In the Christian Gospels, Jesus makes reference to laying foundations of rock upon which all else can be built, secured and able to withstand the toughest storms. As one of history’s most influential leaders, this spiritual message from Jesus – that we should build ourselves from within – drives the efforts of the Willow Creek Association (WCA), a Christian organisation based in Illinois, US, that seeks to transform lives through leadership development. (Willow Creek Association has now been renamed the Global Leadership Network - GLN)
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The association’s president and CEO Gary Schwammlein spoke about the importance of leadership on The Leaderonomics Show with host Roshan Thiran, citing John Maxwell’s well-known mantra that “everything rises and falls on leadership.”
Joining the WCA (now renamed GLN) in 1996, Schwammlein spent 17 years as the association’s executive vice-president, leading its international department with activities in 100 countries. In August 2013, he became president and set his team on an ambitious goal – to have 500,000 people attending the GLN’s Global Leadership Summit by 2020. (Ed Note - The GLN hit their target in 2019)
The summit is a two-day annual leadership event that is broadcasted from Willow’s campus every August. World-class leaders are invited to speak at the summit, and throughout autumn there are related events which take place in 128 countries worldwide. Although organised by a community church, WCA’s summit invites speakers of all faiths and beliefs to share and teach leadership, and sees many thousands of people from other faiths attend the event in order to develop their own leadership skills and personal growth.
In 2016, the target of reaching 500,000 attendees was reached, seeing an impressive increase of 72,000 people from the previous year.
Amongst the speakers at their annual summit includes John Maxwell, former GE CEO Jack Welch, famous author Patrick Lencioni, former Ford and Boeing CEO Alan Mullaly and other global icons and authors, including Simon Sinek and Juliet Funt. Commenting on the summit’s purpose, Schwammlein says,
“We focus on two things – to teach leadership and reach the maximum number of people through our conference. We also try to do workshops throughout the year to deepen what they have learned at the conference itself.”
Part of the reason for the success of the WCA is its commitment to inclusion and diversity in the people it reaches. While the association is proudly Christian-centred, its senior management team recognises that good leadership comes from all walks of life. As Schwammlein says,
Leadership is fairly neutral. It’s like Christian music — there’s no ‘Christian’ music, there’s music and some of it has Christian lyrics or text to it. It’s the same with leadership: leadership is leadership.
“Probably one of the greatest leaders who ever lived, and is acknowledged pretty much anywhere around the world, is Jesus Christ. We can learn a lot from his leadership principles, but we have leaders who have accomplished great things in the marketplace, the military, education, church, business – you name it.”
Watch Gary live on the Leaderonomics Show below: