just going to try to avoid getting in trouble. This is why most customer service is so bad.
5. What is most important, right now?
6. Who must do what?
3. Over-communicate clarity
You need to hear something 7 times in most organizations before people believe it.
4. Reinforce clarity through human systems
Do things in creative ways that reinforce and demonstrate the values.
I hope that someday organizational health will become standard in organizations. That will change the world. Until that happens, this represents an incredible opportunity for competitive advantage.
Sometimes people say to me, “Craig, how did you come into ministry?” I would not be doing what I am doing today if it had been for my pastor who took a risk on me at 23 and said “I believe God can do something special with your life.”
Tragically, there is not enough of this today. I want to talk to the older generation, and then the younger generation. I think I can maybe do this for a bit because I’m about in the middle right now.
How do you know if you are in the older generation? Let’s just say if you have to ask that question, you probably are.
To the Older Generation
Don’t look down on the next generation, don’t resent them, don’t look down on them. Believe in them because they need you.
Know that even though some in our society don’t always value maturity, God values maturity. If you’re not dead, you’re not done.
If you’ve got breath, keep going. I’d dare to say your best days are before you.
One of the most innovative and impacting ideas he’s learned came from a guy who was 75.
How can you hand ministry over to the next generation? The key is in delegating. Don’t just delegate tasks to the next generation. If you do this, you create followers. People who simply do what they’re told. Delegate authority, because then you create leaders. And that’s exactly what my pastor did to me.
Embrace the season you are in. Don’t try to be something you aren’t. The younger generation can smell a fake from a million miles away. Be yourself. With the younger generation, authenticity trumps cool every single time. “There’s nothing worse than some fat, fifty year old preacher wearing skinny jeans. Just say no.”
You can be a spiritual father to those who come behind you.
To the Younger Generation
You need those who have gone before you more than you can imagine.
A characteristic of the younger generation is the sense of entitlement. This is not your fault necessarily — you were coddled. One result of entitlement is over estimating what you can do. But most people over estimate what they can do in a short time and under estimate what they can do in a long time.
Showing honor publicly results in influence privately. The younger generation, however, often doesn’t show honor, and this is hurting churches and ministries.
One reason we have failed to honor people because we have failed to honor God for who he is. When we honor God for who he is, we will more naturally honor those around us.
Honor builds up; dishonor tears down. Honor values others; dishonor tears down. I would argue that in our churches and organizations, because of a lack of honor and love, we are limiting what we are able to do.
Some people say “if my pastor (or boss or etc.) was honorable, I’d show honor to them.” But it’s respect that is earned; honor is given. Treating people with honor is often what leads to them becoming honorable. Some of you in the younger generation need to repent of how you have treated those above you, because you have dishonored them. If you want to learn to be over, you need to learn to be under with integrity.
How Do We Do This?
Both generations must be intentional about this.
1. Create ongoing feedback loops. For example, each week I go over my message with a group that has people from the older generation and from the younger generation. Then after teaching the first one on Saturday night, I go back into a room and have it critiqued by those older and younger. You need to create intentional opportunities to get feedback. And think what it says to your church when a senior leader says to a 23 year-old “I value your opinion.”
2. Create specific mentoring moments. For example, yesterday I had a chance to sit with one of the major business leaders in our country. I was taking notes and writing as fast as I can. Recently we had a gathering in our church of the older and younger meeting together. These meetings do not happen by accident. You have to plan for them. This is one of the most important things you can do to develop strength in your organization. If you are younger, ask someone older, “will you mentor me?” Then ask them questions like crazy. Don’t try to copy what they do. Learn how they think.
3. Create opportunities for significant leadership development. For example, at our church we had a developmental weekend where we wanted to help develop new speakers. In a single weekend, we trained 38 new speakers to proclaim God’s word, and sent a resounding message that we are a church that values the next generation.
This was a truly fantastic message. Review this. Learn from this.
This is my paraphrase/summary of Jim Collins’ excellent message on his latest book, Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All.
Why do some enterprises thrive in uncertainty and chaos and others do not? Why do some leaders prevail in the most difficult circumstances, while other leaders fail to achieve greatness, or maybe even fail outright, in those same circumstances?
We have captured the differences in a triangle. At the center is that they are Level 5 Leaders. What separates an exceptional leader from an ordinary leader is not personality, but humility. Combined with will. We have spoken about this before. Acknowledging that this is the center, I want to focus on what else you need. There are three distinctive leadership behaviors that sit on top of that:
- Fanatic discipline
- Empirical creativity
- Productive paranoia
How do you exert control in a world of chaos? Imagine you are marching across the country. Some march only on the days when the wind is at their back. Others do 20 miles every day, no matter what, no matter how they feel or what the conditions are.
Fanatic discipline also means not stretching too far, not leaving yourself exposed when unforeseen things hit you.
All of our 10X companies had a standard of performance to hit and marching philosophy they would hold to even in the harshest conditions.
If you were to read just one chapter in his new book, he says it should be the chapter “The 20 Mile March.”
You have to manage yourself well in good times so you can do well in bad.
The 20 mile march is all about consecutive performance. Hit your mark not as an average, but as consistent, consecutive performance.
The biggest levers of change in the world are those who are enormously consistent in their approach.
The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change (though you will fall if you are unwilling to change). The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.
Still, discipline alone is not enough. We must also create. We must find new ways of doing things. We must make big creative bets and do new things.
How do the 10Xers create different from those who are mediocre?
You bet on something you know is going to work. Validate things based on reality. We came to call this “fire bullets, then fire cannonballs.” If you fire a cannonball first, and it misses, you are out of gunpowder. But if you fire bullets first, refine your line of site, and then fire a cannonball, you will hit your target.
Comparison leaders didn’t fire enough bullets — enough little things — to identify what will really work. Had a tremendous penchant for firing big, uncalibrated cannonballs.
