The Courage That Leadership Requires – Bill Hybels

Bill Hybels


Founder and Senior Pastor,
Willow Creek Community Church

  • Founded The Global Leadership Summit, now in 530+ cities and 90 countries
  • Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, a pioneer in contemporary church strategy and one of America’s largest churches with more than 24,000 weekly attendees
  • Committed to developing and mentoring leaders worldwide, including those in some of the most difficult, overlooked and under-resourced countries
  • Best-selling author of more than 20 books including Courageous Leadership and Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs


Once again Bill didn’t disappoint in opening the Summit.  His message of courage was an inspiring and challenging reminder of the responsibility of leadership.  I appreciate his honesty in expressing the difficulties that he has faced as a leader.

Here are my notes from the session:

Leadership requires a non-stop flow of fortitude

Courage “a cause for which I am fully prepared to die” – Nelson Mandela

Joshua 1:9 “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid.  For I am with you and will never forsake you.”

1) Courage to embrace the vision.

Vision is a picture of the future that creates passion in people.

God made you a leader to move people from here to there.

Every significant vision God births in you is going to put your courage to the test.

When fear grips us, we abort the vision secretly.

We lack bravery.

It’s why God made us leaders – to step out in faith and to move something or someone from here to there.

Don’t die a coward.

Visions are holy commodities.  Treat them with the utmost respect.

2) Courage to define current reality.

All leaders are always leading.  Every organization is going one of three directions: down, plateauing or up.

Down – Respond to the fire; code red emergency

Plateau – Start a fire

Up – Pour fuel on the fire

Your whole team knows what reality your organization is in.  They are waiting for you to work up the courage to face it yourself and step up to lead them out of it.

3) Courage to build a fantastic culture.

Best Christian Workplace – tool for assessing staff culture (

People join organizations.  They leave managers.

Be as concerned about building staff culture as you are about building the church.

Staff cultures will only ever be as healthy as the CEO or Senior Pastor wants them to be.

Enormous courage is required to make significant gains in your culture’s health beginning with brave apologies for what contributed to low morale.

We are no longer gonna pay people to bruise and bust our culture.

A flourishing staff is so much more effective than a toxic staff.

4) Courage to establish and reinforce values.

Move from casting vision to establishing an enviable value.

There comes a time when a leader has to throw down the gauntlet and declare that an enviable value is established and the whole organization must embrace it.

Leading over the long haul and finishing strong require enormous courage.

Where Leaders Learn

Tomorrow I will be hanging out with the team at The Willow Creek Association Leadership Summit.

I absolutely love this team and how thoughtfully they craft The Summit every year.  It’s one of my favorite leadership learning environments.

I’ll be blogging some of the sessions and the takeways/applications for leaders, so be sure to subscribe to the blog to follow along.

Also, it’s not too late to register at one of the 230 host sites around the country.  There’s bound to be one in your neighborhood.  Register here.

And as Bill Hybels shared in this video “I’m praying for individual defining moments” for every one who attends!

Dealing With Immaturity

When I get exasperated, I ramble. This particular day I was rambling to my counselor about the frustration I was feeling with my own growth challenges. After patiently waiting for me to finish my blathering, she shared a concept that I had never considered – emotional maturity doesn’t necessarily parallel our physical maturity. Perhaps that should have been obvious, but like many others I had made a false assumption that we naturally grow in emotional maturity, as we get older. My counselor proceeded to explain that while our bodies naturally grow into adulthood, our emotions could stay trapped in childish patterns if we haven’t been given the tools to mature in our emotional health. That explanation provided some relief from the frustration I felt for the immaturity I was recognizing in my life and at the same time made me aware of the amount of work that was ahead of me.

I’m sure your leadership landscape is peppered with the scars of immaturity. The frustrated remark you made to your boss. The snarky comment you said to a co-worker. The door you slammed. The meeting you stormed out of. The cold shoulder you gave someone who didn’t support your initiative.

