“I wanted to be a professional soccer player, so I followed the college scholarship money to Monmouth University on the Jersey shore.” -Arthur Satterwhite
Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve also just gotten some really good mentors in my life. People who have modeled for me what it looks like to be confident and comfortable in your own skin, to know who you are, intimately, such that, you could just live that out, shed those maybe people pleasing tendencies that some of us carry, the need to be acknowledged and celebrated, to be seen.
Tommy Thomas: Our guest today is Dr. Arthur Satterwhite. Arthur is the Vice President for Strategy at Young Life. Prior to Young Life Arthur was with the American Bible Society where he served as Manager of Strategic Partnerships and the Leader of Strategy for ABS’s largest ever domestic initiative. He took his BS in Business Administration from Monmouth University, his MA in Religious Education from New York Theological Seminary, and his Doctor of Strategic Leadership from Regent University. Let’s pick up on that conversation.[00:00:59] Tommy Thomas: Before we dive too deep into your professional career, take me back to your childhood. What was it like growing up? [00:01:08] Arthur Satterwhite: Yeah, for what it’s worth, you and your listeners, I’m a Jersey boy through and through. Don’t hold it against me. I was born, 1983 was a good year, I’ll just say. My mom is also originally from New Jersey. My dad was originally from Ohio then found his way to New Jersey and grew up in Somerset. Which most people probably have never heard of, Rutgers, New Brunswick, it was right there around the corner.
I had a good upbringing. Solid, middle class, suburban community, really diverse. My mom was devout in her faith. My dad as well. But my mom was, one of those if you’re not in the church, you’re up to no good. Much of my childhood was spent in the church most nights, whether that was Bible study, youth group, choir, attending choir with my mom.
When I graduated high school, I left my faith behind. I had so many questions. I was never fully atheist, but I was firmly agnostic.
Ironically, as a millennial, you spend most of that time in the church. But when I ended up graduating high school, I left my faith behind as well. For as much time as I spent in the church, I still had so many questions that it felt like the church, or at least the church that I was going to at the time, was giving me default answers like, hey, just forget about it. You don’t need to know that. Just have faith, just trust in the Lord. And, for the curious, insatiable learner that I am, that wasn’t enough. So, when I went up to college, I was never fully atheist, but I was firmly agnostic. I felt like there was something there. But what I was hearing and getting from the church just wasn’t enough and it wasn’t really until my early career that I came back to exploring and finding my faith.[00:02:49] Tommy Thomas: What was the greatest gift your parents gave to you? [00:02:54] Arthur Satterwhite: Oh man. My dad and I joke about it to this day. One of the lessons that he has instilled into me, that’s carried through most of my life is if you’re grown up enough to make grown up decisions, then you’re grown up enough to deal with grown up consequences, I remember him saying that to me as early as five and six years old.
Advice from my dad – if you are grown up enough to make grown up decisions, then you’re grown up enough to deal with grown up consequences.
And that’s been something that has been a theme throughout my life. Before you make a decision, be confident and comfortable that you’re willing to endure whatever consequences or implications may come for that decision. That I would even point to as one of the really early formative introductions to strategy for me, as I now have the privilege of leading Young Life as the VP of Strategy, the idea alone of understanding a decision and the consequences or implications of that decision is critical to strategy.
My mom, God bless her. She passed about two years ago now. Her legacy lives long and large in me. I am fruit of her. She actually said that to me, you know a few years back. She was like, I formed you, I just need you to know that and the tendrils and the tentacles, the intentionality. One of the things thatI look back on fondly, I was always busy, if I wasn’t in the church then I was in some sort of sport. I played soccer, basketball, baseball, you name it I probably tried it. I was in the choir. I played an instrument. And it was in that same conversation. She’s like, I just need you to understand the strategy intentionality. I wanted to make sure that one, you weren’t in these streets getting into trouble. But then two, I wanted you to be exposed and have a varied experience such that as you started to wrestle with who am I and what am I called to bring and do to this world?
You had a broad experience to pick from instead of a narrow experience that sort of maybe forced you in a certain direction. So, I appreciate that and that’s something that I’ve again continued to carry on into my adulthood. I love broad, diverse experiences exposing myself in a lot of ways because you learn from the broader which also helps you focus on what matters.[00:05:06] Tommy Thomas: How’d you decide on which college to go to and how’d you pick a major? [00:05:12] Arthur Satterwhite: So, soccer was my thing, if the church was, maybe a cultural space, a safe space, soccer was my church. Growing up I started at age four, I had the privilege to travel the world.
Play at some of the elite spaces for youth soccer at the time with many of the folks who are now professional or coaching. And when it came down to graduating high school, whereas a lot of my family went to HBCUs like Howard. I had one goal in mind coming out of high school.
I wanted to be a professional soccer player, so I followed the college scholarship money to Monmouth University on the Jersey shore.
I was going to be a professional soccer player. I went where they gave me scholarships. I ended up at Monmouth University in the Jersey shore. Ironically didn’t leave the state. So when I say I’m Jersey through and through, it’s down to even my undergrad. And it was a brilliant time.
I started my undergrad thinking I was going to play soccer. If soccer didn’t work out, I’ll be a sports therapist. But yeah, after my first year and realizing that I’m no good at biology, I pivoted into the business and really the thinking at the time was like, what can you do? Because I didn’t know who I wanted to be beyond the soccer player at the time.
What can you do that would have the broadest application and serve you through the rest of your life? So again, that strategic thinking when you went into what major? So, I ended up doing business and marketing because business is universal in any industry. In any space, you have to understand business and then being able to market or sell or communicate is also just a life skill.
So, if I couldfocus on that, then, say soccer doesn’t pan out, then I could figure out what does. And I didn’t have the skill set and education to be successful.[00:06:48] Tommy Thomas: Staying with soccer for a minute, what was the biggest lesson you learned from team sports? [00:06:53] Arthur Satterwhite: The team. I would say, how to exist within the team, how to be successful and to partner and collaborate with teams. I do honestly believe it’s a lost art. Even at our organization, we’re talking about, what does collaboration look like and how do we do that? An organization that’s 80 plus years old, history has been steeped in kind of. We send people to go to be with kids.
There is this sense, even a cultural drive to be that hero to go and take the ministry by the horns. That is your personal burden – to go and serve that community, not just in our organization, but in many organizations, there is an underappreciation for collaboration if not really a lack of understanding or experience even collaborating.
So, when I look back at my soccer career – the 20 something years that was a key lesson that I took away from that, that has carried throughout my life. I see the value and the potential of a team. I understand what it means to be the player in a team, right?
We’ve all seen those teams that are not really teams, but really a group of all stars. You think about maybe some of these recent, U.S. Olympic basketball teams that haven’t been as successful, versus those early Dream Teams that were able to come together and take these unique, diverse talents and somehow fit them together to be more than the whole the individual could bring it by themselves.
Soccer taught me about coming together, taking each player’s unique and diverse talents, and somehow fitting them together to be more than the individual could bring.
That’s what soccer taught me. Our team was never the best team in the nation or even the state, but I had the privilege of being on teams with really great coaches who were able to take our unique, diverse talents that together we were able to take down some of the bigger teams and bigger names in youth soccer.[00:08:48] Tommy Thomas: When you think about the coaches in your life what’s the greatest lesson you think you learned from a coach? [00:08:55] Arthur Satterwhite: Coaching, like leadership, is not about you. I had the privilege, like I said, sitting at the feet of just some really great coaches. I think of a Scott Byrd, my high school soccer coach, Robert McCourt, my college coach, my father, who was my coach when I was much younger, Malcolm Murphy, who was a coach for several of my youth teams. The consistent theme through each of these coaches was it wasn’t just about the W. Of course, they wanted to win, and they wanted us to win.
A good soccer coach develops and prepares the players to be able to achieve their potential, whether it’s in the game of soccer or in life.
But for them it was really more about the development. They saw their role, their position, as the success of their position, as that these young boys, eventually men would be developed and prepared to be men, and to be able to really achieve their potential, whether that’s in the game of soccer or in life.
That’s the role and that’s carried forward for me in leadership where my leadership philosophy is like, the role of the leader, it’s not about you. It’s about the people that you are blessed and privileged to serve for whatever season or chapter that is your call to serve them.
How do you call them, take that cast of characters, call them to pull and bring their gifts to the table such that they can continue to grow and be more? Realize their potential and that the team or organization can be the beneficiary of that impact.
++++++++++++++++++++[00:10:24] Tommy Thomas: Let’s change gears to your early career, the first time you ever had a staff reporting to you. What do you remember? [00:10:30] Arthur Satterwhite: Oh man, you’re pulling me back. First time I ever had staff reporting to me. It’s tricky. There’s the official staff. Early in my career, my first career before I got into ministry, first in American Bible Society I started off in real estate property management working in New York city.
Which is a really fun, chaotic space. Started first on the development side, but then moved to the rental side. And early in my career, my leaders, supervisors, showed me a great favor. They saw something in me. And while I didn’t necessarily have direct reports in the way of the staff in our buildings who often reported to the supers or your resident managers that live there. A lot of them really deferred that leadership to me because one of my superpowers has always been people development.
So I ended up, of course, doing what does that scheduling look like? And just doing a lot of that, care for our staff in our buildings. But it really taught me at an early age. Yes, you have your objectives and your goals as an organization. Part of how you motivate people to help you achieve those goals is by caring for them by putting them first.
So that idea of servant leadership. I forget her name at the moment, but the former CEO of Popeye’s, (Cheryl Bachelder) has done some really great work in writing on this, just talking about serving leadership is often misunderstood. It’s like we serve for the sake of service. Sure. But because that leadership is part of it, it should lead to some sort of goal or the outcome or impact.
And I learned that early on where I was successful to motivate people to help us achieve more. Whether that was getting the building launched on time, creating exceptional experiences for our residents, whatever it was by caring for them, by putting our staff first, by letting them know that they were more than just an asset of the organization, but that they were people that we wanted to pour into and see continue to improve and grow.
It wasn’t until American Bible Society where I’d say I started to get into formal line leadership where it was interesting. It was a new experience, but at the same time it wasn’t because I had been doing it in practice for several years already.
And the challenge for me, I would say then, even still today, is I often find myself leading amidst change – leading in the margins, leading in spaces that are either forming or transitioning. I haven’t yet had the luxury of just stepping into a space that it was just completely stable. I envy those leaders. So, I’ve always had to work with my teams and do that forming and norming work, that early work of what does it look like to cast vision to galvanize people to stack hands on a vision and move in a direction?
But then at the same time, help them see clearly where and how not just their role, but their unique gifts and calling aligns with a vision, directly contributes vision for the whole. And I think because of that experience in that background, that’s been something that I think is I had to say here, I think these are my superpowers, right? I can’t lift 500. I can’t turn invisible. But the one thing, the few things that I do believe I’ve gotten really good at is building culture, casting vision and talent and team development.[00:14:00] Tommy Thomas: At what time in your career did you get comfortable in your leadership skin? [00:14:04] Arthur Satterwhite: Do we ever? Most don’t. Exactly. I think there’s always a little bit of imposter syndrome that every leader carries. And I think that comes with the burden of leadership, that responsibility you carry that you’re short of being a full-on narcissist. You’re concerned. I don’t want to mess it up.
I don’t want to mess it up for the organization. I don’t want to mess these people up. They’re in my care. I don’t want to mess up. Can I do this? I’ll say my doctoral journey was hugely formative. And it was through that process I learned a lot about myself.
But, combined with that, I also, over the last, oh, wow, it’s 2023. I can’t believe it’s 2023. Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve also just gotten some really good mentors in my life. People who have modeled for me, what does it look like to be confident and comfortable in your own skin, to know who you are intimately such that, you could just live that out, shed those maybe people pleasing tendencies that some of us carry, the need to be acknowledged and celebrated, to be seen.
Some of that, as I’ve seen them and now trying to model in my own leadership. You don’t need to please the world, and you don’t draw affirmation from the world as you get clear and comfortable and confident in your own skin, knowing who you are, and yes, whose you are, your priorities, your sense of worth, the things that give you life.
It’s only been in the past 5-6 years that I have gotten to a place where I know who I am, what I can do, and what I am good at.
