Grow to Pursue BHAGs


At the 2015 Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, I was again inspired by many great leaders sharing about things they're learning in their own work and development as people of influence. Here are some of my take aways from a session with Jim Collins. Big, hairy, audacious goals are an important part of meaningful work which contributes to a meaningful life. Achieving BHAG's is not certain. Pursuing them will mean failure, probably lots of it. But they are a part of great leadership and when people have the courage and love to pursue them, transformation occurs, usually in many people's lives as well as their own.

Jim framed his talk around these 7 questions:

  1. What cause do you serve with level 5 ambition?
  2. Will you settle for being a good leader or will you grow to be a great leader?
  3. How can you reframe failure as growth in pursuit of BHAG? 
  4. How can you succeed by helping others succeed? 
  5. Have you found your personal hedgehog? 
  6. Will you build your unit - your mini bus - into a pocket of greatness?
  7. How will you change the lives of others?

He concluded with 'life is people', a phrase he threaded through his talk. Being grateful for them, we should live to help them experience fulfillment and success. I would add never sacrificing that fundamental principle for productivity, career goals, or organizational priorities.

Working backwards, what I've gleaned from this wisdom are the following:

7. I want to be a liberating agent in the lives of those in my family, followed by friends and those I work with.

6. To build my family, my mini bus, into a pocket of greatness, I need to be mindful and intentional about who I am, bringing the best possible me, and fostering the growth and development of my co-leader, my wife. When both my wife and I are loving each other and our kids in liberating ways which facilitate ongoing maturation, we will not fail.

5. My personal hedgehog is still in the works but I've narrowed it down to maximizing connections - all kinds. I'm passionate about helping people heal, develop and transform. I'm gifted in being with others in encouraging and liberating ways. Finding the economic engine to drive it all is a current challenge.

4. The successes I've greatly appreciated and been energized by are the successes of those I've meaningfully engaged. Seeing them live in a new space, showing up differently with new desires, decisions, and actions is awesome.

3. Reframing failure as growth has been an incredible skill that has really kept me moving forward. One of my previous employers early on in my career said, "Remember that you'll be a lot better in 5 years." That stuck because it kept me from being anxious about not being good enough, and kept me focused on growing and improving. As a result, I was able to use failures as learning opportunities and this also increased my motivation to get better. I think reframing creates the much needed space and freedom to try things without fear. And without fear, my brain is able to learn and I'm able to develop and mature.

2. I didn't set out to be a great leader. But I think the central thing that has consistently moved me to get better has been love and always trying to submit to what healthy love desires. Just like Jim says, "Life is people." And to choose life is to choose to love people. As I listen and learn from great leaders, I'm finding that they too have this core value and it gets expressed in beautiful, powerful ways according to their uniqueness. Growing from good to great is simply honoring the core value of life in the battle over what is most important both in the short and long term.

  1. First off, here's Jim's definition of level 5 leadership:
  • Level 1, you are a highly capable individual.
  • Level 2, you become a contributing team member.
  • Level 3, you become a competent manager.
  • Level 4, you become an effective leader.
  • Level 5 requires a special blend of personal humility and professional will—the capacity to channel your personal ambitions and capabilities into a larger cause or mission. Level 5 leaders differ from Level 4 in that they are ambitious first and foremost for the cause, the organization, the mission, the nation, the work—not themselves—and they have the will to do whatever it takes (within the bounds of the organization's core values) to make good on that ambition.

The cause for which I am attempting to serve with level 5 ambition is elevating the empathy and skill of parents to raise a generation of people who will lead the world towards greater depths of love and higher levels of leadership. I see parents as the channels for greatest world change. When moms and dads get better, their families are transformed, communities are blessed, and nations grow in justice and freedom.

This is my BHAG. Boy do I need to grow. Boy do I need help.

These are my action items:

  • Continue to build my unit.
  • Reach out way more to connect with those who want to grow their family connections.
  • Continue to learn from others and be inspired.