From Chemistry to Cru – Andrea Buczynski’s Path to Purposeful Leadership

“I like a boss who is supportive and accessible.  If I have something I want to discuss, it’s not going to take me a month to get a meeting.” -Andrea Buczynski

[00:00:00] Andrea Buczynski: I don’t mind doing some thought work by myself. But there’s nothing like getting in a room with people who want to go to the same place, and to be able to put ideas out there, bat them around. And then it might be the same group of people, but it also might be a different group of people that comes in and says here’s what it’s going to take to do it.

It resonates with me with the body of Christ that we all have a part to play and God’s created us uniquely and we need others to bring the best out of each other. We build each other up when we’re in that process. And the team that’s working well together will be more brilliant than any individual player.

Tommy Thomas: Our guest today is Andrea Buczynski. Andrea enjoyed a long and storied career with Cru. She took her undergraduate degree from Penn State. At Cru, she’s known as a catalyst for transformation, seeking innovative solutions and addressing challenges and creating lasting impact.

Her most recent leadership responsibility at Cru was Global Vice President for Leadership Development and Human Resources. Andrea, welcome to NextGen Nonprofit Leadership.

[00:01:15] Andrea Buczynski: Thank you so much, Tommy. I’m glad to be here with you today.

[00:01:18] Tommy Thomas: Yeah, people always want to know, how do we get these guests? And yours is a typical story.

In my business, in the search business, anytime I’m looking for a CEO, at least one way to build the pool is to call a bunch of people, describe the job you’ve got and say, now if you were doing the search who would you get? And if you make eight or ten of those calls generally, you’ll begin to see three- or four-people’s names rise to the top and you might think I need to talk to these people.

In your case, about a year ago, year and a half ago, I was interviewing your colleagues Barry and Dee Dee Rush and Bob Tiede. At the end of that conversation I said, now y’all been through this. It wasn’t quite like a root canal. Who would you recommend? And your name came out of Barry and Dee Dee immediately.

[00:02:04] Tommy Thomas: So then earlier this year, I was talking to our mutual friend, DeeDee Wilson, from InterVarsity and she says, who else have you got in the queue? And I began to tell her, and she says, you need to talk to Andrea. I said, okay. And then a little bit later, I was talking to Judy Douglas and Judy says who else are you interviewing?  And I told her, and she says, have you spoke to Andrea yet? And I said no but that’s probably a sign. I’m excited about this.

Before we dig too deep into your professional background, I always like to know a little bit about somebody’s childhood and maybe a few of the things that brought them to where they are today.

[00:02:40] Tommy Thomas: Do you have a couple of particular remembrances of childhood?

[00:02:44] Andrea Buczynski: I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania in a small town that was full of families who had immigrated to the U.S. which included my grandparents. And we grew up in what I’d call a front porch community, where everybody sat on the front porch and knew one another, and all of my grade school teachers lived within about five blocks of our home.

And so, there was this sense of you’re part of a community. If you actually did something naughty, chances are your mom would know about it before you got home. Somebody would be on the way or able to correct you. We also lived just a couple doors down from the church we went to, which was a big influence in my life.

I’m the oldest of six. And so, growing up, sharing was a common struggle and was what made the family experience rich as it was.

[00:03:43] Tommy Thomas: What was high school like in your town?

[00:03:47] Andrea Buczynski:   By the time I got to high school, we had a consolidated district. You went from that class of maybe 30 or 60 to class of, let’s say 270, something like that.

Andrea Buczynski: It was just a different experience. What I enjoyed a lot was the kinds of activities that you got to do stuff together. Glee Club, Choir, Band, Marching Band, Color Guard, where you’re having to actually work together to accomplish a result. When I look back on it, there was a lot that I really enjoyed.

So, like any high school, if you’ve got your cliques, you’ve got all your athletic teams and stuff like that, that makes for kind of a rich experience.

[00:04:37] Tommy Thomas: So back then, what did you want to be when you grew up?

[00:04:41] Andrea Buczynski: I don’t know that it emerged right away, but when I was a junior in high school, I had a really awesome chemistry teacher. And it was known to be a tough class. And so, I was prepared for the challenge of it, but I was fascinated by the fact that you could figure out what things were made of and what they could do. And he had a really good way of showing films about the practical applications of the chemical reactions we were studying. And so, I found myself really leaning toward being a research chemist. And that’s what was my intention when I headed to Penn State.

[00:05:26] Tommy Thomas: Did you follow through with that?

[00:05:29] Andrea Buczynski: Not so much. Somewhere in my college years, the Lord got a hold of my heart in a big way. And as I considered what I was going to do I think by that time I was already active in ministry with Cru. And I was just loving helping people walk with the Lord and come to know him personally.

I was also doing individual study with my supervisor that got my, what do you call that? With your college advisor and realize what life in a chem lab would be like.

And as much as I enjoyed it, the big aha I had about myself, Tommy, was that I’m an all-in kind of person, so whatever I’m pursuing I want to get to that problem.