And I would say it’s really only been in the last, five or six years as I came through my doctoral experience. I feel like I’ve gotten to a place where I know who I am. I know what I can do and what I’m good at. And I also know what I can’t, and I don’t try to. And again, given my preference for collaboration, I think it’s been a beautiful thing that’s helped me to better collaborate and invite people to the table.[00:16:01] Tommy Thomas: What was the best piece of advice a mentor has given you thus far? [00:16:08] Arthur Satterwhite: I won’t cuss on your podcast, but I had a mentor and this was early in my doctoral process to where I was learning so much and I was so excited about what I was learning and being able to put it into practice at the organization I was serving at the time that I just started showing up in meetings like this book says, and this leader says, Oh, here’s this Bye.
Bye Theory and this framework. Why aren’t we doing these things? And one day he just pulled me aside and he was like, stop being a, you’re filling the blank, wait, what? And he was like, dude, we all know you’re smart. No, we get it. We’re excited. You’re going through this and we’re eager to listen.
You have to leave room for others. Yeah, you don’t have to over explain everything and,use all these sources and everything. You just be real, and that punch in the nose really forced me to reflect on where’s that coming from? And it was my own sense of insecurity. And really wanting to be seen as an authority, and I’ve consistently throughout my entire career, again, as a millennial, but as a millennial who has been consistently elevated, at a rapid pace, I’ve always found myself to be the youngest in the room. And at most times, especially in these spaces that I’ve had the privilege to serve, I’m usually one of, if not the only person of color in that room.
And those are hard places to be the super minority, in those spaces. And having experienced, I won’t say full on discrimination, based on those things, but definitely treated differently because of those things. As my mom and dad said, at an early young age, son, you’re always going to have to work harder.
You’re always going to have to be better. You’re always going to have to be smarter. And that’s something that carried forward, which, yes, helped me to achieve at high levels, but then also on some degree, maybe created a little bit of a complex that, again those words from that mentor in that moment helped me to really snap out of it.
Man, you don’t have to prove yourself to anybody but the Lord. Are you doing this for others affirmation and acknowledgement, or are you doing this for the Lord, for the purpose or better opportunity that you and your talents and gifting could bring or could be a catalyst to create?
So, a lot of it really did shift, in these last 10 years or so, as I got really comfortable and confident in who I am, understanding and knowing my identity, therapy helps doing that work. But just being really intentional about Lord, who have you created me to be, called me to be, and where and how can I live that out so that I can add the greatest value to your kingdom?
++++++++++++++++++++[00:19:02] Tommy Thomas: Back in your American Bible Society experience, you were Senior Manager of Youth and Millennial Engagement. Now you probably work with, if not the largest, one of the largest youth engagement organizations in the world. Let’s go to some, and I know it’s sometimes dangerous to generalize generational differences.
So if I go too far there you push back on me because you’re more seasoned in that than I am. But I’m just thinking about, in your office today you probably have baby boomers. You’ve probably got some Gen Xers, you’ve got some Millennials and you might have some Gen Z people.
What are you observing about those four generations, if you will, in terms of how they work as a team? How they view teamwork?[00:19:49] Arthur Satterwhite: It’s a great question. And there’s been lots of books written, just in the last decade alone, which by the way, millennials, it’s our time to shine right now.
We went from being the problem child to, now it’s those Gen Z kids over there. Soon it’ll be, Gen Alpha. So, I’m sure Gen Z, don’t worry. We’ll take our eyes off you soon. Yeah, I would say it’s a really opportunistic time, but also very difficult time in many workspaces and faith spaces, because this is the first time in history that we’ve had this many generations existing together in one space.
I would say opportunistic time, but also very difficult time in many workspaces and faith spaces, because this is the first time in history that we’ve had this many generations existing together in one space.
You have the eldest generation, the greatest generation, right? The heels of the world war, many are dying off sadly. But many are still in our spaces, even in the workplace in some places. But then you also, now at the youngest, you have Gen Z coming along.
And then they’re starting to enter into the workforce and want to put their stamp on. So you got the eldest generation boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials. And Gen Z – five generations existing together each with their own generational culture that has been formed by the unique experiences that they’ve been exposed to.
- The Greatest Generation exposed to the World War,
- Millennials and Gen Xers, exposed to 9-11 and terrorism,
- Boomers, the Flower Power generation, and
- Gen Z, the first to be digitally native.