At critical junctures in its history, Intel did not have the most innovative chip. But Intel beat it’s industry by a factor of 46. I’m not saying stop innovating. It’s a genius of the and. What these folks have is the ability to blend creativity and discipline. And it turns out creativity is not the hard thing.
Creativity is natural. Discipline is not. The challenge is not how to become creative, but how to get rid of the stuff that’s in the way of your creativity.
The really rare skill is the ability to marry creativity to discipline such that discipline amplifies your creativity rather than kills it. And how do you do that? 20 mile march and firing bullets, then cannonballs.
Be optimistic, and realize the world is full of danger. Take that paranoia and turn it in to buffer. It is what you do before you are in trouble, before difficult times come, that determines how strong you are when people most need you.
If you are only strong when conditions are good, that is called malpractice.
You have to keep yourself strong so when people need you, you are there.
The SMaC Recipe
Every company had a set of concrete practices they implemented consistently. Never forget Burlanmanson’s Law: “The greatest danger is not failure, but being successful without realizing why you were successful.”
You have the discipline to follow your practices, the productive paranoia to always be evaluating to make sure they are still working, and change things — but only based on empirical evidence of what works.
Always remember to preserve the core and stimulate progress. If you lose your values, you lose everything. But you must distinguish practices from values. Practices you need to change and develop. Your values should never change.
I’d like each of you to think of an event that hit you or your church or enterprise that meets three tests:
- You didn’t cause it
- It had a potentially significant consequence (good or bad)
- It was in some way a surprise
This is, of course, life. As a leader, how well did you perform in the face of that event? Would you give yourself an A? a B? a C?
What is the role of luck? Is the difference between 2X companies and 10X companies luck?
I realize the concept of luck may not resonate in the faith world! Stick with me for a sec here, though. Translating this to the faith world: the key is to see luck as a specific event that meets three tests — the three tests above. “When I was working on the research I had a conversation with Bill Hybels, and he said, ‘you know, Jim, not to upset your research, but did you realize your definition also applies to a miracle?’”
We asked two key questions: Are the 10X winners the recipients of luck? And second, what if anything did they do differently about it. What we found, using secular language, was that the great leaders were not luckier. Didn’t have better spikes, better timing. We asked the question, though, what was their return on luck? The question is not whether you get those events, but what you do with them when they come. The underperforming companies had an amazing tendency to squander them.
For example, Bill Grates was in a great position in the 70s. But weren’t many others also in those conditions? But who dropped out of college, worked 20 hours a day, and got the first PC out? That’s the return on “luck.” Thousands could have. He did.
The comparison companies had an amazing opportunity to fail to recognize and squander the good opportunities, and to be unprepared for the bad ones.
My wife had cancer ten years ago. You can’t say in the end “cancer is good.” But out of that experience we came away with a life mantra: “Life is people, and time with people you love.” And the more we began to try to remember and live idea, that life is about love and people, time with people you love, we got a high return on what was undeniably a bad event. It was a defining event that made us better. That’s what these leaders do.
You can replace the world luck with miracle, good event, bad event. What we find is that it’s this genius of the and. You pursue what you want to get done, AND when the big unexpected events happen, you ask “what is my responsibility to get the very most of this unexepcted event?”
When the leader steps up and makes the most of it, rather than squandering it, that is a very special brand of leadership. How to use a bad event as a defining moment, that forever transforms things.
If you were granted a miracle, or a blessed event, would it not be the height of your responsibility not to squander it? [Compare Ephesians 5:15-17: "make the most of the time"]
Are our lives mainly a result of what we do, or what happens to us?
It’s not what happens to you. It’s the things you do. We are always finding pairs of companies in the same circumstances, where one excels and the other falls. The great challenge is to accept, from all our research, that greatness is not a function of circumstance, but is first and foremost a function of conscious choice and discipline.
At the end of the day, what is a great enterprise? All that we’ve talked about before from Good to Great and Built to Last still applies. What’s new?
A great organization is:
- Superior performance. “Good intentions are not an excuse for incompetence.”
- Distinctive impact. Who would really miss you if you went away and why? That’s your distinctive impact. You don’t have to be big to be irreplaceable.
- Lasting endurance.
An organization is not truly great if it cannot be great without you. And if it cannot be great through shocks and storms and upheaval. These times we are going through right now are a call to lead at a higher level so people are there when they need you. They are counting on you to be there.
“Bill Hybels has always extended to me a hand of friendship and character. He has always made me feel welcome. There may be no better definition of great friendship, than to be always here for you so that you are never alone. That is what great friends are, no matter what and always. In that spirit, I extend a great thank you to Bill Hybels and to all of you. I hope each of you will connect somewhere in your life to be part of building something enduring and great. Perhaps in your church life or business life or non-profit or even a class you teach, or even building an enduring great family, or being an enduring great friend. But getting involved in something you care so much about that you want to make it the greatest it can possibly be, not because of what you can get but because it must be done, is something we all need to do. It is impossible to have a great life without having a meaningful life, and it is impossible to have a meaningful life without having meaningful work, doing it with people you love doing it with.”
“Whatever failings or flaws anyone has get highlighted when under stress. So it is important in Washington to never neglect the importance of relationships, and not letting differences become personal. Find ways even for people to get away together.”
“The other thing to be watchful of is it’s less the people themselves than the people who are egging them on.”
“Don’t play the resignation card unless you intend to carry through.”
Bill: I noticed from Decision Points that you and President Bush became good friends. Did that make it difficult?
Rice: We did have a very close relationship, and it was for the most part tremendously helpful. You really want to be able to make decisions without having to “call home” all the time, and you can make calls when you understand the president and have the framework worked out. The challenging thing to remember is that he may be your friend but he’s also the president. Second, use the relationship that you have to be a truth-teller for the president. When you are in a position of authority, you need truth tellers around you. You need to do it in a way that is right as well — only in private, for example. One reason I could say difficult things to the president was because he knew it was never going to show up in the NY Times. I knew also that the president valued what I thought. You have to develop a level of trust where your friendship becomes a place from which you can have the difficult conversations.
