Have you ever heard of the Global Leadership Summit by the Willow Creek Association?

If not, you’re missing out big time!

The Global Leadership Summit is a two-day event that is supercharged with leadership advice, training, and success stories from people like John Maxwell, Simon Sinek, Craig Groeschel, Erwin McManus just to name a few of this year’s faculty. While most of the speakers change from year to year, Willow Creek never fails to get the very best people in the personal growth and leadership space.

While the main event is hosted in Chicago, they broadcast the Global Leadership Summit around the world to hundreds of locations around the world, so it’s pretty easy to attend from almost anywhere. I’ve attended the last three years from LaCroix Church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The event is amazing, impactful, and frankly, unmissable!

Whether you missed the GLS or were on the front row, I wanted to share my top ten takeaways with you because they’re sure to blow you away.

  1. Erwin McManus: Overcome Fear and Step Into Our Greatness
  2. Craig Groeschel: Good Leaders Anticipate Change
  3. Simon Sinek: How to Play an Infinite Game
  4. T.D. Jakes: Embrace a Larger Vision
  5. Carla Harris: Failure Fosters Innovation
  6. Danny Meyer: Do What You Love
  7. Rasmus Ankersen: Be Skeptical of Success
  8. John Maxwell: Grow Intentionally
  9. Strive Masiyiwa: Communicate from the Heart
  10. Dr. Nthabiseng Legoete: Challenges Come with a Purpose-Filled Journey

1. Erwin McManus Taught us to Overcome Fear and Step Into Our Greatness

Erwin McManus was by far the most impactful and passionate speaker of the entire event, in my opinion. McManus lost millions of dollars to a business partner who betrayed him, faced countless trials and tribulations throughout his life, and survived a battle with cancer and I couldn’t help but connect to his story.

His delivery was power packed and he taught us that “fear establishes the boundaries of your freedom” and “your future is on the other side of your failures”.

Because he thought he was going to die from cancer, he made peace with death and decided to live a life without fear, to hold nothing back, and to give of himself entirely. He asked the crowd, “how many of us are saving our best for the next life when we only have this life?”

His message resonated with me because I often forget to live each day as if it were my last. I think we all tend to think we get tomorrow as a do-over, or as an extra day to do what we didn’t do today. But tomorrow is not guaranteed, so we can’t let past failures or current fears dictate what we do, or worse, what we don’t do. We cannot let fear hold us back from our fullest potential.

I can’t convey the energy he brought in this post, but he left us all with two final thoughts that I’ll share with you:

  1. “You have to be willing to go through pain to step into your greatness.”
  2. “Faith doesn’t make life easier, it makes you stronger.”

Face your fears and know there will be some pain, but have faith that you’ll make it through and you’ll arrive at your own greatness.

2. Craig Groeschel Taught us that Good Leaders Anticipate Change

Craig opened and closed the Global Leadership Summit this year and he had a ton of great things to say, but in his closing session he told us “The difference between a good leader and a great leader is one who anticipates rather than one who reacts.”

He also warned us of the Curse of Confidence and explained that when someone is overly confident they have all the answers, they find it difficult to receive feedback, they often stop asking questions, and they stop innovating.

Craig explained that anticipatory leaders understand that what they know may very well be wrong and they seek to learn new things, adapt, and grow.

He gave us the 3 Ds of Anticipatory Leadership:

  1. Develop Situational Awareness
    “Most leaders could learn from their mistakes if they weren’t so busy denying them.”
  2. Discern Future Threats and Opportunities
    “When you see a threat, train yourself to see the opportunity.”
  3. Disrupt What Is and Create What Could Be
    If you were to start over today, what would you do? When would you do it?”

I found this specifically impactful because I’ve worked in places where the leader was not anticipatory and was always reacting to issues and changes as they occurred. We were always behind and it was extremely frustrating.

In my current job, we strive to anticipate but sometimes struggle to keep up with the ever-changing technology industry. Now, armed with the 3 Ds, I’m going to look ahead and work on anticipating.

3. Simon Sinek Taught us How to Play an Infinite Game

This was Simon’s first year that the Global Leadership Summit and he kicked things off by explaining to us the difference between a finite game and an infinite game. A finite game is one where both sides understand the pre-determined rules and the game is over once certain terms are met. Think of football. The game is over once one team reaches the highest score within a limited amount of time.

