After the Leadership Conference – Now What?

After the Leadership Conference ... Now What?

I develop leaders.

I speak at conferences.

I attend conferences.


This week, I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Lot’s of enthusiasm and inspiration, great talks and encouraging moments. I took my family and 5 of my honors students. We found the experience exciting and energizing. Like many others, that is why we go. It is an emotional thrill, and leaders need a leadership lift whenever we can get one.

Many of the speakers acknowledged this kind of event is a REMINDER event. We need to hear what we already know, and be inspired again to plug away, stay the course, and lead well. And often we gain a new insight or have an “aha!” moment. These are truly valuable.

But what happens after the thrill is gone? It is the age-old conference dilemma. In a few days the buzz is gone, the notebook goes on the shelf, the twitter frenzy dies down and people return to the same challenges, problems, lousy bosses, fundraising shortfalls and HR headaches.

Am I being pessimistic? Should we stop going to conferences? NO! Let me be clear. I love conferences! I love speaking at them and going to them! I love hanging with other leaders and getting to know their stories, successes and challenges. This is essential for every leader!

Ten Things We’ve Learned About Teams – From the Harris Twins

When Alex and Brett Harris’ book “Do Hard Things” hit the shelves, it was widely received for its practical wisdom and insights, especially addressing the youth culture. But I think adults can learn much from the observations of these young 20-somethings who started “” organization as 19-year-olds. “A little child shall lead them” applies here. You can read their material but I have adapted it to express ten things we’ve learned about teams for this post.

Ten Things We’ve Learned About Teams











1)     Start with Questions – Am I the one to lead this? What should it look like? What are the pressing needs? What does the team need from me? What kind of leader must I be? What kind of person? Asking yourself some hard questions is a great place to start.

2)     Walk with the Wise – Mentors and experienced others will save you time and much misery. Do not let you passion for innovation overwhelm your willingness to learn from what has already been created!

3)     Don’t Overlook Home Field Advantage – The Harris’ are talking about the literal home because their family serve together to lead in their organization and speak at conferences. But the principle is true – some of your best resources are right under your nose with the people and skills you already have.

4)     Use Technology to Grow Your Team – Stay connected, build platforms for conversations and ideas, use blogs, create team pages and so on. Sometimes ideas come at odd hours or places – you can easily go online and record your thoughts for the whole team.

5)     Treasure Constructive Criticism – this is so true. I have been asking for feedback recently about my teaching, consulting and writing. Despite the fact there are a few “ouches” (hard truths I needed to hear) I know I will be better for it.

6)     Credit is Free if You Give it Away – Pride will sabotage your team. As a leader, if you reward the team for being a team, you can break down the inherent “competition for promotion” that exists among team members. Share the problem; share the responsibility.  Share the credit; share the rewards.

7)     Other People Are Sinners Too – Everyone has faults, not just you. Because of that we recognize that stuff will happen, relationships will get tense, problems may go unsolved for too long and our work will have a level of frustration to it – most of the time! Get a reality check about one another.

8)     Expect a Nightmare or Two – I love this one. Communication challenges, ethical breakdown, surprise failures, loss of key people at the worst time, a new hire is a total washout, the money does not come in, too much money goes out – nightmares abound. I am an optimist, expecting the best from people and the best from a potential new initiative. But I am also a realist and without getting too skeptic (or worse, getting cynical) I am learning to build a “nightmare factor” into my vision for my work and the anticipated progress or impact I can make.

9)     Don’t Give Up – This exhortation is an overused cliché but an underutilized practice; so we need to practice it more than we preach it. The prize goes to those who persevere. If it is good, strategic, novel, difficult and potentially life-changing, you will have your share of enemies and detractors (people and just plain problems). IF there is no resistance, there is no need for leadership!

10) Success Happens (in More Ways than One) – Achieving a desire outcome or goal is one measure of success. In addition to that (or even when you fail at that) there are other measures…parallel successes…that run alongside of the thing you were focused on. Your team grows, people develop, convictions deepen, hard truths are learned, you discover what does NOT work sooner than later, relationships are forged and everyone does better.


I work much of the week with young, emerging leaders. It is fun to teach and train them. It is even more fun to learn from them. The Harris’ are wise beyond their years. We must sit up and take note.


What are you learning from young people? How are you making time and space for listening to them?


We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.

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The Power of Gathering

The Power of Gathering is really showing its effectiveness as we gather for a university discussion on economics, we are talking about the culture at large mostly in North America but certainly globally as well.