Bill: There are so many people in the US who believe you are eminently qualified to be president. You have been emphatic about saying that is not going to happen. But I think some of us would be curious, because you have the leadership, the vision, and the experience. There must be a deep and abiding reason you have chosen not to go that path.
Rice: I have never been a great planner, for example saying “in ten years I’m going to be doing this.” Because I’ve always in my life sought guidance through ambiguity. I love policy, not necessarily politics per se. You have to take energy from what you do as a politician, or it will drain you. On the campaign trail, Bush would be energized at the end of the day and I’d be ready to go to bed. The DNA was different. I think I’m called to do something different.
There’s lots I want to do in public service, but it doesn’t have to be elected office.
Bill: You are clear in your book that you are a follower of Christ, and a serious one. When you go to church, what are you hoping will happen to you when you sit down in church?
Rice: First and foremost, quiet time with God. I pray every night, I try to have meditation in the morning. But I have to tell you life enters. It enters my mind, it enters my spirit. It is hard to find the quiet time of rest. I find church is a place that that can happen to me.
Bill: (Joking) … so maybe you’d be fine if the preacher didn’t preach?…
Rice: No, no — I’m a minister’s daughter, remember! I’m getting to the necessity of preaching. I don’t want to hear sermons on current events [meaning, I think, politics from the pulpit]. What I especially value is coming away seeing things differently because of the sermon. I’m also a musician, and the music impacts me. Especially in the company of other believers.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is up now. Her message is called “No Higher Honor.” Here is my summary.
How different is it to be in government than out of government? It is very different. Now, I get up in the morning, read the newspaper, and think “isn’t that interesting.” And then I go on to what I want to do, because I’m no longer responsible for what’s in the newspaper.
It is a challenging and difficult time right now. We’ve been through three really big shocks. The first of course was September 11. If you were in leadership at that time, your concept of security changed forever. Then there was the global economic shock. This brings a sense of economic insecurity. And now we’ve had a third, which we’ve come to call “the air of spring.”
“Anger and fear are terrible ways to make political reform.”
What we are seeing is the universality of freedom. No man, woman, or child, wants to live in tyranny. Everyone wants the basic rights that we enjoy here in America. The right to say what you think. The right to worship. The right to be free from the secret police at tonight.
Freedom is not the same as democracy. Democracy is the institutionalization of those freedoms. And with rights come responsibilities. That is what makes a democracy stable. And it is a hard road from freedom to democracy. We in America ought to be pretty patient with those who are making the journey. Even in America, it has taken time for freedom to become democracy for all.
It takes more than a constitution and rule of law. It requires an understanding that democracy cannot be the tyranny of the majority. The rights of the minorities must be protected. And we must understand that the strong cannot exploit the weak. And that is not just the work of government. Government cannot put into the heart of every citizen the understanding and belief that we have the responsibility that there should be no weak links, because democracy is only as strong as its weakest link.
The strong should not only not exploit the weak, but ought to strengthen the weak.
If the strong exploit the weak, a democracy will not be stable.
Underneath this principle is another: that every life is worthy.
In democracy there are no kings and queens. There are no permanent stations in life. No one is condemned forever to the state in which they are born. Every life is capable of greatness. And if this is so, we have an obligation as citizens of a democracy to make sure the opportunity is there.
As Christians, the meaning of every life being equal is even deeper, because we are not only equals before the law, but equals before God. Our Lord Jesus died for each and every one of us, no matter our station in life, no matter the circumstances of our birth, no matter the depth of our sin, our Lord Jesus Christ died for each and every one of us.
Delivering compassion is the work of those who believe every life is worthy.
With education it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, it matters where you’re going.
If you are fortunate enough to lead in challenging times, it is important to recognize that there is so much opportunity. So how do you lead from the troubling times like we live in, to those that will be more prosperous and freer? And say when you leave this earth that you have helped leave things better off.
Leadership is not simply about people following you, but helping people to see their own leadership capacity.
We have an example here in Jesus himself. He led his disciples to become leaders of the church.
But you can’t lead if people don’t see in you the belief that the future can be better.
I’ve come to believe that the most essential character of the leader is irrepressible optimism. Nobody wants to follow a sourpuss or someone with a victim mentality. But how do you remain optimistic in difficult times? One of the most important sources of optimism is to keep perspective. When I was Secretary of State, people would often look around and things weren’t going great in the world, but I thought it must have seemed this way many other times. Imagine what it must have been like to lead after WWII, when the question wasn’t whether Eastern Europe would be communist, but whether Western Europe would be as well.
Today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same. If you are ultimately focused on todays headlines you will achieve nothing of lasting value.
Another key to perspective is to realize that after struggle comes victory. This is a central message to our faith. After Friday, there would be Sunday.
I can’t tell you how often I have had to remember that it is a privilege to struggle. To often you can fall in to thinking it is your own dedication that is the key. But when, as Lincoln says, you have no place to go but your knees, you are driven to a deeper peace. I was often driven to Romans 5:1-10. I can’t tell you how often I read that to remember that it is indeed a privilege to struggle, and that out of struggle can come victory.
Perhaps the greatest source of strength and optimism is to think about all those times that what seemed impossible seems inevitable in retrospect.
There was a time no one believed that so many would emerge in freedom and prosperity and dignity. How could Nelson Mandela have a vision not for a South Africa where those who are black would oppress the whites once they are in power, but of a multi-racial society? Or how could a little girl who grows up in segregated Alabama, where her parents couldn’t take her to a restaurant, grow up to become Secretary of State? You see, somehow, things that one day seemed impossible, seem inevitable in retrospect. That’s one of history’s little tricks.
But we are to be reminded today that those outcomes were not inevitable. They were the work of people who sacrificed sometimes everything for a principle. Those who led by belief and faith and put themselves on the line to make the world better. Who led from impossibility to inevitability because they never accepted the world as it is, but also worked for it as it should be. That is always the calling of leaders.
