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Craig Groeschel: How to Lead Through the Dip

Craig Groeschel GLS

Craig Groeschel kicked off the 2020 Global Leadership Summit (GLS 2020) this morning with a message about how to “lead through a dip.” By dip Groeschel was referring to the extraordinary circumstances this year has surprised us with. As dire as circumstances may be, though, Groeschel encouraged the audience to look to the example of Jesus, who “knows how to lead through the dip.”

“This is the most difficult year of leadership I’ve been through,” Groeschel admitted to the audience. In fact, Groeschel also offered that he’s battled with depression as his church, Life.Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma had to close its doors earlier this year due to the pandemic. He has felt like a failure—like a shepherd that can’t help his sheep—as his church has been practicing social distancing. The best thing we can do, says Groeschel, is adapt to the dip and try to limit the amount of time we are down there. 

How to Lead Well Through the Dip

Groeschel outlined how a leader can lead through the dip in his quintessential multi-point format.

The first thing leaders need to do is change how we think about change. People don’t hate change; they hate the way we try to change them, Groeschel explained. He shared a story about a lady he called “Fran” (not her real name) who attended his church. Fran sat in the same seat every week at church, but one week she showed up and a young visitor, who wasn’t familiar with Fran’s seat, was in her spot. Fran wasn’t very friendly and the visitor left clearly feeling unwelcome. When Groeschel spoke to Fran about this incident, he asked her if there was a young person in her life that she cares about. Fran shared about her grandson, who was lost and making poor choices. After praying for the grandson, Groeschel asked Fran to think about him whenever she saw a visitor come to the church. He asked her how she would feel if someone made her grandson feel uncomfortable in church. This thought changed Fran’s behavior, so much so that she started praying for the young people at the church. Groeschel shared this story to illustrate that people aren’t necessarily adverse to change; rather, they don’t always like the way leaders try to change them. Still, Groeschel explains, it’s a leader’s responsibility to lead change that needs to happen.

When change needs to happen, great leaders never cast blame; they take responsibility. Sometimes we blame the devil, we blame Millennials, right now we could blame COVID, etc. for the fact that change needs to happen. “You can make excuses, or you can make progress, but you can’t do both,” Groeschel said. He also issued a warning: “Your desire to hold the fort may lead you to lose the war. Don’t fight to guard the old way” when you can fight to find a new way.

Have the Courage to Unmake Promises

If you’ve ever heard yourself say something along the lines of “We will never end this program” or  “We will never have soda in the sanctuary,” a time of uncertainty may cause you to unmake some of your promises. Now, this concept is different than breaking a promise, Groeschel explained. Unmaking a promise is confronting the stubborn nature we have to guarding our old ways. “If you are not careful, your boldest declarations could become your greatest limitations,” Groeschel said. Groeschel gave the example of when Life.Church started a church online platform in 2006. They were criticized heavily and several church leaders made declarations that they would never have a church online platform. This didn’t discourage Life.Church. Instead, they gave away the platform to other churches that were interested in doing something similar. In early 2020, there were about 3,000 churches using the free platform. That number grew to 27,000 churches after COVID hit and churches quickly needed an online platform to reach their congregants.

Another example is the way National Geographic Magazine was able to reinvent itself. The company was stable practically doing the same thing they had always done for a century. But when they started to struggle in the 1990s, they pivoted. They didn’t stick to their old model, but they did stick to their mission: to explore and protect the planet. During this time of transition, revenue dropped, but they innovated by doing things like pursuing film and engaging in social media. 

“Have you made any personal promises limiting your leadership potential?” Groeschel asked the audience. “The world has changed. Tell yourself the truth,” Groeschel said.

Obsess Over the Why

People either change out of desperation or inspiration, Groeschel said. As leaders, we want to inspire our teams to change before they have to. 

There are typically three reactions to change. Leaders will run into critics, bystanders, and advocates. Critics will always be the loudest, but that doesn’t mean they’re the most. Don’t just listen to the loud folks, Groeschel instructed. What you do want to do—no matter how people respond—is to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. Explain the process that brought you to the conclusion that change needs to happen and why you believe this change will be present the best solution. People can tolerate the pain as long as there is a purpose, Groeschel said. And, remember things may have to get worse in order for them to get better.

Lead With Confident Uncertainty

You are most vulnerable when you are most confident, Groeschel explained. He admitted looking to and planning for the future is really hard right now. There are very few things that are certain in our current circumstance. Even still, you can be confident when you don’t know what’s coming. Great leaders will find a way to lead. Groeschel suggested that leaders admit to their teams that they’re not going to get it completely right. The big goal right now, in our current global crisis, is to limit the “depth of the dip.” When things aren’t going the right way, organizations need to fail quickly and then adapt, Groeschel explained. 

Leaders specifically need to “feel the fear and lead anyway.” In fact, “the pathway to your greatest potential is often straight through your greatest fear.” 

Groeschel then asked leaders the following questions to help them apply the points of his message to their own circumstances:

What is no longer working and needs to change?

What’s one promise you need to un-make?

What’s one risk you need to take even if you feel afraid?

Check out our other coverage on GLS 2020:

Marcus Buckingham: How to Build Resilience (in Yourself and Your Team)

Nona Jones: The Conversation on Race You Haven’t Heard Yet

Vanessa Van Edwards: The Best Way to Communicate When You’re a Leader

Amy Edmondson: How to Tell If Your Workplace Is Psychologically Safe

Michael Todd: Are You Leading at the Right Pace?

Lysa Terkeurst: Failing to Forgive Will Stifle Your Innovation

The Top 100 Quotes From This Year’s Global Leadership Summit