Well I’m sitting here in a hotel, actually up in Lake Geneva and we are here gathered together as a university to tackle some pretty big issues both internally and externally. We’re talking about economics, we are talking about the culture at large mostly in North America but certainly globally, and we are bringing some experts in to challenge us on how to think about economic realities in light of the new reality of our culture and just the systems of our world. But what I find really powerful here is the power of gathering itself so irrespective of where the content might take us and what we need to talk about related to this, and what some of our scholars are going to be doing to really delve into some of the challenging global economic issues of our world, there’s a power in just gathering. I’m headed off to breakfast in a few minutes with some people and I’m looking forward to that because something happens when a team or a group or an organization gathers. I just want to highlight a few of those to remind us that this is strategic, it’s important, it’s life giving. Now here are a few things to think about first of all clarity I find that when we come together we’re not asking as many how and when questions as we do when we’re sort of in the office, or in the organization. We tend to ask bigger questions sort of the why questions and at a gathering of your core people you get that clarity. Why do we exist? Why are we here? What are some of the big questions we really need to be facing and why should we be facing the now? So the big why questions I think are important for your organization or your group. Another question that you tend to ask when you gather is, “Who are we? What kind of group are we?” And because of the informality that takes place in a setting like this I think it’s, it’s a better opportunity to understand who we are. I think there’s an informality that helps us achieve some relational unity. In our particular case there are three schools in the university represented here the graduate school, the theology school, and the college. The law school is not here it’s in another part of the country. But the those three schools have come together to say let’s get to know each other  better, let’s understand how we work better together, let’s see what skills and resources we bring to one another so there is a relational unity, a getting to know each other and that’s really lifted up by the informality. So not only in the formal sessions, the small groups, the strategic sessions, but in the having coffee afterward, the one-off conversations, the meeting after the meeting, the kind of thing we experience around the office sometimes is really lifted to a new level here. And so there’s that informality, that relational piece, that helps us answer that who question. But I think there is also the identity organizationally of; who are we, what kind of place do we want to become, what kind of people do we want to be as we carry forward our mission? So we had the why questions, the who question, and I think alternately we will make that strategic turn, we do that tomorrow morning. But that’s the strategy question of; where do we want to go from here, what do we want to focus on specifically, are there some next steps we need to take? So we will be in groups in teams talking about that as well. So the power of gathering allows us to answer those big questions; why, why are we here, why do we exist, why do we do things the way we do, who are we and who are we becoming and then we really want to go? Hopefully you’ll think about those things as you put some gatherings together and get “off-campus” and do something together in a setting that allows you to really engage these things both in formal an informal ways.


We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.

Small Group Advanced Training / Saddleback Church

Hey I am excited about heading out to Saddleback Church on the 24th for the day working with some point leaders and their teams on some Small Group Advanced Training. Helping them develop strategic plans around point leadership, their roll, the ministry strategy, how to connect people to groups, leader development of all the things that were looking for to build an effective transformational type of small group ministry, whether you’re using small groups or initial communities we basically take people to strategic planning process that helps you gear up and target for the year where you are headed in the next season of ministry.

And tagging on to that for a couple days I get to hang out with Dallas Willard was very small group of people talking about theology and economics and the global economy. It will be kind of fun to have my brain stretched by Dallas and spend time with him. So look forward to that!

If I can ever help your church with small group advanced training or you would like to host one, the HOST CHURCH IS FREE,  we’ll pull some churches around you together and get some folks some help building their Small Group Ministry.

Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Dr. Bill Donahue – Small Group Training

Join us at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Dr. Bill Donahue.

Small Group Advanced Training with Dr. Bill Donahue Based on Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry

Dr. Bill Donahue will be giving an in-depth workshop on Leading Your Small Group Ministry, and create a solid plan for group life in your church. Dr. Bill Donahue spent almost 20 years as the Director of Leader Development & Group Life for the Willow Creek Church & Association where he created leadership strategies and events for over 10,000 leaders on 6 continents in over 30 countries. Bill now spends his time teaching, speaking and writing on leadership essentials. His new release, Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry, paired with his other best selling resources Leading Life-Changing Small Groups, Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders, and the DVD Series Equipping Life-Changing Leaders will develop leaders at every level in your church.

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Saddleback Church Lake Forest Small Group Advanced Training by Dr Bill Donahue


When: Thursday, January 24, 2013

9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Host:  Saddleback Church Rm 404

1 Saddleback Parkway

Lake Forest, CA 92630

Karen Fera 949-609-8136


Cost:  $599 per church team(2 – 5 people), $699 up to 7people.

Bring strategic leaders from your group staff, core volunteers,

and key decision makers who will shape this ministry. Cost

includes lunch and a copy of Building A Life- Changing Small

            Group Ministry.

To Register:

1. Email your church name, and

number of people attend- ing the event.

2. Mail check payable to:

LeaderSync Group, Inc.

35W528 Parsons Road

Dundee, IL 60118


Email or call 847.642.6381

“Effective point leadership for a life-changing small group ministry requires positioning yourself for success and then doing the right things. That is what this training is all about — getting clarity about your leadership, your team, your direction, your strategy and your definition of success, so that group life flourishes, authentic community is established and lives are transformed to the image of Christ!” – Dr. Bill Donahue

(For more on Bill’s books, visit  http:// )

7 Tips for Great Communicators

Image of 7 Tips for Great Communicators headlineIn my ongoing research on great communicators I just finished a book by Ken Bain entitled, “What the Best College Teachers Do” and there were many solid ideas for everyone who stands before an audience and teaches, preaches or leads.

Here are 7 things great teachers do.

1)    Create a Learning Environment.

I have often encouraged teachers to create a learning environment versus a teaching environment.

a. What is the problem, issue or provocative question you plan address? Be very clear about this and as specific as possible. Is it possible to eradicate poverty in our city in 5 years.

b. Provoke the listener to face that issue or problem. Why MUST they listen? Cause them to engage, synthesize information, analyze ideas, evaluate the information – it is NOT enough they remember it. Clever acronyms and alliteration might help people remember the content outline, but do little to promote learning. It is not enough to help the poor – we must transform their lives.

c. Where do we go from here? Now that we have answered the big question/problem, what is the next question that must be addressed? Now that people know and understand the plight of the poor and a call to action, what is our next step in solving this problem? 

2)    Keep Attention.

Stories, video, case studies, dialogue and props are all possible means for doing this. Creative communication must accompany clear communication. Great Communicators avoid clear and boring which is no communication at all. For the next 5 minutes we will watch a documentary on a local homeless shelter. You will take notes, discerning the strategy of this shelter, how effective it is, and what local citizens can do to partner with them.

3)    Begin with the Student, not the Content.

I agree with this most of the time. The point is to get into the heart and mind of the learner early in the presentation. Where is the learner? I want you to describe what a day without coffee, food and water would mean to your routine, combined with 10 hours of manual labor.

4)    I am responsible to help you learn. You are responsible to learn.

The student/learner must own their learning. Make them grapple with how they will learn more. Lets break into groups and create a process for understanding the plight of the poor in our city – where do we start and how will you accomplish that learning this week?

5)    Learn Outside of Class.

It is difficult to create enough stimulation, motivation and curiosity to provoke a learner to learn between classes, sermons, lectures, etc. Teaching them to ask great questions and probe deeply into issues are transferable skills that must be learned. I am giving you an article to read this week, and a website to review. Create a list of questions you want answered by that article/site before looking at it, and email them to me.

6)    Provoke and Teach Critical Thinking.

It remains a mystery to me how few people think about what is taught. A bias for action is the mark of a strong leader. But so is a bias for thinking. Is this the best approach? What case does the author make? Why should we believer her? Is this an argument based on fact or opinion? How is the data being interpreted? What is missing? What needs more study? Should we do a pilot program?

7)    Create Diverse Learning Experiences.

Stories, dialogue, role play, group work, monologue, video, case studies, live site visits, cross-cultural experiences, trips, debates, games, on-the-job feedback, props, and design-your-own-experience are a few ways to stimulate learning. We are asking each of you to spend 2 hours this week/month at a homeless shelter, food pantry, or job center, volunteering your time or participating in the experience. Keep a journal of thoughts and observations, and any transformational moments you experience.

Great leaders become great communicators; and great communicators create great learners.

How do you create a learning culture in your work? Share your ideas with us!

The Shaping of Leaders to Come

I just spent the weekend with about 30 emerging leaders in my program at TIU which focuses on the shaping of leaders. Ranging in age from 18-29 these young leaders engaged in discussion and debate on topics ranging from work to vocation, theology, ministry and what it means to lead with integrity and skill.

What struck me was how alive they were, how engaged with the material, and how willing they were to graciously but directly challenge our speaker at the event. As I watched them I came away with a few leadership development nuggets, most of them reminders…but needed nonetheless.