I am grateful to have served as a leader in challenging times, and I am very grateful for the prayers of so many who would come up to me and say “I’ve prayed for you.” And I am grateful for the faith of my father and my mother, which gave me a foundation from which to take on the challenges of leadership. I wish you the same, and know that together we can make the world be not what it is, but what it should be.
“God doesn’t make you a leader so you can simply preside over something. You are to take people from here to there. Leaders take people to a preferred future.”
Before you try to take people to the future, show why we can’t stay where we are.
Along the journey from here to there, where is the vision most vulnerable? In the early stages, middle stages, or near the end?
His answer? The middle. When you are breaking out of the box, you have a lot of energy. The first 1,000 meters of a marathon are not hard. But “visions are extremely vulnerable in the middle. You need your best vision casting, your best motivating, to keep people engaged.”
Thinking in terms of your leadership career. Be careful in the middle phase. You realize you aren’t invincible. People die. You realize you don’t have unlimited energy. The unexpected happens. Make sure you stay close to God, and he will carry you. You can’t do this on your own.
“There’s not a lot like the local church when the local church is working right.”
“My intention is to leave Willow stronger than it’s ever been.” “My overarching thought about my leadership these days: What a privilege it is to be a leader. What an absolute privilege. If you think about it, only a very small percentage of the human race get the opportunity to lead things. These days I often find myself looking to heaven and saying, ‘Thank you, God. Thank you that I was placed in a family where I got graduate level leadership training at the dinner table. And people who drew leadership out of me. And one day you entrusted me with a vision to start a church in a movie theatre for people far from God.’”
“Have you thanked God recently for the privilege of leadership?”
Every once in a while it is a good thing to step back, reflect, and acknowledge the incredible privilege of leadership. “We get to build teams with people we love like family. We get to solve problems. We get to build up other leaders. We get to direct funds to causes we believe in deeply. We get to advance the purposes of the transcendent God in this broken world.”
“The worst days of leadership beat the best days of just being an onlooker or sitting on the sidelines.”
Advice he received once: “Enjoy every single day you get to lead. Because one day it will be over.”
Talking about the approach to succession planning they are developing (he’s 60).
First, there’s a planning phase. “Every important issue pertaining to succession must get surfaced. Who picks? What is the time frame? Will the pastor have any role after the transition?” And so forth. This should not be rushed.
Second, seek to find an internal person who can be the successor. If you can’t find an internal, then look for an external candidate. But look for an internal candidate.
Last phase is the actual transition itself. You gradually increase their responsibility and decrease yours, over the period of about 18 months.
His feelings on this: “I am extremely proud of our board and how they did the process. I also feel great about Willow’s future. It is also tough to consider.” (Note: They aren’t transitioning; “I still have many years left.” But it’s important to have a succession plan, because no pastor will be pastoring forever.)
“Senior pastors: Do the right thing for your church. When you get into your 60s, make sure that your greatest legacy is that your church is well led after you are done.”
They are in the second stage now — contemplating possible internal successors. “We’ll keep you posted on this in future summits.”
Hybels: “God didn’t make you a leader to respond to stuff all day. God made you a leader to move stuff ahead!”
This is fascinating. Hybels just mentioned how he’s met with many leaders — leaders “smarter and more effective than myself” — who say to him “I find it so challenging to manage my work and keep up with things.” This is huge. It shows the importance of knowing how to get things done, especially for leaders. Without an effective approach, it is easy to fall into the trap of always responding rather than also taking initiative to move stuff ahead.
I always enjoy listening to Bill Hybels, because he clearly has a sincere heart for God and is devoted to helping others follow Christ. Here are some key points from his message right now.
At the heart of leadership is self-leadership. “You are the most difficult person you will ever lead.”
At the heart of great leaders is energy. This is rarely talked about but is critical to leadership. Leaders have great energy and create energy in others. And key to maintaining your energy is leading yourself well.
[Some of my thoughts:] This is interesting. Hybels is talking about a time he sought to identify the six most important contributions he could make in the last six weeks of the year. This is analogous to a projects list if you follow GTD, basically. Here’s what’s interesting: Hybels didn’t list primarily individual contributor tasks, like “do this” and “get that done.” He had things on his list like “energize people to complete this initiative.”
That’s how leaders need to think. When identifying what we need to get done, it’s easy to think in terms of individual tasks. We need to fight against this tendency and think first in terms of mobilizing, equipping, and empowering others. If you keep a project list or task list, for some reason it becomes especially challenging to do this. Something about to-do lists seems to naturally incline us to think of things we need to do ourselves, rather than the things we need to do to equip others to get things done (which is a critical part of leadership).
I’ll be blogging the Global Leadership Summit today and tomorrow. Here’s a quick snapshot of what the Summit is all about:
We’re convinced that leadership is critical to church vitality. A church’s effectiveness in pursuing its God-given mission is largely dependent on the character, devotion, and skill of its leadership core—which can be formal or informal, staff or volunteer, clergy and laity.
The influence and impact of the church is felt most fully when Christ-centered leaders are at the forefront of establishing and growing well-led local churches and organizations…key reasons why The Global Leadership Summit exists.
The church is at its best, as God’s love and care inevitably spills out into our neighborhoods, towns and cities through acts of love, justice, mercy, service, and restoration.
And here are the speakers up this morning:
- Bill Hybels
- Condoleeza Rice
- Jim Collins
As is well known by now, Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, withdrew himself as a speaker at the Leadership Summit this week. Starbucks did not say why, but most speculated it was because of an online petition by an activist group accusing Willow Creek of being “anti-gay.”
Bill Hybels ended that speculation and addressed this issue at the Summit on Thursday. His response is a model of combining graciousness with truth and conviction. Here are two key quotes:
“If the organizers of this petition had simply taken the time to call us, we would have taken the time to explain to them that Willow is not only not anti-gay; Willow Creek is not anti-anybody. Our church was founded on the idea that people matter to God — all people. People of all backgrounds, colors, ethnicities, and sexual orientation. The mat at every door on this campus reads “welcome”. . .