An infinite game has no end. When one player quits or drops out, the game goes on. Think about life or business. When we die, life goes on for others. If we go out of business, other companies go on without us.

Most people, as it turns out, try to play the game of life or of business with a finite game in mind. Simon asked us, “If you can decimate your enemy and win most of the battles, how can you lose the war?” He was referring to the Vietnam war, but he then applied this concept to life and business.

When you start playing an infinite game, you can’t win by applying massive amounts of resources and energy to it in the beginning because you can’t overwhelm the opponent and win. Therefore you waste your own time.

To Play an Infinite Game, You Have to Have these Five Things:

  1. A Just Cause – something you believe in with all your heart.
  2. A Trusting and Vulnerable Team.
  3. Courageous Leadership.
  4. A Worthy Rival – not a rival that you compete with, but one that makes you step up and do better.
  5. A Flexible Playbook.

In my opinion, the first one is the most important. Without a just cause or a strong ‘why,’ you’ll eventually give up because your heart isn’t truly in it. Once your heart is in it, you can courageously lead your team towards your vision.

4. T.D. Jakes taught us to Embrace a Larger Vision

At this year’s Global Leadership Summit, T.D. Jakes talked about having a grander vision. He said, “If everyone buys into your vision, its’ too small for you.” 

That started me thinking about my vision, especially for this blog. My goal is to help as many people become goal setters and goal achievers as possible, but maybe that’s not big enough. Maybe my vision should be more significant. Instead, perhaps I should shoot to help everyone in the world set and achieve their goals.

That’s seemingly impossible, even a little scary, but perhaps that was his point. He also said, “When we’re petrified, we’re also electrified!” 

I’m going to reflect deeper on this idea, but I know one thing for sure, my vision isn’t yet big enough for me.

5. Carla Harris Taught us that Failure Fosters Innovation

Carla started her talk by saying, “There isn’t one single industry where innovation isn’t THE competitive advantage.” I had never thought about it, but she’s right!

Even deeper still, she explained that innovation cannot exist while people are afraid to fail. Fear of failure prevents people from trying new things, and you cannot innovate without some failed experiments from time to time.

Instead, she recommends fostering an environment where failure is celebrated. She reasoned that “fear informs your next step.” She explained that if we stop to evaluate our failure, we can learn valuable lessons about what NOT to do, but also, what we need to try next, and through trial and error, we innovate.

At the end of every week ask yourself “What did I fail at this week?” and then congratulate yourself, learn from your mistake, and improve for next time.

6. Danny Meyer Taught us to do What We Love

As a restaurateur, Danny Meyer has opened countless successful restaurants, but he almost reluctantly went to law school before ever entertaining the idea of going into the restaurant business.

He told the story of how he was very grumpy one night at dinner, and his uncle asked him why he was in a bad mood. Danny explained that he was not looking forward to the entrance exams that he had to take the next morning and his uncle asked if he even wanted to be a lawyer. Danny responded with a resounding “NO.”

His uncle then asked him the most thought-provoking question I’ve ever heard: “Do you realize how long you’re going to be dead?” Danny again responded with a simple “no.”

Then his uncle replied: “A heck of a lot longer than you’ll be alive.”

His uncle’s point was simple: you don’t have long on this earth, so why would you spend your time doing something you don’t love. Danny always loved restaurants, so he decided to pursue that as a career and his passion for providing the very best service has led him to success.

I know there are many people out there that dispute or doubt the possibility of having a career that you love, but we all need to make the things we’re passionate about our life’s work. That’s the true ticket to a happy, purpose-filled life.

7. Rasmus Ankersen Taught us to be Skeptical of Success

Rasmus began with the story of the Nokia 3310 cell phone. In its day, the Nokia 3310 was the most innovative phone ever to hit the market, selling 126 million units (compared to the first iPhone’s 35 million). Nokia was a leader in innovation and held the most market share in the cell phone space, but somewhere along the way, they failed to stay relevant with their customers.

They didn’t evaluate what made them successful, and they didn’t analyze what their success meant. Nokia assumed that their good results were a byproduct of high performance or a perfect product (outcome bias) when in reality, they were simply one of few players in the game, making it easier to win at the time.

While Apple was setting out to reinvent the cell phone based on how future users would want to interact with a device in the future, Nokia continued trying to add new features to their rapidly aging phone. Once the highest in market share, Nokia plummeted to the bottom.