Put rising leaders in catalytic environments

Whether it is a think tank, high-impact serving project or a team-building challenge, young leaders rise to the level of expectations and environment. Don’t pat young leaders on the head – push them into the tension where truth meets life. They can handle it, or they will soon learn how.

Create a format that challenges current perceptions of truth

One of the things I always loved in my days at the Willow Creek Association was getting around thought leaders and practitioners who took a different slant on reality. And some of them were redefining reality altogether. We put these young people in a very provocative conversation with a speaker whose points of view created tension, angst and mild frustration. It forced them to really think, challenging their assumptions and dismantling their biases.

Allow leaders some time to debrief, disconnect and re-engage

Content immersion and idea generation can be mentally and emotionally taxing. Conversations, debate and intense interaction are stimulating but can be mind-boggling.  It is essential to withdraw, shuffle the deck, reflect, and then return to the fray with some new insights and challenges to the status quo. Lot’s of gold to mine here.

Trust the process but don’t be afraid to press for results

Strong leaders will do the hard work. And they create their own culture of engagement and growth as they tear an idea apart and put it back together again. But don’t stop there. You have to push leaders and ask, “So what? What difference does this make? Now that you have done some rethinking about your leadership, where are you going to put it to the test?”

I love these leaders – and they are making a great impact in our world with truth, courage, clear thinking and cultural engagement. I cannot wait to see the results!


Who’s on your young leaders list? How are you shaping their minds and challenging their thinking?

Senior Leaders Empowering Young Leaders

Young, Restless and Eager to Lead

I have spent a couple months into my new role as a Professor at Trinity International University, TIU. Working with both graduate students and freshmen every week is a refreshing change. There is a great interplay between rigorous study and practical engagement. Many are more than students – they are rising young leaders in business, the arts, education, the sciences and in churches.

And they are restless. I think I understand why.

Few seasoned or senior leaders are providing significant opportunities to young leaders, emerging leaders. Some of us are concerned with job security, while others have intolerably large egos and cannot imagine our company, school or church without us. We are filled with fear – of failing, giving away power and authority to less experienced people, or just of an unpredictable personal future. So we tighten our grip in an era when we should be letting go.

I spoke with a young leader yesterday. Thankfully, his work environment is free from the oppressive hierarchy that strangles the creativity and risk-taking potential of many organizations. He works in a flatter environment where young leaders have real responsibility, make strategic decisions, take accountability seriously and have the freedom to fail. His CEO continues to put real leadership into the hands of an emerging generation.

Sadly, this is more rare than a warm February in Chicago.

Granted, many younger leaders need mentoring, instruction and input. Others need basic skills for self-leadership and better work habits.

But young leaders have heart, ideas and skills.  If we will simply empower and equip them, instead of just delegating work to them, or treating them as mere implementers of the senior leader’s strategy, perhaps there is hope.

If you are over 55, it’s time to move on. No, not time to move out…time to move on. I was part of an organization that does not understand the difference. The senior leader is forcing older leaders to move out in order to cut save on salaries and make room for younger, inexpensive staff.

Wrong move.

I am watching decades of experience, wisdom, insight and leadership savvy go out the door. A younger generation is taking over – which is the right outcome. But it is the wrong process. Many young leaders need the guidance, mentoring, and partnership of older, wiser leaders.  But they are few to be found.

The senior leader is in his 60’s and cannot imagine not removing himself from leadership for at least another 5-10 years. How ironic. It is a sad and fascinating study in the hoarding of power, the wasting of needed experience, and the devaluing of wise, faithful people. The organization is getting weaker at almost every level.

If you are in your 50’s it is time to re-invent yourself and re-invest your leadership. It’s time to share the risk-taking, involve young leaders in the strategizing, empower them to administrate, share the speaking platform, open some seats on the board, and put some real money into young hands so they can build the future together.

It is time to step aside – but not away.

It is counter-intuitive because this requires you to begin secession planning at your peak (50-55-ish), not 10 years or 20 years later. If you wait too long the younger leaders move on to real leadership opportunities. They tire of watching from the sidelines and of getting in the game with only 1:30 left to play.

It’s time for older players to hang up their cleats and do some coaching because we need great coaches. But that means older players will have to walk over to the sidelines and change uniforms—at half time, not when the game is almost over.

Truth is, you either move aside or you fade away.

Young leaders are amazing – I see them, teach them, learn from them, and long to empower them every week. I have focused my new work on sharing my expertise and time with younger leaders. And I get energized from them.

Oh, I am still very much in the game.  But I am more of a player-coach now, and moving rapidly into a permanent coaching role.

And I am having a blast!

Strength Training

Strength Training

The emphasis on strengths-based leadership development is a refreshing trend. I am working with a friend who is trained in the Strengths Finder assessment, and we are helping a non-profit organization get a grip on who’s on their team, who has what strengths, and how do their strengths work together.

The four major domains or quadrants where the strengths lie are as follows:

Executing – knowing how to make things happen

Strategic Thinking – keeping focused on what could be

Influencing – reaching a broader audience

Relationship Building – providing the glue that holds teams together

Each quadrant has 8-9 of the 34 Strengths in the Strengths Finder assessment. For example, my strengths are Ideation, Intellection, Strategic, Achiever and Relator. My strengths lie primarily in Strategic Thinking area (Ideation, Intellection and Strategic), one in Executing (Achiever) and one in the Relationship Building area. None falls in the Influencing quadrant.

Therefore, though I know how to influence people and communicate with audiences and leaders, I need others who can broaden my influence and help me reach new audiences. So I have team members who are strong in those areas.

How do your strengths work with your team? I am strong at developing and defining new ideas and the strategies to move ideas forward. As a writer, speaker, consultant and coach to leaders, these are invaluable. And my Achiever strength means I am eager move people toward results. But to help more people I need partners who can expand our sphere of influence.

Reflect for a moment and ask yourself a few questions (even if you do not use Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder book):

“In which of the 4 quadrants above might most of my strengths be found?”

“Where do I have my greatest impact in my work?”

“Where do my team members’ strengths lie?”

“How can we leverage our strengths to make the greatest impact?”

“What strengths do we lack and how might we find add them to the team?”

Train in your strengths, get support for your weaknesses and mobilize your team accordingly. The results will rock the world!

Becoming a Learning Community – 2

In my earlier post on this subject I discussed what a learning community is and is not; not simply a teaching community, a talking community or a study community. Here are some ways to great a community that really learns together. And though some of these strategies are familiar, the question is, “Are we working to make these a reality in our groups and teams?”

To begin, we must consider how people learn, not just what they learn. These familiar learning styles must be considered when you teach a class, lead a group or work with a team. It takes preparation time to utilize these, but the results are self-evident.

1) Visual (See): People who enjoy watching someone do something, or  learn by looking closely at the desired result or outcome (like the photo of a desk you want to build).

2) Auditory (Hear): Need a description and information about steps to take; listen to a CD.

3) Kinesthetic (Touch): Need to tinker around with the truth or the idea to understand how it works.

4) Experiential (Feel): Love to experience it first-hand, feeling the emotions as well as observing the details. (You’d rather spend the night in a homeless shelter than watch a documentary on how one works).

Once you know how to vary these styles in your facilitation or teaching, focus on these 3 actions.

FIRST: Learning communities engage truth: we do not shy away from truth, and we seek after it. Whether it is truth about the world or God or self, learning communities look seriously, unapologetically and courageously at the real truth — not just the truth we want to see or hear.

SECOND: Learning communities seek to understand; we ask questions, and we listen more than we speak. We want to get to the core of the issue, never settling for superficial responses or pat answers. In biblical times the people of Berea sought to understand what was being said, and they did it in community (Acts 17:11). They did not take teaching at face value – they wanted to see if it was accurate and discussed it together.

THIRD: Learning Communities practice the truth. If you read Ezra 7:10 you observe he had a strategy for learning and for helping others learn. Notice the pattern: NOT study, then teach. Rather, study… practice… teach. We could all benefit from that approach. The last thing we need are pastors, teachers and group/team leaders who spend 30 hours studying, 2 hours teaching, and almost no hours practicing. We all have to get out in the world and live the truth we are teaching others. Not always convenient or easy — sitting in my study is easy.

Practicing the truth is called obedience, as in the Great Commission – “Teach them to obey all that I have commanded,” not simply “teach them all I commanded” — we are called to help one another put truth into practice as Jesus exhorted at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:24-27). Parker Palmer, in helping college professors do the same described it this way:

“To teach is to create a place where obedience to truth can be practiced” – To Know as We Are Known

That makes sense. But becoming a Learning Community — and creating one — is often a challenge work. I want to be up for that challenge and get better at it. Hope the same for you.

What have you discovered about this in your setting? What is working and what is not?