Once again, the Ambassador Leadership Team attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit via satellite on August 6 and 7. Once again, I left convinced that The Summit is the greatest leadership development value on the planet. “No pain, no gain” was a reoccurring theme this year. One faculty member particularly stood out as having experienced unimaginable pain in preparation for exponential gains in the organization he’s led since 1993.
Wess Stafford is CEO of Compassion International, a Christian child advocacy ministry that currently helps over one million children in twenty-five countries. As an internationally recognized advocate for children in poverty, Wess’s passion for the children he serves oozes from every pore of his body. When speaking on his favorite subject, Wess often has tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat. How appropriate that this man of such boundless compassion leads an organization called by his single greatest character trait. And, how typical of great leaders that such tremendous gains were only made possible by horrendous pain sufferred over many years.
Wess Stafford’s story is so poignant and powerful that I do not feel free to tell it here. There’s something literally sacred about it. He brought The Summit house down with it and left founder, Bill Hybels, at a rare loss for words in the aftermath. His painful past is chronicled in the “Silent No More” chapter starting on page 143 in his book, Too Small To Ignore.
I’m still processing the painful prescription that I received from this year’s Summit. I was reminded of a line from the movie The Way We Were wherein the male lead, Hubbell Gardner, played by Robert Redford, wrote of a character who was “like the country he lived in, everything came too easy for him”. This line comes from the ficticious book authored by Gardner entitled, “A Country Made Of Ice Cream“. It begs the question –does America suffer a dearth of leaders who have paid the prerequisite painful price of true leadership? Or, has everthing come so easily for us in recent decades (excepting the past year) that we’ve passed the leadership mantle of “the greatest generation” into the ill-equipped hands of baby boomers whose ice cream cones are now melting along with the American dream?
On the positive side, the “no pain, no gain” theme has me looking afresh at my own painful past in hopes of discovering how those painful experiences can be channeled into a brighter future. I’ve long thought that we learn much more from our failures than our successes. I now think that past pain can not only be overcome, but it can be the very platform upon which an otherwise unattainable glory can be achieved. My new hero, Wess Stafford, is living proof of this. That’s why I consider his book, Too Small To Ignore, a must read for anyone serious about taking their leadership to the next level.