Rasmus’ point was “If it can happen to Nokia, it can happen to you.” Scary, but true!

Becuase Nokia was not skeptical of their success, and they assumed that they had the best product available, they stopped innovating or thinking beyond the product they already had. We can’t blindly contribute our success to genius or trust in our success without examining it. After all, what if that success is just due to luck or great market conditions? Instead, we have to evaluate our success and find the real underlying performance indicators and grow and improve based on those.

8. John C. Maxwell Taught us to Grow Intentionally

John Maxwell is considered the foremost expert on leadership, and he is a frequent speaker at the Global Leadership Summit. The wealth of knowledge he brought to his talk left me with too many takeaways to choose from, but I think my favorite quote was “If you’re excited about what you did five years ago, you’re not growing.”

He went on to tell a story of when he was trying to improve on various skills continually, and he would ask himself, “How long will this take?” He soon realized that every few years he would be getting closer to where he thought he needed to be, only to find that there was now so much farther to go.

Once he recognized this trend, he stopped asking “How long will this take?” and instead started asking “How far can I go?”

I found this to be incredibly profound because the first question places a finish line on your growth, a place to stop. The second question pushes you to keep improving forever, with no end in sight, to see how much you can grow. You might say that continual growth is an infinite game, which is pairs nicely to Simon Sinek’s talk about the infinite game.

9. Strive Masiyiwa Taught us to Communicate from the Heart

In a world where most people would rather text, IM, or Facebook Message each other, T.D. Jakes asked Strive Masiyiwa how we can put the personal touch back into communication. Masiiwa replied, “It doesn’t matter what methodology you use to communicate, what matters is what’s coming from your heart.”

This is huge!

Because there are countless ways to impact the world, we all need to consider what kind of energy we’re putting out there. We can project a negative voice and bring people down, or we can project a positive voice and lift people up.

Communication tools such as text, email, and IM have made it harder to remember that there is a real human on the other end of your message, but if we can all work on speaking from the heart with everyone we encounter, we can positively hugely impact the world.

10. Dr. Nthabiseng Legoete Taught us that Challenges Come with a Purpose-Filled Journey

Dr. Legoete focused more on what she called “The downside of leadership.” Her talk was aimed at drawing awareness to the mistakes she’s made as a leader so that others might avoid those same mistakes, but her biggest point during the talk was that “Challenges come with a purpose-filled journey.”

In 2016, she started a non-profit healthcare clinic called Quali Health in South Africa. After a successful first year, things began to go downhill, and she began thinking her entire dream might be broken. After a year of difficulty, having to lay off people, and restructuring the business model, she realized that the dream wasn’t broken, it just came with challenges that had to be overcome.

She said that “You have to remember WHY you started and you have to tune out the noise. … Challenges do not mean the dream isn’t working.” Her final realization was that a strong vision cannot be dependent upon one single person. Some visions and some missions are far too great for one person to carry, and when you include others in your vision, beautiful things can happen.

So there you have it, the 2018 Global Leadership Summit boiled down to a couple thousand words.

I know that’s a lot to take in, but if you’ve never been to the summit, trust me, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re into personal development and leadership, I encourage you to sign up for the 2019 summit. There’s nothing in it for me, but it’ll be the best money you’ve spent in a long, long time.

Were you at the 2018 GLS? What was your favorite takeaway? I’d love to know. Share it in the comments below.

  • Erin

    Love this. There’s just so much I need to take in slowly but I love the “faith doesn’t make life easier; it makes you stronger.” Holy crap, talk about right between the eyes.

    • Austin Bollinger

      Absolutely! This was a long article and it was tough to write. The GLS just has way too much fantastic content to distill down, but if you take it piece by piece, you can really learn some life-changing stuff 🙂

  • Chris Edmonds

    Great summary! To tag onto McManus’ talk. What if we truly lived fearless lives? How much more would we accomplish? How many more lives could we touch? This is my biggest takeaway and action plan from 2018!

    • Austin Bollinger

      That was one of my biggest takeaways too! I was also combining that with T.D. Jakes’ message about your goal needing to be big enough that it scares you. It started me thinking about my own goals. With DNY, I wanted to help people set more goals, but that’s small. What if my goal were to help everyone in the world set a goal? That’s huge! That would force me to reach further and grow larger. The latest research shows that less than 3% of Americans write down goals! What if I could help get that up to 20%?

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