The first session of the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit was from Willow Creek Community Church’s Bill Hybels. Hybels’ session discussed five critical questions a leader should ask himself or herself regarding their organizational leadership. This session was an hour and a half. I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible, but there are no guarantees…
The first critical question Hybels asked was: What is your current challenge level at work?
Hybels introduced a test that he uses in his organization, Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC), to assess the challenge level of his staff.
The test of course would need people to answer honestly for it to be worthwhile. The assessment is a vertical line continuum with three areas that stand for under challenged, appropriately challenged, and dangerously challenged. During the session, Hybels asked the audience rhetorically, “Where do you do your best work”? The answer he gave, based on research, was right above the appropriately challenged and dangerously challenged border.
Hybels warned about being under challenged and dangerously over challenged for too long. If leaders allow themselves to be under challenged, they will suffer from atrophy; physically, mentally, and spiritually. If an employee (especially an upcoming leader) is allowed to be under challenged for too long a time, they will eventually leave.
Being dangerously over challenged for too long a time (Hybels said there are periods where being over challenged is inevitable, but it’s important to gear down as soon as possible) will eventually lead to burnout. He told a nearly tragic story from early in WCCC’s history where an employee attempted suicide. When Hybels asked the employee why he tried to kill himself, he said he was so stressed he couldn’t handle it anymore. Hybels asked why he didn’t say something and the employee responded, “Because I know you have even more on your plate.”
Hybels said this was a wakeup call and a judgment on his leadership.
The second critical question Hybels asked was: What is the plan to deal with the challenging people in your organization?
Hybels introduced three other questions to address the critical question.
- How do you handle bad attitudes? Hybels said WCCC addresses a bad attitude as soon as it is seen to have become a trend. Once the attitude has been seen as a trend, the employee is addressed (“So what’s going on with your attitude lately?”, “Is there something going on that we can help with?”). After the employee has been addressed, they are given a 30-day pass. If the employee’s attitude has not been resolved after that period of time, further action is taken. Hybels said a bad attitude can be poison for an organization. He also recommended if an organization does not have a method of dealing with an employee’s bad attitude, one should be discussed and developed.
- How do you handle under performers? Again, Hybels said WCCC addresses an under performer as soon as it is seen to have become a trend. As before, the employee is addressed and a solution to the situation is attempted to be reached. Willow Creek gives an under performer three months to correct the situation. Hybels said, in his experience most people who have traditionally been a good performer and slide into underperforming have a personal issue that needs to be resolved, which is why more time is given to resolve the situation. Again, Hybels recommended if an organization does not have a method of dealing with an employee’s under performance, one should be discussed and developed.
- How do you handle replacing a person who once fulfilled their role, but can’t keep up with the growth of the organization (the organization’s needs have surpassed the employee’s talents)? This is the hardest kind of challenging employee Hybels spoke of. This is a person who does not have any negative issues (attitudes or under performance), with the exception that expectations for the job tasks they have performed well on in the past have risen to the point they can no longer perform their job adequately. Willow Creek addresses this sort of issue and tries to resolve the problem over a six to 12 month period. WCCC will do their best to relocate or accommodate the employee, but they will ultimately handle the issue if necessary. Even at the cost of a, “generous severance” package.Hybels also discussed an exercise he uses with his management team to assess the strengths and weaknesses of staff employees.
In the exercise the participants would draw a horizontal line and list their staff members in order of “keep” priority. The scenario presented was, in the event of a layoff of 50% of your employees, in what order would you list the employees of your department in order of importance to the team (highest importance on the left)?“The point of the exercise”, Hybels says, “is not to be cruel. It should first force management to think about the reality of a possible downsize due to economic situations, and second force them to think about the strengths and weaknesses of those on their teams.” If an employee is weak, why? How can these team members be encouraged in the areas they are weak in?
The third critical question Hybels asked was: Are you naming, facing, and resolving the problems that exist in your organization?
Hybels asked if there were problems that were keeping the organization from achieving their goals. What are those problems? Are the leaders in the organization admitting that these problems exist? Are the leaders taking action to address and resolve the problems?
Hybels presented another exercise WCCC has used to address problems within the organization.
He presented a bell curve where the bottom left quadrant represented an idea or goal that was just starting (accelerating), the top left quadrant represented an idea or goal that had taken off and was rapidly growing (booming), the top right quadrant represented an idea or goal that had become old and worn out (declining), and the bottom right quadrant represented an idea or goal that had completely fallen off of the radar (tanking).
The task of organizational leadership is to honestly and accurately assess the different ideas, goals, and missions of the organization and place them on the continuum. If goals were declining, or even tanking, what could be done to renew and revive those goals? Hybels said Willow Creek had made the commitment to never let a goal fall into the “tanking” quadrant. If it is a goal the organization wants to continue, the goal would have to be revitalized and renewed through planning and new implementation to return it to the “accelerating” quadrant.
The fourth critical question Hybels asked was: When was the last time you examined the core of what your organization is about?
The last exercise Hybels presented was a circle with five spaces for words that were at the heart of the organization’s vision; the organization’s central message or mission.
Hybels stated that he and his team had spent months working on the five words for WCCC, but they were continuing to work on it. He challenged the audience to continually return to the organizations purpose to think about and renew the organization’s vision, mission, and goals.
The fifth and final critical question Hybels asked was: Have you had your leadership bell rung recently?
He asked the audience, “Has anything you’ve read, seen, or heard made an impact on your leadership lately?” Hybels says, “A leader who is not continually growing and learning cannot remain a leader for long.” Another provocative question he asked was, “Are you making excuses instead of creating bold, new solutions?”
Finally, Hybels ended on a positive note, “Make your next five years your best five years.”
This was a great session. This was my first time hearing Hybels speak, but he seems like a fount of wisdom and information on the subject of organizational leadership. I look forward to hearing and learning more from him in the future.