Newsletter #451 – Modeling Leadership

We’ve all read articles and heard talks about leading but it is rare to see authentic leadership modeled in a conference presentation. That happened recently at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. With very little warning, one of the speakers cancelled his appearance. Conference chairman and pastor Bill Hybels had the challenge of announcing that speaker Howard Schultz, President of Starbucks, was pulling out of the Summit because of a threatened boycott of Starbucks if he spoke at a church rumored to be “anti-gay.” Some of the boycott leaders sent messages that were vitriolic and the Starbucks Board of Directors made the “tough business decision” to have their chairman withdraw. Hybels told the audience in a seven-minute speech that demonstrated leadership under frustrating and unexpected circumstances. What can we all learn about leadership from the video clip that appears below?

  • If you choose to be a leader, expect surprises.
  • Before you respond, get the facts.
  • Pray about your response and discuss this with your team.
  • Avoid hostility, unnecessary criticism or cynical comments.
  • Show respect, understanding and the soft answer that deflects wrath and reduces conflict.
  • Don’t stoop to the methods of your critics. The boycott leaders condemned and threatened to hurt the Starbucks business. Hybels responded that “Jesus has a better way” and encouraged audience members to write notes of encouragement and support, and even to purchase Starbucks products.
  • Don’t try to penalize or get even. The speaker was released from his contract without penalty.
  • Be clear about where you stand but state your position in a non-combative way.
  • Don’t shy away from stating your frustration. Hybels expressed sadness that the people who threatened the boycott did not get the facts about Willow Creek. They “tend to throw stones first and ask questions later” like some in our political system who “are rapidly making our country unmanageable.”
  • Building on Mathew 18, try to meet and reconcile with your critics, bringing an attitude of respect even though you disagree.
  • Seek another way forward. The Summit found another speaker and a negative situation was turned into something positive.

How do you react? Please leave a comment.


  1. Good morning Gary,

    I was awre of this unfortunate event as well as several others that are related to he same issues and my first thought at hearing of it was how ashamed I am at times because too many “Christans” respond in exactly the same way. Scripture clearly enjoins us not to “stoop to the level” of our critics, as we have a world full of them.

    As Bill Hybels said, there is a better way. We can’t, however, be salt and light while fighting evil with te same tools evil uses against us. I am always disappopinted when corporations make decisions that are, above everything else, profits based, but the corporate leadership exists fo thesole purpose of bring profits to the shareholders. While their decisions may not coincide with my beliefs, they generally are in cncert with the corporate directives.

    Bill made an excellent point in that how we as Christans respond has he potential to say much about the power of our beliefs and notes of support go much farther in bringing truth to people than does “vitriol”. If we can’t stand strong in a loving fashion against wrong actions in tough times, then our message in good times will not be well received at all.

    Grace and peace,

    Michael Sawyer


  2. I’ve encountered dozens of threats to boycott coming from homosexual advocacy groups over the years. Economic action has been a staple of this subculture for a long time. It’s easy to clearly see the best way to respond but, as a Christian, it’s not always easy (or effective) to implement a Christian response. I can agree right away with the first three bullet points. Those are steps any good leader should take and it makes perfect sense from a public policy standpoint.

    To the next two bullet points, I would observe that any response which does not result in affirmation of the homosexual community and the behaviors and lifestyles that are so integral to a social, homosexual identity are viewed as overtly hostile, critical, and cynical. Showing respect for individuals as people rather than individuals as an identity is very good advice indeed! That denies the effort to prompt a response which falls into the trap of “identity politics”. It avoids the tendency to underestimate an opponent and serves to elevate the dialogue. I wonder openly on some occasions if there is a continued benefit to a strategy which seeks to reduce conflict. There already is clear conflict between ideologies of the church and of homosexual advocacy groups. In war, appeasement only makes sense if both sides are relatively stable. In the ongoing dialogue with homosexual advocacy groups over the last decades, religion has been losing ground. In schools, in business, even in the church itself, ground is yielded time and time again out of a spirit of charity and for the sake of “reduction of conflict”. this only serves to prolong the fight as time and time again we see renewed offensives that come as a response to Christian charity and tolerance.

    Business, by and large, does not work within the values of Christianity. They respond to Ceaser’s coin. I have found that all the letter writing and sentimental action on the part of consumers amounts to nothing if there are no teeth (dollars) behind the message. No business has an incentive toward altruism, or action of any kind, unless there is an economic incentive at the heart of it. Homosexual advocacy groups have learned this fact and embrace it as the heart of their actions to influence business. Do not ignore the fact that the methods of “critics” in this situation proved to be highly effective. Boycotts that have been organized by the AFA have proved to be effective in the past. We can learn from some of these methods and adopt certain tactics without compromising our Christian ethics. Business needs to learn a hard lesson these days that taking a side in the culture war produces profound effects to the bottom line. There are no other messages that business will have an ear for.

    This situation is best viewed in light of how to make a tactful retreat after a defeat. This is, at best, a lost skirmish in the larger culture war. The longer we hold to notions of making peace with the opposition, the longer we fail to adequately act on a clear and present danger to faith communities and the people that those communities are made up of. Is being tactful and tasteful in your response serving the youth or spiritual neophyte who now sees leaders laying down and deflecting blows directed at the heart? Leaders have that luxury. They have the needed strength and resources to make a pretty face for public policy. Is this a time to feed the roaring lion with scraps to keep it less hungry for our people? I suggest that the season for war is upon us. Denying this only serves to provide additional time for the opposition to gather resources and plan their next offensive. Do we turn the other cheek if it costs us our lives? Perhaps someone could make an argument for the merits in that situation… What about when turning the other cheek costs us our soul and our Christianity? when is tactful submission to a call for war become a form of surrendering to the Lion… Shall we lay down and invite it to dinner?

    Psalms 120:6 My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.
    7 I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.

    Ecclesiastes 3:8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.


    1. Thank you for your long and clearly reasoned response. I confess that I am not sure how to respond. I would like to hear from others on this. IN the meantime I am pondering what you wrote. But of course, pondering is a nice way to do nothing. And you argue that sometimes it might be better to engage in warfare and cease “tactful submission.” I tend to be more of a peacemaker but maybe we do need to stand firm at times. YOur response to this post is very much appreciated.


  3. What a lovely example of Christian leadership that Bill Hybels modeled. I loved the video clip…being able to see his eyes. The eyes show so much. There was sincerity and a man at peace with God over the way He handled this situation. Thank you for featuring it on your blog, Gary.


  4. It sounds like the leader handled the immediate problem rather well. However, what bothers me is that the group thought they had the right to take a stand against any group of people. After all, we are all God’s children. He gave us some rules that make life easier if we follow His rules. He sent Christ to tell us that he always loves us no matter how much we mess up. So how can any group of mere humans take a stand on something like being gay. Who gave them the right to do that?


    1. A few may think that the Bible gives them the right to respond. More common may be people empowered by the entitlement mentality that, to be honest, impacts us all. It will be interesting to see if Howard Schultz will ever accept an invitation to speak at the summit and how his critics might respond if he does.


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