Not only is your leadership marred with your less than stellar moments, you’ve been on the receiving end of these emotionally unhealthy zingers as well. The scathing email from a volunteer who disagreed with your decision. The passive-aggressive tweet from a staff member following a difficult conversation. The employee who always has an excuse for under-performance.

Continue reading this article at Sunday|Magazine

2 More Spots Left!

Women leaders!  We have two more spots left in the coaching group that begins this fall.

Here are the details.  Submit your application by Aug 15th if you’re interested!

What: Coaching Group for Women in Ministry & Non-profit Leadership
When: October 2013-March 2014
Facilitated by: Jenni Catron


  • Women who serve in a high level leadership role in a church or ministry-related non-profit organization
  • Leaders who are in a season of challenging growth or transition that would benefit from the intensive discussion of a small, focused group
  • Leaders who are committed to the hard work of personal development that will result in growth for yourself and those you lead
  • Leaders who are willing to make the time and financial commitment

What you get:

  • Four days of coaching sessions in Nashville, TN
  • Special guests for relevant topics
  • The opportunity for transparent and honest discussion with other women who think and lead like you
  • Focused attention on your key issues or challenges and a committed group to share that growth journey with you
  • Two one-on-one coaching calls with Jenni
  • Supporting books and curriculum

What you invest:

  • Commit to participate in 2 face-to-face coaching sessions in Nashville, TN
  • $750 per person (includes all materials and books, lunch on training days, special guest costs and more) + travel expenses
  • Time to prepare and participate fully

A few more details:

  • You are responsible for your travel and lodging however we’ll get you info on hotel rates and help carpool as much as possible
  • Dates of coaching sessions in Nashville: Oct 17-18, 2013 & March 6-7, 2014
  • This will require some commitment so I want to challenge you to pray about it and apply as God leads you to
  • You can download the application here.

Valued or Tolerated?

One of my earliest leadership debacles took place when I was just a young twenty-something entrusted to manage my very first official employee.  I was so excited and eager to put my leadership strengths to work but this employee of mine was simply not doing things the way that I wanted them done.  With an air of superiority and visible frustration I shared with my boss the issues I was facing with this employee.  His response to my ranting and raving (or whining depending on your perspective) was, “You are working with people, not widgets, Jenni.  If you want to work with widgets go work in an assembly line.  If you want to work with people, you’ve got to start leading them.”  Instead of running to my rescue and validating my frustration, he reprimanded me for expecting my employee to be just like me.

One of the most dangerous things we can do as leaders is to expect others to be just like us. 

Great leaders understand the unique and individual talents of their team members and seek to develop those strengths and use them for the betterment of the individual and the organization.

But time and time again, I watch conflict arise within teams because we’ve forgotten that we’re all different and that those differences are GOOD!

We get impatient and frustrated with others who think and behave differently than we do.  And many times those differences lead to disrespect and disengagement.

Rather than engage and seek to understand one another, we retreat and avoid each other.

Too often we tolerate each other rather than value the uniqueness and perspective of each other.

Who on your team are you tolerating?

What could you learn to value about their gifts and perspective?

Leaders and Creatives

As a little girl I dreamed of being a superstar.  In my world of make-believe, nightgowns became evening dresses and hairbrushes became microphones.  If a performer was on television – such as my all-time favorite entertainer, Carol Burnett – I could be found decked out in my superstar attire ready to mimic every movement, every word spoken and every note sung.

Unfortunately my talent didn’t keep pace with my drive but I quickly discovered the next best thing.  While I didn’t have the chops to be a performer, I did have the business savvy and marketing instincts to be part of the team that supports them.  That discovery led me to a nine-year career as an artist development manager for some of the top Christian recording artists of that era.

With those years as the foundation for my leadership development, working with creatives was the only type of leadership I knew.  And perhaps because there is still a bit of that little girl superstar somewhere in my heart, I’ve developed a deep love for working with creative types.  I love their passion and perspective.  I love their unwillingness to settle for the status quo.

