Doug Nuenke – Past President & CEO of The Navigators – His Leadership Journey: Part 2

“I think the hardest decisions were always people decisions and personnel decisions. To have to do what Henry Cloud calls, bring about necessary endings.” -Doug Nuenke

[00:00:00] Doug Nuenke:  We did a Grati-tour. That’s what we called it, a Grati-tour.   We took five months, and we traveled around the country. We didn’t get to see everybody, but we stopped in major cities and big places where we had groupings of navigators, and we let them decide what they wanted it to look like.

In some cases, a small group of people around a dinner table. In other cases, they pulled a big group of people together and had me speak. But the number one job for me, or what God had put on our heart was just to go around and say thank you.

[00:00:31] Tommy Thomas: When you became the president and CEO of the Navigators what was the biggest surprise about the job?

I think the biggest surprise was that everything I really needed to know I learned in kindergarten

[00:00:38] Doug Nuenke: It was not my experience as a leader leading in the navigators and other ministries before that, or, the skills I had developed. The gifting that God had given me, it was the simple things that I learned as a young believer to depend on God, to trust holy in Him, to clinging to him, to abide in Jesus and to be rooted in the scriptures and what God teaches us there.

And then to serve. To love people to do things like, will you forgive me? I screwed up, or, thank you. Wow. Your contribution. That was such an amazing contribution. The things that we learned to kindergarten, learn, treating one another, the way we wanna be treated, those kind of things. Things that we learn as a baby believer were the most important things.

That’s what I needed to do when I first started, but all through my tenure is what God calls us to, and sometimes we can forget those things. ,

[00:01:53] Tommy Thomas: What was the hardest decision you ever had to make as the leader of The Navigators?

I think the hardest decisions were always people decisions and personnel decisions. 
To have to do what Henry Cloud calls, bring about necessary endings

[00:01:57] Doug Nuenke: where someone had to move out of a contribution that they had held for a while and that they weren’t ready to move out of that contribution. It’s painful. It was, and it’s difficult because who of us signs up for leadership because we wanna bring pain or hardship to someone.

We don’t want to do that, but at the same time it’s what God calls us as leaders to be involved with is have to make some of those hard decisions painful.

[00:02:43] Tommy Thomas: Let’s talk about risk? What’s the biggest risk that you and the navigators took under your leadership and how did it turn out?

[00:02:51] Doug Nuenke: That’s a great question.

I think probably the greatest risk during my tenure would’ve been fanning the flame of diversity and different ways of seeing
The Navigator ministry, and at the same time trying to bring unity around a new strategic plan.

I mean it’s, we had to do it, no question, but it was risky because it could have really been easy to just let everyone do their part. The thing that they love doing. I think a lot of Parachurch Ministries are very decentralized and people have a lot of freedom to do ministry in the way that they like to do ministry.

And I think, one of the riskiest things that other ministries as well, but I think for us as Navigators is say, that’s great. We’re gonna have a lot of creativity and entrepreneurial energy that’s out there, but we’re gonna all together head. This direction. And we’re gonna measure our success not just on what we do in all these different creative ways out here, that we do things a little differently, but we’re gonna actually measure our success around this one thing that we do that makes us.

And it’s risky because Parachurch Ministries is Max Dupree. I love his little book. Leading Without Power. Parachurch Ministries are, he would call volunteer organizations to one degree or another. People come as volunteers and anytime you decide to as leaders to really lead and say, that’s great, but no, we’re gonna do this now.

Anytime you do that’s because you’ve got, you have to win and woo people together into a certain direction. Yeah. Learned a lot over the years. Moving into that,

[00:04:59] Tommy Thomas: You mentioned strategic planning a minute ago. What did that look like under your administration?

[00:05:05] Doug Nuenke: In the spirit of all humility, I would say that in my early years it was really margin.

I learned a lot. I think we had, there were, I could, we could do a, we could do a session about strategic planning and all the lessons I learned by making mistake sometime, Tommy. But I think we grew in it and we grew to the place where the current strategic plan the navigators have, has everyone on the same page with a grand vision, a God size goal hat we all are pulling for. And I think that’s the goal, that’s the goal of a good strategic plan, is it energizes the whole. . . And I would say that in early in my tenure, we had some great goals that we were giving ourselves to that, to, that were helpful, that were really helpful and moved forward, but they moved pieces forward rather than moving the hole forward.  And we learned a lot over the years on that. I’m glad to see.

[00:06:06] Tommy Thomas: If we could go back a couple of years and you were to have invited me to one of your staff meetings and I got a chance to talk to your staff, and then maybe we excused you and I got a chance to ask them what they thought would’ve been the most challenging thing about working for Doug.  What do you think I would’ve heard?

[00:06:25] Doug Nuenke: In one case it probably would depend on who you talked with. Probably different team members would’ve a different perspective on that, and I’m sure they all would’ve had a perspective because I, I have strengths and I have weaknesses. But I probably all together, probably what they would say was, would be, there’s always something new, new mountains to.

New ideas to try. or a new change to bring improvement. So I think early on probably it would’ve been like, oh man, we can’t keep, we can’t keep bringing a new change every month. I would say that would be one of the things that if you got ’em alone, they would’ve said and they would’ve been right.

[00:07:07] Tommy Thomas:  Where does that new come from?  In your spirit, what makes you seek the new?

[00:07:13] Doug Nuenke:  On the positive side of it, I would say is God’s a God of new things. He’s always creating. He hasn’t quit creating behold, and Isaiah 43, verse 19, but behold, I’m gonna do a new thing. And so I think it’s a passion for the new things that God is doing – there’s a whole other dark side.

Anytime there’s such a light side our leadership, there’s always a dark side. We don’t need to get into that right now, but I’m sure there’s things that keep me fidgety to want to do the new things rather than to continue to build the things that are going on.

[00:07:49] Tommy Thomas: If I would’ve asked him what would be the most rewarding thing about working for you? What answers would

[00:07:54] Doug Nuenke: I hear? I think the answers would be team, the fact that they felt they were part of a group of people that were on mission together and loved one another and had memories together.

For instance, our team, our executive team and spouses every year would do a retreat together where we would go and make memories together. Whether it was you. Train rides, four wheeling together eating great meals together, being developed together. I think that’s one of ’em.  The team always enjoyed that I had a high value for entrusting and investing in them and develop, and seeing our team developed and sees developed as individuals and as a group.

[00:08:42] Tommy Thomas: We’ve talked a lot about work. That’s what I generally talk about when I’m talking to leaders, but maybe take me into work life balance. What does that look like?

[00:08:52] Doug Nuenke: Yeah. I think we could both, and those that are listening could site examples where leaders in the body of Christ and churches and Parachurch ministries haven’t always modeled good balance and good rhythms and when I stepped into my role as the US President, I was speaking with the international president at the time, and we were talking about how important it was for the next generation of leaders to see.

I wanted to lead with a spring in my step and a smile on my face

The senior roles in the navigators as not death sentences – that the next generation of leaders would see and aspire to having, taking on more responsibility when they saw that those jobs could be lived out in a healthy way. So we coined the term, or I coined the term at that time that I wanted to lead with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. And so that was a tagline for me all through my tenure. Okay, Doug, you need to lead with a spring in your step and a smile on your face. Now how is that gonna happen authentically? And it was the rhythm, the rhythms that I began to put in place then and carried through my tenure.

It didn’t make the job part-time. It didn’t make it less than a major challenging full-time job, which any CEO role is,
but it put rhythms in that kept me connected to Christ and helped me to rest well.

And so the rhythms I had were one is to as best as I could, and I wasn’t a hundred percent on this, but as best as I could to have a Sabbath every.

And as best as I could, I would set aside three days a month to get away for study and prayer and prep for messages. And I didn’t always get all three days, but I al they were always in my calendar because at times we all know that in senior leader roles, something happens, you just gotta drop everything and move this direction.

But I always had those three days in place, so I always got one or two and sometimes three days to do that. So that was once a month. And then once a year, having time of vacation with Pam or family. and making memories that way, keeping the family healthy and connected together through times together.

And then every year I would have a final time alone with God at the end of the year looking back over my journals and say, okay, Lord what are the words that you have for me going into this next year? So those are just a few of them that, that I lived out during. Time, which I think helped me to live healthily even in some very challenging times.

[00:11:54] Tommy Thomas: Think about the leaders that you know, that you’ve been around, that you work with. Maybe give me three of them and tell me what you admire about them.

