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Leadership Skills for a Fast-changing World

The Willow Creek Association (, of South Barrington, Ill., assembled an impressive panel of speakers at its annual Leadership Summit Aug. 6-7.

Aw 2653 0909 Team

Although billed as a summit for church leaders, the ideas were good for business as well as other organizations. Besides, any organization that can get Gary Hamel and Carly Fiorina for a program has something worth attending. As a leader, you learn to absorb ideas wherever you can get them.

An important topic for corporate and organizational leaders relates to dealing with the board. Panelists were authors and practitioners of management—Bill Hybels, Patrick Lencioni, Henry Cloud, David Ireland and Carly Fiorina. Boards, and this discussion could be extrapolated to important committees, are crucial. Fiorina, former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co., noted, “If the board is not functional, neither will be the organization.”

The consensus of the panel was that boards are a team gathered for a specific purpose. Each member should understand the purpose. They should understand what they do to come to agreement. And they should understand how to agree to disagree. Fiorina’s final suggestion was to take time to reflect after a board meeting about whether the meeting moved the organization forward, and if the members could disagree on a topic without becoming disagreeable or dysfunctional.

“Are you changing as much as the world around you is?” Gary Hamel, director of the London Business School’s Management Innovation Lab, a noted professor and author of “Leading the Revolution” and “The Future of Management,” led with this provocative question. “You cannot possibly have missed how much the world is changing. Are you, as a leader, changing at least as much in your ideas and attitudes as the world? Are you [the organization] changing as much as the world around you?”

Hamel’s point is that you cannot possibly lead your organization into new success in this changing world by doing and thinking just like always. Are you seeking new ideas? Do you read from a variety of views? Do you watch what young people are doing? Do you try things? Hamel later made the point that leaders need to be malleable, that is, able to re-form themselves to meet new contingencies. They also need to be experimental, that is, willing to try new things and new approaches.

Speaking of taking different points of view, David Gibbons leads a large, multicultural organization. It consists not only of people of different races and ethnic backgrounds, but also different generations. He was trying to do things the traditional way, only to discover that he was going nowhere—and burning himself out doing it. When he looked at a breakdown of his time, he discovered that he was spending only 30 percent working with others. He decided to reverse that—and change his focus. “We don’t need more visionaries,” he said, “we need more relaters.” He now spends 70 percent of his time on leadership development, equipping other leaders in the organization.

Grooming leaders

Gibbons’ organization is a church, but this shouldn’t sound strange to business people. A careful reading of retired General Electric Co. Chief Executive Officer and management legend Jack Welch’s books reveals the amount of time he spent on that same task. One of his most important aides was the head of human resources. The two spent much time together watching for potential star talent and grooming them for leadership.

No one ever said leadership was easy. Seeking ways to stay up with or ahead of the times, as well as developing more leaders, are two methods that seasoned veterans and thinkers identify as ways to sharpen leadership skills.

Gary Mintchell,, is Editor in Chief of Automation World.

The Willow Creek Association

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