“Now what is true is that we challenge homosexuals and heterosexuals to live out the sexual ethics taught in the Scriptures which encourages full sexual expression between a man and a woman in the context of marriage and prescribes sexual abstinence and purity for everybody else. But even as we challenge all of our people to these biblical standards, we do so with grace-filled spirits, knowing the confusion and brokenness that is rampant in our fallen world.”
- Up Next: Michelle Rhee on Educational Reform
- Interview with Michelle Rhee, Former Chancellor of DC Public Schools and Education Reformer Featured in Waiting for Superman
The summit is just ending now, and I’ll be heading back home shortly.
This has been a lot of fun and an excellent experience. I’m grateful to the Willow Creek Association for the opportunity to have been one of the guest bloggers here at the leadership summit. I learned a ton, and I hope that all of you were able to follow along a bit through the posts. This has been quite a packed two days!
I am pretty tired right now, but if I can I’ll write up some concluding thoughts when I get the chance.
Talking about vulnerability. Good follow-up to a talk on humility.
How he came to this view on the importance of vulnerability: His faith, the example of his dad growing up, experience as a consultant right out of college — they were told “always look smarter than your clients, etc.” Wasn’t real.
The desire to avoid vulnerability in our society stems from our over valuing of avoiding suffering and difficulty. People say “no, always be on, always make yourself strong.” But there is something attractive about people that are humble and vulnerable.
The three fears that keep us from being vulnerable.
1. Fear of losing the business
Another way to say it: Fear of being rejected.
Rejection is something we are called to — Christ was rejected. We have to be willing to be rejected. “Enter the danger.”
We have to speak the kind truth. Can’t have “terminal niceness” in our churches. We fall into it because we don’t want to be rejected.
People are hungry for those who will tell them the kind truth.
Don’t be afraid of being rejected. 8 out of 10 times you won’t be. But sometimes you will — and you have to accept that.
[My observation: Just make sure you really are accurate about the truth and what needs to be done and how you are assessing the situation. If you tell the kind truth, but are actually wrong, that's not helpful!]
2. The fear of being embarrased
When we’re serving others, we have to do things that could embarrass us. We need to be willing to say “I don’t understand that.”
Your job is not to look smart, but to help them do better. If you are editing yourself to manage your own image, people will not trust you and you will not inspire them.
Be willing to ask dumb questions!
Celebrate your mistakes.
3. The fear of feeling inferior
Be willing to put yourself in a lower position. This is what Jesus did: washed the disciples feet.
Sometimes people aren’t going to reward you for doing the dirty work. But you should do it anyway.
This is about honoring your client’s work: being so interested in them that you care more about their success than your own.
There’s a standing ovation for Lencioni.
(Note: Lencioni just found out he was speaking this week, as he took Howard Schultz’s slot after he withdrew.)
Really looking forward to Patrick Lencioni’s message. He has been a major influence on my thinking.
Here are a few posts influenced by and interacting with his thinking:
- Bad Meetings Generate Real Human Suffering
- A series I started on The Three Signs of a Miserable Job
- A New View on Non-Profits
- Don’t Aspire to Mediocrity
John Dickson’s message today on humility is the most insightful and helpful I’ve ever heard on the subject. Dickson is Director of the Centre for Public Christianity and Sr. Minister, St. Andrews Anglican Church, Sydney, Australia. Here’s a brief overview of his talk, and below are my notes:
Are prestigious titles and powerful positions prerequisites for impactful leadership? “You don’t need structural authority to be a leader of influence,” according to historian and social commentator John Dickson. “The leader’s strongest tool is humility,” he says. “It intensifies credibility.” Dickson, the author of Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership (May 2011), investigates the crucial role humility plays in a leader’s life—and its theological, historical, and practical implications. Dickson issues this challenge: Navigate the complex intersection of leadership and humility, and learn to lead through persuasion, example, and influence rather than positional authority. Dickson offers practices to help you cultivate deeper authentic humility on your team—and in your soul.
“Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status and use your influence for the good of others. It is to hold your power in service of others.”
The best leaders are marked by humility. Humility is what makes the great, great.
5 evidences of this:
1. Humility is common sense
It is a reflection of the deep structure of reality. None of us is an expert at everything. What we don’t know and can’t do, far exceeds what we do know and can do.
2. Humility is beautiful
It is a simple psychological reality: we are more attracted to the great who are humble, than to the great who know it and want to know us too. “Presumption diminishes greatness. Humility enhances greatness; is greatness.” The same is true in any context.
But did you know that humility has not always been admired? In ancient Rome, humility was a negative word associated with defeat. Humility before the gods and emperors was advised, but humility towards an equal was regarded as ill-informed. One of the prized virtues was “love of honor.”
Academic research found that a humility revolution took place in the middle of the first century. Not only because of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus’ crucifixion changed the way people understood greatness and humility. The cross of Christ was contrary to the understanding of greatness in the ancient world. The early Christians had to deal with this question: Did his crucifixion mean he wasn’t as great as they thought? No. They realized: “If the greatest man we have ever known sacrificed his life on the cross, then greatness must consist in willing sacrifice and holding power for the good of others.” And of course this is Matthew 20:28 and Phil 2:3-8.
Interview with a researcher: “The admiration of humility comes entirely from Christian influence. Entirely.” Western culture has been profoundly shaped by the cross of Christ — even long after it ceased to be explicitly Christian.
3. Humility is generative
It generates new knowledge, new abilities. The logic is easy: the proud person (say, at a conference like this) will go away with less than the humble person, who is looking to learn. This is even true in science. Think about how science works: it is basically a humble confession that you can’t just observe the world and describe it; you have to test your theory.
The scientific revolution is the result of a humility revolution. Humility generates science.
True also in business. John Kotter tracked the careers of 115 of his students from the Harvard Business School. One student was average in class, but ended up being an incredible leader. Lucky break? No. What took him further was his humility. “Confronting his mistakes, he minimized the arrogant attitudes that often accompany success.” He watched more closely and listened more closely than others. “The humble place is the place of growth.”
4. Humility is persuasive
The textbook on persuasion for 2,000 years boils down what persuades to 3 things: logos (intellectual component), pathos (aesthetic or emotional), and ethos (character of the persuader). Aristotle said: the character is the most significant. “We believe good-hearted people to a greater extent and more quickly than we do others on all subjects in general and completely so in cases where there is not exact knowledge but room for doubt. Character is almost, so to speak, the controlling factor in persuasion.”
5. Humility is inspiring
“The real power of effective leadership is maximizing other people’s potential, which inevitably demands ensuring they get the credit. When our ego won’t let us build another person up, then the effectiveness of the organization goes down.”
When leaders appear aloof and unapproachable, we admire them, but we don’t imitate them. But humble leaders: We don’t just admire them; we aspire to be like them.
Four tools of leadership: ability, authority, character, persuasion. Some of the most inspiring leaders in history had no structural authority. They just had truckloads of ability, character, and persuasion. “Sometimes you don’t need the power of the hire and fire. You don’t need armies to change empires or individuals.”
Here are the other live bloggers for the Summit that I’m working with. You can check out their blogs for their angle on the conference and the sessions as well (which I would highly recommend!):
And, the Willow Creek Association blog features one post per session, so you can get a quick sampling of the different blogs there as well.
“Not everyone is the same, and therefore you cannot deal with everyone you lead the same.”
3 categories of people (“Now, I hate classifications that force people into certain categories. But these are true and biblical.” Also: “We all have all three of these areas in our hearts, including the foolish and the evil, but some people make a career out of one of them”):
Correct them and they change. (Assuming you are correct! Not always the case.) And, they thank you. So what do you do when you’re leading a wise person? You talk to them. Someone’s listening. So you coach them, give them feedback, resource them. With the wise person, the challenge is to make sure they are a match for what you need. And you have to give them good feedback in coaching, and you have to keep them challenged. Easy.
May be very bright and gifted. This is why they’ve gotten as far as they have. And they really do produce a lot of times. But here’s the problem. With the wise person, when the light comes, they adjust themselves to the light. With a fool, when the light shows up, they adjust the light. It hurts their eyes. They’re allergic to it. They try to dim it and they try to adjust the truth. The wise man changes himself; the fool tries to change the truth. “This wasn’t a big deal.” “It’s not like that.” Or, they shoot the messenger. Whenever you give feedback to someone, and the first reflective move is defensiveness, let that be a warning sign. They are squinting. They deny that it’s reality, the minimize it, they externalize it, they shoot the messenger. They aren’t happy to hear it, and a lot of times they get angry. You become the problem.
Every time you talk to a person like this, they do not own it. When you get hopeless about that with them, that is one of the best things you can do as a leader. A wise responsible leader initially has hope that the person will start listening. But this person just keeps not listening. You gotta give up here.
Here’s what the Bible says, and all research validates: “With a wise person, talk to them. They will love you for it and listen and get better.” But then the Bible changes its tone. It says “do not correct a fool, lest you incur insults upon yourself. Do not confront a mocker, lest they hate you. Etc.” These verses describe reality like you’ve never seen it before. They say: “Here’s your strategy: Stop talking.” Why? They have stopped listening. Their allergy to reality is now in charge. It’s your job as a leader to take stewardship over this and stop the insanity.
So you have a conversation. “You know, Joe, how we’ve talked about A and A and A and A. I want to talk about a new problem. The problem that talking with you about problems doesn’t help.” And you begin to get out of the weeds, and take it up to the patter. “I don’t know how to give you feedback in a way that changes anything. I’m hopeless. So let me tell you what I do when I’m hopeless. I’ve got to protect our vision. We’re going to do something different. We’re going to have some limits. What I want to know is how I can talk to you in a way that makes a difference.” It may be they are foolish for reasons you can address. Maybe you can give your feedback differently. But then to second question: “What do we do if we have this conversation again, and nothing has changed.” If they don’t listen again, you have to have consequences. They may get moved out of the position. There are extreme consequences, there are minor consequences.
Here is the principle: Fools don’t change when truth comes to them, but when the pain of not changing becomes greater than the pain of changing. “I’m a recovering fool. All of us are foolish to some degree. Jesus died for fools.” You can redeem their position and role and giftedness.
The leadership challenge here is to limit your exposure, make it clear about the consequences, give them a choice, and follow through. Need to say “I need someone in this position that can hear reality. I hope that’s you. I want you to be in that chair. But that’s what that chair is going to require, and you get to make the choice.”
They want to inflict pain. I’ve seen this, and you have to believe it. There truly are bad people in the world. I’ve seen it in board meetings, I’ve seen it in high levels of leadership. Paul writes: “Reject a divisive person after a second warning. Have nothing to do with them.” Strategy: protection mode.
“God has called you to lead people. Sometimes it’s not about the plan, but about getting the people to work the plan. Take the challenge to not let somebody’s character problem stop the mission God has called you to.”
This interview with Michelle Rhee here at the Global Leadership Summit was highly, highly impressive. She is an amazing, clear-minded, hard-headed thinker and reformer when it comes to education. Many of you may be familiar with her from the documentary Waiting for Superman, which tells the story of her relentless quest to reform the public education system in Washington, DC. Here’s a brief bio:
Leaders know that change isn’t easy—and it doesn’t come overnight. That’s why, for the past 18 years, Michelle Rhee has stayed the course with a single objective: to give children the needed skills to compete in a changing world. Rhee, who served with Teach for America, founded The New Teacher Project, equipping school districts to transform how they recruit and train qualified teachers. During her three years as Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. Public Schools, students’ scores and graduation rates rose dramatically. Today, Rhee is CEO of StudentsFirst, a movement to transform public education. She holds firm to her conviction that teachers are the most powerful driving force behind student achievement.
This is a paraphrased summary of the interview — I tried to type the highlights as I could keep up.
Question: You had a lot of opposition against you as you brought about the reforms as Chancellor of Washington, DC public schools. Why didn’t you bail?
Answer: I loved my job. Every day I loved it. The children in the district were receiving such a disservice. More than half of the children weren’t graduating. It was really criminal what was happening. And to think people were avoiding addressing the problem because they were afraid, I said “I can’t let this keep happening on my watch. If you want to yell at me, fine, but this won’t keep happening on my watch.”
Question: How did you get to where you are?
Answer: My parents always emphasized the importance of gratitude. We grew up with a mindset of how do you help others and cure the injustices and do as much to that end as you can.
Question: You ran into Teach for America after college.
Answer: Yes. In my senior year of college, I had no idea what I was going to do when I graduated, and I was watching a PBS documentary about Teach for America. I thought “Wow, here’s a place were people are seeking to change the world through public education. I want to do that.”
Question: You got assigned to inner city Baltimore.
Answer: I was not such a good teacher my first year. I realized what most do: It is literally the hardest job you can possibly have. Coming to school each day and seeing to it that all 36 kids receive the education they need. [Applause]
Question: [I missed it]
Answer: Yes, some people came and said “you might want to think about a career change.” That was hard, because I’d been a success at everything I’d done so far.
Question: But things changed quickly. 2 years later, 90% of your students were at proficiency levels in reading and math. When you started, it was at 13%. What did you do?
Answer: It wasn’t rocket science. We did what every school in this country that is seeing those results do. We built a very strong work ethic. We taught them there is no easy way to do this. Come in before school and after. Engaged their parents so they understood what we were doing and why. I sometimes had my kids do two hours of homework a night, and the parents though I was nuts. Now, right now I have a daughter and 20 minutes is hard to get through! So maybe it was too much at the time. But the things we put in place changed the way they did things. It was their hard work that brought the change.
Question: You went to Harvard and were involved in [something with policy.] But you couldn’t get over your time teaching.
Answer: . . . I founded a new organization called “The New Teacher Project.” The idea was that we would work with educational departments and etc. and see how we could get more teachers into inner city schools.
Question: You encountered some myths in some studies.
Answer: The biggest myth that existed at that time is that there aren’t enough people who want to teach in the neediest schools. One statistic said the nation would need 2 million teachers over the next decade, not enough applicants. We quickly found that was not true at all. You do a recruitment campaign, and you get thousands of applicants. The problem was the bureaucracy. The best candidates could not get hired. Their applications got lost, [other stuff].
Question: [Missed it]
Question: Your organization became very effective. In the meantime, this stuff is happening in DC. Some direct authority was given to make some changes, and you were called by that guy. Why did you say yes? You were having such a phenomenal time with the new teacher project. You initially resisted. How did he get you to say yes?
Answer: I said no several times, and being a superintendent was the last thing I wanted to do. And I had never run a school, much less a school district. I was the least likely person to choose. Ultimately I took the job because in a heart to heart with the mayor I said “you don’t want me for this job. Your job as a politician is to keep your constituents happy. If I come in and do what’s necessary to turn things around, I would cause you heartache and headache.” And he said: “As long as the things you are doing are the right things for kids, that is fine.” “I had never heard a political say this. I said ‘what are you willing to risk for this?’” And he said “everything.”
Question: Give us a sense of what things were like when you stepped in.
Answer: 8% of the 8th graders were on grade level in mathematics. Chances of graduating from college upon entering freshman year 9%. At kindergarten, the students were on par with other students in other districts around the nation. But the longer they were in our system, the more they would fall behind. It was almost better if students would have just stayed home all day. We bought computers that first year for the whole district, and I got a call that first day saying “this isn’t going well.” And they said “many of the classrooms can’t plug them in, because they only have two-pronged outlets.” So there was a huge amount of dysfunction; it was very broken.
Question: What did you zero in on as the core problem you were going to address?
Answer: We wanted to clean up some of the basic issues first: make sure everyone was getting paid, on health care, had their books. Then the things we really focused on was … we really elieved the way we had most impact on our students was to make sure there was an excellent teacher in every classroom and excellent principle in every school. So our emphasis was on human capital.
Question: What moves did you then make?
Answer: We decided to close 23 of the schools, 15% of our inventory. At the time that we did that, no district had done it to that extent before. They had wanted to close that many schools, but 3 a year. I cut the central office administration in about half. When I started there were 1,000; when I left, there were 500. I removed about 2/3 of the principals in the district . . . there was a lot that was going on. Separate from those numbers, the main thing I tried to do was address the culture. We wanted to think about every child the same way we think about our own. One day we were having a policy discussion about a new teacher evaluation system we were going to put in place. Question was if a teacher was regarded as ineffective, how long do we let them stay? Some people said “let them stay for 2 or 3 years.” I said “If we let an ineffective teacher stay a second year, I have to be comfortable knowing that person would be teaching my kids. I would never let that happen. If I came to school on the first day and the principal said ‘Here’s Olivia’s teacher. She’s not so good. But we are trying to develop here, and this is good for the system.’ There’s no way I would let that happen.” If this was not a policy I was not willing to subject my own children to, that was not a policy I was willing to let any other parents in the district have their kids subject to. [Sounds like the Golden Rule -- Mt 7!]
Question: [Missed it]
Answer: A good educator who walks into a classroom with a good teacher can tell it almost right away. The teacher is writing on the chalkboard, saying “Fred, don’t pull Sue’s hair,” and you didn’t even realize that was happening. Etc.
Question: What does value added mean?
Answer: This is a term that has just come in. We want to evaluate our students on the basis of how students are growing. I looked at the performance evaluation of the teachers, and 95% were great — at a time when only 8% of the students had a chance of graduating. How could that be? The concept of value add is you measure a teacher and the students at the beginning of the year, and the end, and make sure there’s growth. It creates a fairer system. If you set an absolute goal, “90% of your students have to be here by the end of the year,” you might be at a school where 90% are already on grade level at the start, and another is at a school where only 10% are. So it is more fair to measure if the students grew.
Question: Lots of people lost jobs. Then you got picketed. Did that wear on you? How did you handle that?
Answer: One day they even came to my house. My mom said “there are some people here, and they’re really excited about something.” I said “Mom, they’re here to protest me.” One day we opened the Washington Post and there was a two page spread on all the school closures, news shots of me getting yelled at, etc. My mother walked into the kitchen that night as I was making a peanut butter and jelly sandwhich and she said “Are you OK?” Then she said “when you were a kid, you never used to care about what other kids thought about you. I feared you might become anti-social. But now I see that that is serving you well. ”
You have to be OK with criticism. This is not the profession for you if criticism makes you feel super bad. I would much rather have had a room full of people yelling at me, than the opposite where no one cares. I would much rather deal with anger than apathy.
Question: And you can’t lead if change isn’t happening. It’s the very nature of leadership. So the million dollar question: If you had to do it over again, would you change that fast? What would you say to leaders: incremental change, or revolution?
Answer: I’m not an incremental girl. I certainly didn’t think it was appropriate for the context we were working in. When I was responsible for a school district that was failing a vast majority of its children, I wasn’t going to stand for that. Some people would say to me “you are going too fast, like a bull in a China shop.” But I always noticed that their children were not in the DC schools. If you have your children tucked up in a private school, you can afford to let this slide in the DC schools a bit. I never heard a parent of a child in the district say “you’re moving too fast.”
Question: [Missed it]
Answer: If you look at the education agenda in this country, it has largely been driven by special interests. And the problem in that scenario is that there is no organized interest on behalf of kids. So seeing that void and believing that the only way we will see change in this realm is to have that voice out there, I decided I would motivate people towards that. So I started an organization called Students First, and it is a movement of people across this country who know that our education system is not serving children well in this country and put pressure on public officials for change.
Question: One more question while we change. Some final parting words of challenge.
Answer: As I think about what needs to happen in this country, it really is about putting students first. Go to our website at www.studentsfirst.org to find out more about what is happening. I’ll close on this. I was meeting with a state legislator a few weeks ago. He said “I understand what you’re trying to do. I just wnat you to understand this is really hard. The union will be picketing, etc.” I looked at him and said: “But as an elected official, your job is to represent all your constituents. If you just turn your attention to where the yelling is the loudest, you will be turning your backs to kids. Because kids don’t vote. Kids don’t hold rallies and protests. Proverbs 31:8: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.” The children cannot go out there and represent their own interests, so we as the adults need to be the ones who stand up and do something about it.”
Answer: I would describe myself as an aspiring Christian. My fiance is a strong man of faith and evangelical Christian. There are a few things holding me up. I was talking to a pastor recently, and he said “I can tell that you’re close. What’s the problem?” I said [missed it.] He said “this is a journey between you and God. Don’t pay attention to what other people are saying and doing.” The other thing is I’m a very linear and rational sort of person. I have a hard time turning things over. So this concept “let go and let God,” right, is a tough one for me. Going through this workbook Experiencing God. There is one day we did this together and talked about the concept of letting Go and letting God, and the lesson was talking about Sara in the OT, and she took things into her own hands to fulfill the promise God had made. My fiance said, “see, that’s what you do. You can’t do that. Let go!” So that’s where I am in my spiritual journey.
Michelle Rhee is an educational reformer, whose story is partly told in the documentary on the state of modern education, Waiting for Superman. Here’s a brief bio:
Leaders know that change isn’t easy—and it doesn’t come overnight. That’s why, for the past 18 years, Michelle Rhee has stayed the course with a single objective: to give children the needed skills to compete in a changing world. Rhee, who served with Teach for America, founded The New Teacher Project, equipping school districts to transform how they recruit and train qualified teachers. During her three years as Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. Public Schools, students’ scores and graduation rates rose dramatically. Today, Rhee is CEO of StudentsFirst, a movement to transform public education. She holds firm to her conviction that teachers are the most powerful driving force behind student achievement.
Hybels is giving lots of examples of tough callings.
The president of World Vision: Was asked once: “What’s the hardest thing about leading World Vision? ‘It’s just having your heart exposed to misery again, and again, and again.’”
A woman who went to Somalia to work with the poorest of the poor.
Jim Mellado: “Was on the fast track of corporate stardom. I met with him one day and said ‘There are lots of churches that will never reach their potential, because they aren’t sure how to lead. What if we started a training organization, and you led it, and we helped train leaders all over the world, especially where no one will go, in the most under resourced areas of the world. And now for 17 years he has showed up every single day, gave up an unbelievable career to accept a tough calling from God, to simply help make churches better.”
“Some of you have been nudged by God to go in a direction of a tough calling. Do you have the courage to do that?”
“Those who came into the sessions today, at every venue all over the world, received a piece of a shattered clay jar (ties in to the illustration from Jeremiah Hybels just gave — not recorded here). Write the date on it. Let this be a reminder that this world is not going to get fixed unless leaders, leaders like us, are available for tough assignments — like Jeremiah was. Some of you have been prompted, but have never had the courage to say yes. We’re going to give you some time to reflect.”
A Few Thoughts
I really appreciated this session. It is easy for people to get the notion that good leaders will always see things going great — if you just learn enough about leadership, things will always go “up and to the right” for you. And people can get the wrong idea that the point of leadership conferences is to reinforce this idea.
So this session was a good reminder that effective leadership doesn’t equate with things always going smooth. Leaders will have tough times. Good leaders will not always see things go well, and leadership is not about finding success as traditionally defined. Some of the best leaders may hardly be known this side of eternity. That’s because true greatness is about character and faithfulness. Recognition and success are secondary, and may not match up perfectly (or even very well) with true greatness in this world. The Christian leader seeks to please the Lord, looking forward to what is to come, and ultimately the “well done” that comes from Christ on the final day.
A good final word from Hybels: “I’ve never known a single leader who regretted accepting a tough calling.”