This week I’ve had the privilege to hang out with the artists, geeks (self-proclaimed) and storytellers that form the tribe of the Echo Conference.  I was privilege to share my thoughts about the importance of leaders and creatives working together.

Too many times we allow misunderstandings and assumptions to create unfortunate divides between our very different personalities and styles.  I believe that divide is a grave disservice to our ministries.  We need each other!

Here are the 4 foundations that I believe are essential to building healthy relationships between leaders and creatives in any culture.

1) Mutual Respect – Any relationship will go sideways in a hurry if it isn’t built on a foundation of respect.  Respect is about being committed to acknowledging and appreciating the unique ways that each of us are gifted.

2) Seek to Understand – Once you’ve learned to respect one another’s unique and different gifts, you have to dedicate the time and energy to truly understand one another’s perspective and priorities.

3) Consistent Communication – Because leaders and creatives will often view things from a different perspective, it will require an extra does of communication to maintain healthy working relationships.

4) No Gaps – Because of the stereotypes of each of these roles, there is a tendency to make assumptions about one another.  “No gaps” is another way to say “no assumptions”.  Don’t leave a gap in understanding that could be filled in with poor assumptions.

Whether you’re a leader or a creative, here are some questions to ask yourself:

Who do I need to have more respect for?

Whose role do  I need to understand better?

Who do I need to improve communication with?

Who have I been making assumptions about?

Start With Yourself

Leaders like to lead.  And when we say we like to lead, we usually mean we like to lead others, right?

But one of the most important truths that any good leader needs to learn is that leadership begins with you.  If you can’t lead yourself, you can’t lead others.

Self-leadership is defined as “the process” of influencing oneself to establish the self-direction and self-motivation needed to perform.

I believe that self-leadership is the foundation for leadership and unfortunately it’s not the flashy part.  It’s the tough part.  It doesn’t get a lot of attention or affirmation.  No one is singing your praises for leading yourself well, but self-leadership is the hard work behind the scenes that prepares you for great leadership.  I promise!

“There is a person with whom you spend more time than any other, a person who has more influence over you, and more ability to interfere with or to support your growth than anyone else. This ever-present companion is your own self. “  Dr. Pamela Butler, Clinical Psychologist

Before we dive into some ways to lead your self, let me share a few more tough truths about self-leadership:

  • From a human perspective, no one else cares more about your personal development than you do
  • You can’t wait for someone else to lead you
  • No one else owes you leadership
  • No one else is responsible for your leadership development

Ouch!  I know.  But if you understand the hard work of self-leadership and pour yourself into it without expectations of others or an entitled attitude, you will develop the character and core of a remarkable leader.

Here are what I believe are the core elements of developing self-leadership.  These are just listed to get you thinking.  You’ll need to unpack them and determine what steps you will need to take to grow in each of these areas.

1) Character

This is who you are when no one is looking.

  • It requires attention to your spiritual and emotional health.
  • It means expecting more from you than others do.

What qualities do you want to be true about your character?  Relentlessly pursue the development of them.

2) Discipline

Be the one to get it done.

  • Set goals for yourself in all areas: personal, professional, family, fun
  • Take initiative
  • “Leaders are readers”; Read ferociously
  • Be a lifelong learner, and be a fanatic about it.
  • Surround yourself with mentors and people smarter than you.

3) Self-awareness

  • Know your strengths & weaknesses
  • Seek counsel
  • Identify mentors
  • Always evaluate what you need to “own” (good or bad) in every situation

You create most of your opportunities by the choices you make in leading yourself.

How are you doing in the area of self-leadership?  What one thing could you start working on today to improve?

Worn Sneakers & Broken Systems

80 degrees

79% humidity

The conditions for my 6:00 am run today.

Rather than refreshing, I felt like I was running through lava.

Slow. Resistant. Miserable.

To make matters worse, my running shoes are old and worn.  They are done!  They have logged all the miles they need to log but I’ve been putting off buying a new pair.  I haven’t had time.  I haven’t wanted to spend the money.  They haven’t bothered me enough until today when the external forces beyond my control were exasperated by something I can control.

Why do we have to get pushed to the limit to make necessary changes?

While I do this with the simple things like sneakers, I also do this with the major things in my leadership.

One of the places I see teams “wearing worn sneakers” is with internal systems.  Systems are simply the methods you’ve created to get things done in your organization.  It could be how you assimilate volunteers, how you assess employee performance, or who takes out the trash.  You have a system whether you’ve purposefully designed it or not.

The trouble is that growing organizations quickly outgrow old systems.  You have to recreate them.  You have to give them new life.  You have to take what is old, worn and tired and inspire with fresh, new and energized.

But oftentimes this is the stuff we keep pushing off until the external conditions push back so much on our old worn out system that we have no choice but to change it.

A sure sign you have a worn out system is when you hear things like “that’s the way we’ve always done it”.  If your team doesn’t understand the true purpose of your system, it’s likely worn out and needs to be recreated.

What’s feeling tired and worn out in your organization?  What would it take to re-energize it?


You Failed: Retry


This little graphic has become all too familiar.

Yes, I’m rather ashamed to admit that I have joined the other 45.6 MILLION monthly users who play Candy Crush!

The words “You failed! Retry” are a daily occurrence.  I’m at my capacity.  I’m beyond my scope.

But rather than those words defeating me I get back up and keep going or I at least wait it out for a few more lives.  I’m determined to beat it.  I know that I’m better at this.

“You failed! Retry” poses a challenge I’m determined to take on.

That’s all well and good in candy land, but those words in real life… that’s another story.

We face “You failed! Retry” every day.  A leadership situation that went awry.  A parenting blunder.  A harsh word uttered.

We fail often and we know we’ve got to retry, but somehow we don’t get back up with the same energy.

“You failed! Retry” aren’t words that make us try harder, oftentimes they’re the words that hold us back or shut us down.  We’re not convinced we can beat it.  We aren’t so sure we’ll get re-energized with new life to get back up and go after it again.

But what if we did?

What if we had the same assurance that we can win this thing eventually?  What if we believed that failing wasn’t the end?  It just means “retry”.

What are you feeling defeated by?

What would change if you were simply willing to retry?

Is It Me or Is It Them?

Leadership can present a lot of moments of disappointment.  Things don’t always go as we plan.  Initiatives fail.  Team members make poor decisions.  We say or do the wrong thing.

In these moments of frustration, I often find myself asking a couple of questions:

Is it me?

Is it them?

I think both questions are essential.

Problems or dysfunction in our teams always have to start with a look in the mirror.  As Henry Cloud says in Boundaries for Leaders, “as a leader, you always get what you create and what you allow”.

We always have some responsibility for the issues we’re dealing with.

But we also need to ask “is it them?”

Sometimes people are just people.  They are dealing with distractions.  They’re wrestling their own inconsistencies and issues.  Sometimes it doesn’t matter how well you lead them.  As the old saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

But here’s the problem for us as leaders:  Most of us don’t ask both questions.  We’re more likely wired to ask one or the other.

We either shame ourselves by constantly feeling responsible for everything or we always blame others.

Next time you’re dealing with a less than spectacular moment with your team, resist shame or blame.


1) Look in the mirror and ask “Is it me?”  Is there anything that I’ve created or allowed that is contributing to this problem?  If so, go to work on remedying the issue but don’t wallow in guilt or shame.  Just make it right.

2) Consider what part of the issue is them.  Is there a person on your team who is wrestling through their own issues and that is overflowing to the team?  If so, look for ways to coach and lead them through what they’re dealing with.  It’s another opportunity for you to lead them well.

When things aren’t going the way you hoped are you more prone to shame or blame?