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Published: Thursday, 8/18/2011

Pastor: Challenged workers better than challenging ones


As the founding pastor of one of the nation's largest churches, the Rev. Bill Hybels of South Barrington, Ill., has had to make some painful leadership decisions.

In opening the Leadership Summit 2011, broadcast by satellite to 450 sites around the world, Mr. Hybels spoke about how he tries to keep his leadership team suitably challenged at Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago.

He drew a line and divided it into three parts: underchallenged, appropriately challenged, and "D.O.C.," for dangerously overchallenged, saying that a person's best work is done when they are just above the appropriately challenged mark.

Mr. Hybels also discussed how he deals with "challenging people."

When an employee is "off mission" or "no longer fit," some leaders avoid dealing with them if there are no urgent budget concerns. But when the fiscal belt needs tightening, as many churches and businesses are now doing, problem employees cannot be ignored.

The key to an organization's future is its ability to attract and keep "fantastic people," Mr. Hybels said.

One of the most urgent leadership concerns is an employee with a bad attitude, he said.

He said he has asked leaders at conferences around the world how long they would tolerate someone who "lost his joy" and is "roaming the halls with a bad attitude, spreading it like a flu."

The range of answers is astonishing, Mr. Hybels said.

A pastor in Ireland said he would tolerate it for 60 minutes. When Mr. Hybels asked if a longtime employee is entitled to a bad day, the pastor replied, "Your first bad day would be your last day."

In France, Mr. Hybels said, one pastor told him that "if I didn't tolerate bad attitudes, I wouldn't have anybody working for me."

Mr. Hybels said he responded jokingly, "C'est la vie, which means it sucks to be a leader in France."

At Willow Creek, an employee with an attitude problem is given 30 days, no more, to resolve the situation.

"The damage somebody can do when they spread radioactive fallout around your organization … is breathtaking," Mr. Hybels said.

Underperformers are given 90 days to turn things around at his church, he said.

The most difficult leadership decisions involve faithful employees who lack the "elasticity" to grow with the organization. He gives 6 to 12 months to find a resolution before giving the employee a generous severance package.

"These situations almost always lead to heartbreak on both sides," the pastor said.

The Leadership Summit opened Thursday at Willow Creek Community Church and ended Friday, with 13 prominent speakers addressing a wide range of topics. About 1,100 people participated at two satellite sites in the Toledo area, hosted by CedarCreek Church at its Perrysburg Township and West Toledo campuses.

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