Can you identify a certain point in time that launched your career forward?
I need to share a little context in order to answer that question well. My father was a first generation Roman Catholic Hungarian immigrant and my mother was the daughter of a Southern Baptist Arkansas farmer. Feeling rejected by their denominations after making mistakes early in their lives, they found each other while working in a rubber factory. There were striving for a better life and when they had me, they passed on that ambition for more ‒ to me.
While my parents never spoke about God or faith, my grandmother did, and she was determined that I would have a knowledge of God. She was a devout Catholic and paid for me to attend the Catholic schools for 12 years. She was also faithful to take me to 5:30 AM mass whenever she could.
My ambition eventually led me to Purdue University. I was the first member of the family to attend and graduate from college. My faith came with me and I attended early morning mass every day. By the time I was in the final semester of my senior year, I had accepted what I believed was the job of my dreams.
I attended mass that morning, as was my routine, and for the first time felt as if there was a wall between God and me. I felt compelled to leave the church and buy a Bible. I had never owned one and certainly never spent any time reading one.
Reading it consumed me during the final 60 days before graduation. The day after I graduated, I concluded that I did not want to live another day without Jesus in control of my life. And with that everything changed for me. My ambition for worldly success was redirected to an ambition for loving God and others. I declined the offer for my big dream job and God put me on another path. Little did I know that it would be on that path I would grow in my love of Christ and experience more than I ever imagined possible in my personal and professional life.
God redeemed my professional career moments before it began. That was indeed a defining moment for me.
I spent most of my career running department store divisions and a big box retail chain. My retail career ended after serving as the President of Borders Inc. for four years. Then God moved me into Christian publishing when I accepted a position as the Chief Publishing Officer for Thomas Nelson. That was my first step toward what would eventually become full-time Christian nonprofit ministry.
Today I am the president and CEO of Christian Leadership Alliance. We equip and unite leaders called to transform the world for Christ. We provide professional development resources and experiences prepared for leaders by leaders. Our focus is on the business of ministry. The Alliance equips leaders to operate their ministries based on biblical principles and with excellence. The ultimate outcome is greater Kingdom impact.
I feel that my entire professional career was in preparation for what I am doing today. Christian Leadership Alliance represents 1,200 Christ-centered organizations and each year we influence the thinking, behavior and development of over 150,000 leaders. These are leaders who not only want to be great leaders, but they want to lead like Christ.
Wow! Looking back and also reflecting on the present, how do you stay grounded with all this growth?
Being humbled, often, keeps me grounded. In my life, promotions were never sought and often came to me by surprise. God consistently placed me in roles where I was painfully aware of what I didn’t know. This always caused me to have tremendous dependence on God for wisdom and understanding.
When we are wholly present of our need for God, we experience His greatest work in and through us.
There are a couple of disciplines that keep me grounded.
For the past five years I have completed a one-year Bible reading plan. New this year, I committed to memorizing a passage each week from the text in the reading plan.
Every Sunday night, I write out my Scripture memory card for the week. I work to memorize on Monday by speaking it over and over again. Then I review all the other passages I have already memorized. I review those cards every day. This has ignited another level of affection for God and the power of His Word alive in me.
I’ve taken to social media as a form of accountability and a means for me to share the Word of God with others. I publish a daily Scripture on Instagram and Twitter. My most used hashtag is #noturningback, inspired by my ministry in Haiti. We would sing the hymn “I Have Decided” in Creole; mwen te deside, pou m swiv le senyè, pa`p tounen (Translation: I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back). Every day it is my resolve to know, love and serve God. I’m all in and confess there’s no turning back.
Another beautiful aspect of memorizing Scripture this year is that my husband and daughter have been doing it too. We are being rooted and built up in Christ ‒ together ‒ as a family.
So what was the biggest fear you had to get to where you are? Do you still have them?
It is the fear of falling short or missing the mark, which is why I believe God has a pattern of putting me in situations that require my utter dependence on Him. He is always using those situations to show me just how much I can trust Him.
What do you do when that fear strikes you?
When I feel anxious about anything, I lean into this passage from Romans 4:20–22; it is referring to Abraham,
He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
I choose to counter fear with giving glory to God and ask Him for the strength to stand “fully convinced” that He is faithful and indeed in control.
So how then do you deal with those low days when you experience fear, or even when you do not feel like doing what you’re supposed to do?
I am constantly reminding myself that my attitude is my choice. It is also very true that an attitude of gratitude will radically shift what you are feeling and thinking. As that verse from Romans states, Abraham gave glory to God. We know that he had to reach often beyond his circumstance to do that!
Dealing well with anxious feelings comes down to discerning the thoughts I am entertaining and how they stack up to what I know is the Truth. This is another reason why memorizing Scripture is so important to living fearlessly.
How then do you manage your time with days like these?
I set 90-day goals and use daily to-do lists that align with my quarterly objectives. Both keep me strategically focused and intentional. I begin each week plotting out my week, identifying the activities that I know will give me energy and the ones that will require extra energy to complete. Then, I review my week, pray over it and commit it to God.
I also schedule time blocks throughout the week for planning and writing or whenever there is a need to spend uninterrupted time working on a project. I’ll time-block that activity so nothing will interrupt me.
Tell me more about your 90 days, like how do you set goals and determine where your priorities fall in different time blocks.
We have an annual strategic plan which breaks down the strategy into quarters. That sets the agenda for my 90-day goals.
I separate my goals into categories and list the corresponding activities I need to champion. Then I check to make sure at the beginning of each week I am tracking to hit my quarterly objectives and that my plans for the week are helping me get there.
My team also sets their 90-day goals; they submit them to me and I will provide feedback when necessary.
Thursday is my discovery day. When I get calls or solicitations for new products, technology, or services, I schedule these type of meetings on Thursdays and treat them as learning days. This is one way I keep up with some of the newest methods and innovations being created to increase organizational effectiveness and efficiency.
Speaking of products and services, what would you say is one purchase under $100 that really changed your life?
That would have to be the Bible I bought after attending mass the last semester of my senior year in college! That Bible and the power of the Holy Spirit transformed my life for eternity.
You just provided the perfect segue into my next question: What are some books that changed your life?
I could give you my top 500 books coming from a book business background, but I will do my best to land on my top three.
When I became president of Borders, Marcus Buckingham had done a lot of work with the Gallup organization and I got to know him personally when he wrote First Break All the Rules and then Now Discover Your Strengths. Both books were selling like crazy in our stores. Now Discover Your Strengths gave me the opportunity to see the beauty God created in them.
I had every manager in Borders read the book and take the StrengthsFinder test. We did multiple studies using other personality and skill assessments too, but this book gave me the language and ability to love, see and bring out the best in others.
Lead Like Jesus by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges pretty much rocked my world. My leadership changed when I looked to Christ as my greatest leadership role model.
I also consider Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders a treasure. If you read that book, you will quickly see how it influenced the thinking and messages of some of our greatest Christian leaders and communicators.
Extra Wisdom Nugget #1:
When we choose to follow Christ and his leadership example, we learn four things about our own transformational process.
- Time with the Father is essential to shaping your perspective.
- Relationships must always be founded on trust.
- Teams must be empowered to transfer the values and equipped to do the work.
- A leader’s highest call is always the reconciliation of people to achieve a common goal.
If something is not working, then one of these four areas is not what it should be.
Extra Wisdom Nugget #2:
Your greatest influence comes from the three things you alone can give:
- Your words ‒ they will either give life or steal it away.
- Your presence ‒ wherever you are, be all there.
- Your gifts ‒ there is only one you and if you don’t give the world yourself, the whole world misses out.