[00:12:05] Doug Nuenke: Yeah. Now you want me to say their names? If you’re comfortable. I’m fine. Yeah. I didn’t know how specific you want to be. I can, I, the names that I would bring are names that are probably not known to most of the people that will hear this podcast, and I think that’s important.

Because I think that most of the work of the gospel gets done by people who are everyday people in every walk of life. And that’s the power of the movement of the gospel and important for us to keep that in mind, that. That’s the way it works. God intends us all to be involved, so I think one would be a guy named Craig McLean, who was a year older than me.

He was many years a pastor in Kansas City and then led a number of different Parachurch ministries and he took me under his wing as I was a freshman at TCU and had just come to Christ. He took me under his wing and discipled me and gave me a vision for. So that would be one.

Another gentleman, guy named Richard Beach.  Richard has been with the Lord for quite some time now. He did my wife and my wedding. He did my mom’s memorial service. He spoke at my ordination service, but he was. A constant mentor from the day I came to faith until he left to be with the Lord and he had a passion for evangelism. He’s the kind of big personality.

He’d step into a room. It didn’t matter whether you’re in a restaurant, wherever you were, he would step into a room. And whoever was close to him, didn’t matter who they were, would go, man I would love to get to know this guy. This guy seems like an awful lot of fun. And Richard was always quick to have the name of Jesus on his tongue in a very natural, easy way.

And I learned a lot about him in that regard, and I learned a lot about him in terms of keeping it light.  The number of times in a executive team meeting we’re talking about something, who’s the last person in the world that you would think that would keep it late light or make some side comment kind of a joke, some kind of humor.

Throw some humor in it. The CEO, right? No. I couldn’t help myself over those years. One of the things I loved was to try to keep it light, even when things were getting tense to, to keep it light. Cause as we all know, it’s usually not aca.  I learned that from Richard. I think those are two guys that that I really appreciate.

Another one would be Steve Hayner, former President of InterVarsity became a good friend before he went to be with the Lord. And over my tenure, he was a great mentor and just brought wisdom and he did that with so many people. Yeah, and he just was a great, I. As far as just walking in wisdom and perseverance.

Another guy that I would say is Tim McKibben. A. A business guy that loves Christ and has been a great mentor and friend, was on The Navigator Board for a number of years, and he’s been an amazing friend, continues to be an amazing friend, and I learned so much from him. Because I came into the role as President of The Navigators, not because I had training in how to be a C E O.

I had never been a CEO. I had been a field staff person and he was a great influence and coach and mentor to me on how to lead an organization, and he brought a great help.

[00:15:38] Tommy Thomas: You’ve been out of office now for I guess almost a year now. What have you been doing lately?

[00:15:43] Doug Nuenke: It’s really fun, Tommy.  I look back over this last year the first thing Pam and I did, and it was such a blessing to leave my role and leave well, so to speak. We had a good succession plan Sometime, we can talk about that. But left. The Lord had really used us, used, my wife and I, used me as a leader and we were leaving behind some good things.

And so because of that, we were able to we did a Grati-tour. That’s what we called it, a Grati-tour. We took five months and we traveled around the country. We didn’t get to see everybody, but we stopped in major cities and big places where we had groupings of Navigators, and we let them decide what they wanted it to look like.

The first job of a leader is to define reality. And the last job is to say thank you.  We took that seriously.

In some cases, a small group of people around a dinner table. In other cases, they pulled a big group of people together and had me speak. But the number one job for me, or what God had put on our heart was just to go around and say thank you. I can’t remember who it was. You may know some leader -writer person that writes about leadership talk about the first job of a leader is to define reality. And the last job is to say thank you.  We took that seriously.  For five months we did that. Then we went on sabbatical, and we traveled some and we moved from Colorado Springs up here to Denver area.

And a good bit of reflection and seeking God for what’s. So that’s what we’ve been, that’s what we’ve been up to.

[00:17:12] Tommy Thomas:   What questions you been, have you been asking yourself likely?

[00:17:15] Doug Nuenke: As I’ve been in the sabbatical God’s, as he is prone to do, when we slow down, right Tommy, when we slow down, we can hear his voice.  And he has been. He’s been speaking some great lessons in the depth of my heart, challenging me in how I’ve operated here. I’m 64 years old and I look back and go, oh, stink. I wish I had learned some of these lessons when I was 44 years old, or 34 years old, I didn’t, and I’m still learning.

And so there’s some challenging things that he is brought to me. And I think the major question I’m asking, is if I can have courage and faith to heed God’s call on my life to continue to do that, and particularly in some new ways that he’s opening up and asking me to live. Yeah.

[00:18:13] Tommy Thomas: What do you understand about leadership today that maybe you didn’t understand a year ago?

[00:18:19] Doug Nuenke: I think it’s just been driven more home to me – the importance of leading as a we, it’s the way I like to say it. A we as opposed to being isolated. And some of the things I’ve been reading over the sabbatical just the importance of bringing, trusted God to bring good people around us. And and that would be one thing.

And then the other one would be just the incredible privilege that we have as leaders. To leave behind a next generation that can flourish and can honor him and give him glory and can see more and more people come to faith. I think it’s just, that’s been re-emphasized in my life that the Lord’s been saying about that we as leaders have an amazing – Privilege and Opportunity. When we’re, when we have a role of leadership, God has placed us there for influence. And the greatest influence we can have is that next generation coming up.

[00:19:23] Tommy Thomas: Let’s go back to the pandemic for a minute. You led during the latter part of your administration. You dealt with that and a lot of us learned to do things differently and to do different things.   Was there anything you learned in the pandemic that may have been a paradigm shift that you can take into the future or that you would tell other leaders that might, we might do different?

[00:19:46] Doug Nuenke: Yeah. I think one, a passage that was important to me, I Peter 5 – the first couple verses says to the elders, among you, I appeal as a fellow elder.

This is Peter talking to that group of churches, a witness of Christ’s suffering, and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed. And here’s what he says to him. Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care. And I think the big lesson that I took away from the pandemic. The importance of, and this is coming from a guy that likes to move forward, I like to keep moving forward.

And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a pandemic or what’s going on, I want to keep moving forward. I’m a knucklehead that way, and

I think what the Lord really taught me was there’s times where the people that we serve the flock under our care are stuck and they’re struggling, and while, yes, it may be helpful for them to continue to move forward in some little ways that might even actually be healthy and cathartic for ’em, more importantly, is they need to experience leaders who have empathy and are willing to listen and who are willing to acknowledge the human condition that all of us are facing and the weight of.

To not ignore. I can remember sitting at in my home on a Zoom call looking outside with the snow falling, and it had been cloudy in Colorado Springs. It doesn’t get cloudy that often. It had been cloudy for three days straight, which never happens.

And I was feeling a little depressed. It felt like I had this blanket that was just hanging over me. And it just, it was at that moment the Lord said. Yeah. How many people around the country that you lead, do you think are feeling under. Under the weight of this.

And so I think that was a big lesson that I, that the Lord really gave me to have empathy, to listen, take,
acknowledge the pain that people are, that we all were in.

I need to acknowledge that for myself too. . .

[00:22:01] Tommy Thomas:   What does the future look like? You’ve had some time to think about it – to reflect.  At 64, you are a young man.

[00:22:06] Doug Nuenke: I am, I’m excited for the future. I think the god that God has reemphasized to me the importance of, as I’ve shared, ever since I was a 15-year-old with my two brothers I think reemphasizes a lot of my life’s contribution to the kingdom of God is developing leaders. And so whether it’s inside The Navigators or outside, I think the Lord’s given me a new vision and a new energy to really steward at the experiences that I’ve had as a senior leader. And to be able to come alongside and be a mentor and a coach to leaders in the body of Christ, in Parachurch Ministries, Churches to come alongside. We all need someone. I think some of my success or flourishing as a leader was because of mentors that God brought around me and I’m seeing that I have the opportunity and I think even a sense of calling to be that for others going forward.

Tommy Thomas: I hope you’ve enjoyed these conversations with Doug non-key. I’m thankful to Doug for taking the time from his sabbatical to be with us. If you’re a first-time listener, I hope you will subscribe and become a regular. If there are topics or areas you’d like for me to explore, please let me know. My email is [email protected]

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Join us next week as our guests will be Bill Hendricks and Bev Godby from The Giftedness Center in Dallas. Until then, I stay the course on our journey to make the nonprofit sector more effective and sustainable.

I think probably the greatest risk during my tenure would’ve been fanning the flame of diversity and different ways of seeing The Navigator ministry, and at the same time trying to bring unity around a new strategic plan.”  -Doug Nuenke

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