Those are very distinct generational influences, that again, if you haven’t done that work to develop your cross-cultural competency, or what David Livermore calls cultural intelligence, think about emotional intelligence. It’s all about our ability to successfully navigate social context and situations in healthy ways. Self-awareness, self-regulation, cultural intelligences, our ability to navigate different distinct cultural spaces. And sadly, there is not a lot of work being done or enough work, I’ll say, being done in that space, especially to the generational differences and distinctions.
Think about it, right? Why do we make the young generation at the time, the target? Older generations like, oh, they don’t have work ethic or, oh, they don’t get this, back in my day. There’s fear in that because all the generations sense the change that a younger generation is bringing.
But it’s also just a lack of understanding. Why are they different? Why are their values so distinct from mine? Why are they pressing in, right? You think about Gen Z and millennials to agree and just things like the climate and justice, right? Some of the narratives and headlines of this time speak to what these younger generations have a heart and a value for and you think about older generations. Like I think of my father and my uncle, man, they were just like, look, your job is to go to work, work hard, you put money on the table and come home. They valued work, they valued work ethic, they valued professionalism, and it’s not that younger generations don’t value those things, they just look different.
And younger generations, it’s not that the older generations before believe and valued was bad it was just informed by their time. I like to push my communities to the opportunity of how do we build bridges between one another so that we can hear and learn from one another?
What I love about my mentoring relationships, it’s not just mentoring one way where the more seasoned experience, usually typically older than me, that person is pouring into me, they don’t see me as a glass that’s half empty that they got to fill up. No, I’m a glass that’s half full.
And this needs to be a mutually beneficial relationship. So, they’re mentoring me, and I’m reverse mentoring them. And together, we’re learning, we’re growing. And by extension, as we all tend to be in leadership spaces, our teams, and the organizations we represent are made better. I think that’s the opportunity for many workplaces, but also faith spaces.
When you think about the church – it has always been generationally diverse. But there are some who would point back to the early to mid 1900s,all of a sudden, we’re starting to segregate our churches. They’d always been segregated by race.
That goes back farther, but I’m talking about by generation. All of a sudden, we got youth ministry and children’s ministry and, no longer kids sitting in the sanctuary with the parents. And suddenly, we’ve got young adult ministry over here and this ministry over there.
And by segregating our communities, we actually diminished our capacity to navigate those generationally or culturally different spaces together as one community.[00:24:37] Tommy Thomas: Is there anything you can cite either from ABS or Young Life that either of those organizations are doing well in creating this culture of communication between the generations? [00:24:49] Arthur Satterwhite: Yeah, cheers to my current organization, Young Life. I don’t think this is overly braggadocious to say. I think we are one of the best, if not the best out there, that’s doing relational ministry. The core of what we do, our modus operandi, healthy adults in the lives of kids.
Which by the way, the research points to that. The surgeon general of the U.S. has so many studies that talk about the value of the relationship between a healthy adult and the life of kids and how the positive benefits of that reduce at-risk behavior, so many different things.
That’s been our modus operandi for 80 plus years. That’s what we do. Young Life exists to introduce adolescents to Jesus and help them grow in their faith. And that’s really about adults who are called to go to do life on life ministry with kids to earn the right to be heard, right?
We don’t start with, hey, here’s our five steps of evangelism. We simply show up. Whether that’s at the football game or the coffeehouse, we show up and we genuinely just want to build relationship with young people with the understanding and knowledge that at some point during that relationship they’re going to be curious. Why do you do this? Why do you care about me? Why do you love me? And that’s just an open-door opportunity for us to say because Jesus first loved me. And because I’m called to be like my daddy, to be like my Jesus, that means I’m called to love you.
Next week we’ll continue this conversation with Arthur Satterwhite. Our focus will be Diversity Equity and Belonging.
“A good soccer coach develops and prepares the players to be able to achieve their potential, whether it’s in the game of soccer or in life.” -Arthur Satterwhite
Links and Resources
Arthur referenced the writing/work of Cheryl Bachelder – former CEO of Popeye’s Chicken. Here are a couple of references to her work:
Listen to Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership with Tommy Thomas on: