Search the site

Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Drinking From a Fire Hydrant

Follow @TimElmore

Last Friday, we took our Growing Leaders team to Leadercast, a simulcast event broadcast live to over 100,000 leaders worldwide. The lineup was spectacular — each speaker focused on one element of bravery and its role in effective leadership. From Seth Godin to Peyton Manning to Rudy Giuliani, the day was filled with powerful yet personal ideas on courageous leadership.

I thought you might enjoy my summaries and big takeaways from each of the speakers.

Andy Stanley (@AndyStanley)
Andy is a best-selling author and lead pastor at North Point Community Church. Andy unveiled the myths we often believe about courageous leaders, such as the idea that bold leadership is reserved for fearless people; bold leadership requires big talent or smarts; or bold leadership starts with great resources. He humorously compared a bold leader’s traits to that of a middle school girl hunting for an iPhone: she has extreme clarity on what she wants and an unreasonable commitment to getting it. She’s tenacious in what she’s willing to do — asking for help from mom, dad, grandma, etc. — and focused on the steps she must take in the process. Lastly, she’s resourceful in what she’s willing to trade or sacrifice in her pursuit.

Rorke Denver (@RorkeDenver)
Rorke is a Navy SEAL Trainer who’s spent his life preparing leaders. He played himself, Navy SEAL Commander Rorke in the popular movie, “Act of Valor.” Rorke spoke about the counterpart to courage is fear, and the best way to combat it is to face it. He offered a list of what he’s learned to counter fear: Limit your field of view and you’ll actually see more. Be willing to make bold corrections if necessary. Bravery doesn’t have to be a solo sport; its supposed to be a team sport. Finally, we must choose what you carry with you on your journey wisely. Each of these enables leaders to overcome fear.

Malala Yousafzai
At 17 years old, Malala is the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner in history. She’s a teen from Pakistan who has stood up for education (particularly education for girls), even in the face of an attempted assassination at the hands of the Taliban. She told her story and humbly insisted that opposition can actually deepen one’s courage. She affirmed that her attackers only solidified her convictions, that she and her fellow advocates were on the right track, and that speaking up for those who are marginalized or prevented from receiving an education is a must. She also noted how attacks like the one she experienced can be leveraged to broaden one’s message and expand a following as others hear the story.

Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning is one of the most successful and beloved NFL quarterbacks in history, with passing and touchdown records in several categories as well as a Super Bowl ring. He shared his story, affirming that he faced monumental decisions long before he was ready for them. He felt the key was how he handled ambiguity. You must not shy away from how you handle game-changing choices. You must learn to thrive in uncomfortable situations. You must devote yourself to intense preparation. You must invest in a coach. You must find a way to instill trust in others. You must become a master observer, and you must grasp the strength that comes from sustained relationships.

Seth Godin (@ThisisSethsBlog)
Seth is a best-selling author of many books, nearly all of them on innovation and adaptability. He began with the premise we will never be brave enough to excel until we care enough. Too often, in the industrial model of business, we are like a person holding a bowl full of frogs, trying desperately to keep them from hopping out. We work to prevent mishaps rather than take risks. The truth is, leadership is risky, and it requires these traits: We must first create tension, just like a new art form. Tension makes us all think. Next, we must become obsessed with something. Only people with an obsession create something remarkable. Then, we must learn how to connect, to become a person others trust. Then, we must possess and offer direction. The first person that bought a fax machine couldn’t use it because no one else had it... but he set the trend. Be the one who provides future direction. Finally, be compassionate. Unreasonable compassion stands out and moves others to courage.

Ed Catmull (@edcatmull)
Ed is a Ph.D and the current President of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Ed spoke about how lack of courage blocks our creativity. He reminded us that Disney and Pixar both went through dark times where they lacked creativity. He said they had to rethink their failures, form a brain trust, set up a creative front, and deal aggressively with risk-aversion. One huge issue he had to work through as President was helping people overcome their fear of making mistakes. To do this, Ed had to become a forgiving leader, and as a result of his understanding and positive criticism, Pixar animators were more apt to risk a mistake. He concluded that Pixar had to balance two extremes: if they only did low-risk projects, they’d go creatively bankrupt; but if they only did high-risk projects, they’d go financially bankrupt. The key to Ed’s success was in finding that balance while offering forgiveness in the process.

Bill McDermott (@BillRMcDermott)
Bill is the CEO of SAP, the world’s business software market leader. Bill communicated humbly but confidently about the brave moves executives must make in an ever-changing market. He then laid out the guidelines he uses to make courageous decisions, affirming values like: run simply — complexity is killing companies; people generally have the answers as they work in the trenches — listen to them; efficiency is king — find ways to trim red tape from your team and organization.; and finally, possess empathy for your customer — this will always enlighten and reward leaders.

Aja Brown (@AjaLBrown)
Aja Brown made history when, at 31 years of age, she became the youngest mayor elected to office in Compton, CA. The city was notorious for gang activity, crime and economic decline, but she was not daunted by the reality she saw in front of her. Mayor Brown said that she did not allow herself to be consumed by fear. When she hosted a meeting with competing gang members, she treated everyone with dignity and believed it would result in a positive outcome. By choosing to believe the best and not succumb to fear, she changed the entire culture of her city.

Rudy Giuliani
On September 11, 2001, Rudy Giuliani ­— then mayor of New York City — faced a leadership crisis few will ever experience. During a breakfast meeting that morning, he was interrupted by a police officer, telling him that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center Towers. When he got to the site and saw the second plane hit, he realized that he and his team were in uncharted territory. They didn't have a written plan for this kind of terrorist attack. But Rudy Giuliani had long believed that one of the most important things for a leader is relentless preparation, so in the days and months after 9/11, Giuliani and his team were able to pull from a wide array of crisis plans they had prepared years before to create a new plan that helped them restore order and prosperity to NYC. Rudy would say his success came from years of preparation for crises such as the one experienced on 9/11, preparation that helped assuage his fears in the aftermath of the attack and allow him to focus on boosting the city’s morale during that dark time.

What do you think? Did you go to Leadercast? Share your thoughts below.

Leave a Comment

Drinking From a Fire Hydrant