Before we moved to New York, I (Sam) was hopeful that we would be blessed by the opportunity to learn from seasoned leaders, but I never imagined I would have had the opportunity to hear from someone like Frances Hesselbein. Through Lee and Mary Patouillet, a very generous couple that Kimberly and I met at Grace Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, TN, I was invited to attend a board meeting of a consultancy firm who was being addressed by Frances Hesselbein. There are many accolades that I could mention of her, but of most notable was her receiving of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation's highest civilian award, for her service as the CEO of the Girl Scouts of America. You can read a more complete biography on the website of her leadership foundation here.
From our grandparent's generation, I was so grateful that Frances still takes the time to remain active and take the opportunity to pour her life and wisdom into others. Although the group was not gathered to talk implicitly about Christian Leadership, I was so refreshed that so many of the points Frances made could be easily translated to Jesus' style of leadership found in the Bible. I thought I would take the time to summarize some of the principles I took away from it.
1) Mission Driven, Value Based, Demographic Driven: These are things that many of us have probably heard once or twice in our lives, but going back to the basics is never beyond any of us. Frances has been a leader a lot longer than almost anyone in the country, and these were the things she focussed on in encouraging other leaders. Simple questions like "Can your mission statement fit on a t-shirt?" were powerful tools for evaluation. Can you boil down your organization or own personal mission into one simple sentence so that it can be easily transfered to others?
An organization needs values too. Even if you are not conscience of it, your organization has values and culture. A great question a leader can ask is, "Are you shaping your organization's values and culture, or are you just letting it happen?" Demographics are so important, and we often spend a lot of resources (time and money) to do research, but do we actually change our practices in order to respond to them. It is hardest to change to our various demographics when it comes to things we have always done, because change can take a lot of time and resources in itself. It kind of reminds me of the story of the woodcutter whose productivity slowly decreased over time because he refused to stop cutting wood long enough to sharpen his axe. Are we sharpening our axes in responding to our ever changing demographics?
2) The power of building bridges: The firm whose steering committee was present, focuses on consultancy and networking in higher education for the most part. Being involved in Christian ministry where evangelism and discipleship is the focus, I was a little bit of the odd-ball in the room, and yet both the Patouillets and Frances were so quick to build bridges from the content of the conversation to what I was embarking on here in New York City. Frances at one point implored us to keep doors open as wide as we can make them.
I have found this principle to be extremely important in ministry. Because I deal with matters of belief on a daily basis, there can sometime be the tendency to not want to work with people who believe different things than you do. As an evangelist, if I did that, I would never get any work done! I do think that we need to be careful and conscience of what the Bible does say on every matter, but we need not fear engaging with others who might think differently than the Biblical worldview. We have often lost the art of discussion and gentle persuasion in our afraid to offend mainstream culture, and yet I think it all starts with trying to build bridges with people you may come into contact with. It doesn't mean everyone is your best friend, and it doesn't mean partnership will always work out, but we should try and take relationships and partnerships as far as they will allow us, knowing when is the appropriate time to put our own foot on the breaks. Not being afraid to work with a diverse group of people has allowed me to see God move more than if I hadn't.
3) Frances' belief in the millennial generation: So much of the talk about millennials has the tone of "What are we going to do with these millennials?" but Frances thoughts on my generation were more of the tone of "What can we do with these millennials?" She referenced research (sorry I don't have the specific reference here) that showed that the millennials generation is the closest in values to that of the post-depression era in America. This is a generation that truly transformed our country and led it through so many challenges. For me, as a millennial, to hear someone of Frances' stature speak belief and courage to pass on to the next generation, encouraged me to trust God even more with reaching the millennials in New York City with the gospel.
It was such an incredible and humbling experience, that I wanted to let you all know about and ask you to pray about our partnership with Frances moving forward. She would be a great speaker and resource to the millennials connected with Cru, and I am hoping and praying that we can continue to work together.