[00:06:20] Andrea Buczynski: I want to get to the solution. So, I’d find myself thinking about the chemistry while I was actually talking to people about other things at night. And I thought, whatever I have to do, I’m not going to have any bandwidth to do something on the side. If I was thinking I’m going to come home from work and do ministry, I’m not wired that way, so I realized it would be all in on something.

And then the Lord began to speak to me through the gospel of Luke, follow me. And there you have it.

[00:06:55] Tommy Thomas: What’s something that people are always surprised to find out about you?

[00:07:01] Andrea Buczynski: That I was maybe a church organist for seven years through high school and played the organ at the church down the street for me.

And then at another one across the river. And yeah, I’m both organ and piano, I have a piano here. And so sometimes people are surprised by that, like the music theme that kind of runs through my life.


[00:07:30] Tommy Thomas: So, you joined the Cru staff and sooner or later you had people reporting to you.  What do you remember about that first, we’ll call it management experience?

[00:07:45] Andrea Buczynski: I’d say the first memory is being a little bit overwhelmed at thinking about what I was actually responsible for. And one of the beautiful things that happened was I ended up working with a guy who as we were leading the team together, who had been a rookie the year before. And he just looked at me at our first meeting and he goes, look, I know what it feels like to be new because I’m only a year further along. And he goes, so there’s plenty of grace for it for you coming into this role. And we’ll just take it one thing at a time, but I’m. I’m not going to sit here and say the bar is high and all that jazz.

He goes, I understand what you’re going through. And so when you have a colleague like that who’s a brother in the Lord, who’s looking at you with empathy and a lot of grace, it makes for a relatively easy transition.

[00:08:49] Tommy Thomas: Would you have called him a mentor or a peer leader?

[00:08:53] Andrea Buczynski: I’d say, we were roughly the same age, so it’s more of a peer but what he demonstrated, I think, was just the kind of empathy and understanding of what a new leader goes through and made it just an easy transition. The first time I actually led a team by myself, Tommy, was when I took this role as Global Vice President.

And so up until then, every role I had been in was a shared leadership. A partner kind of role and in that case when I stepped in, I was like wow, there’s a lot more to this, when you’re carrying that load by yourself and what made that somewhat daunting, are we doing the right things?

Are we making decisions in the right places? What was helpful in that situation was I had a couple of guys on my team, Barry was one of them who would look at what needs to be done. And let’s go be super supportive and big cheerleaders along the way.

[00:10:02] Tommy Thomas:  If I could back when you came onto that job, so you’ve been in there about a year or so, and I could have been invited to a staff meeting and we dismissed you and I asked your staff, what was the most exciting thing about working for you? What do you think they would have said?

[00:10:21] Andrea Buczynski: We’re headed somewhere.

[00:10:23] Tommy Thomas: And what would have been the most daunting thing about working for you or challenging?

[00:10:31] Andrea Buczynski: You remember when I said I’m all in on stuff, so if I’m like mentally engrossed in a problem-solving kind of thing both these guys could tell at a glance whether I could really hear something that they wanted to bring to my attention that day. So, I think, is Andrea able to engage on this thing right now and I got that feedback from that and I was surprised. But I thought, it’s true, it was one of the better pieces of feedback that I got. I can tell if you’re ready to engage, or if you have something else on your mind, that’s going to eclipse what I’m talking to you about.

[00:11:12] Tommy Thomas:  As you’ve come through Cru, how have you learned to identify what’s a good leadership role for you?

[00:11:20] Andrea Buczynski: If you’re familiar with Cru, placement when I came on staff was not a negotiable thing. When you were assigned, it made you, A, flexible, and B, adapting to different leadership styles or leadership situations. But the ones I enjoy the most are the ones where there’s a really committed team.

And that idea that together we’re going somewhere and there’s more that we can accomplish together than we can accomplish individually. One of my assignments was at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, and you might recognize this name. Dick Bennett was the coach. He went on to coach at Madison, Wisconsin.

But he was a strong believer. And when he talked about basketball, it was the pure, the whole team plays. There’s not an individual star. And I love listening to him for that, just for that analogy, because I thought that is good teamwork. And I love that kind of situation where you’re making the best out of each other’s strengths and seeing who else you might need if the team itself was weak in it.

[00:12:40] Andrea Buczynski: So, I like that. And I also like to have someone to report to who is both accessible and supportive, so if I have something I want it. Think about it, it’s not going to take me a month to get a meeting.

[00:12:54] Tommy Thomas: Yeah. At what point in your career did you begin to feel comfortable in your leadership skin?

[00:13:03] Andrea Buczynski: I’d say the last five years. Okay. Later along the line than you might think. And at some of that, I think it’s just because the scale of what you’re looking at in global leadership development and HR in Cru is pretty extensive. And the number of stakeholders. And could feel off balance for a variety of reasons.

Most of my experience on the ministry side was in the US so understanding the lay of the land on other continents and what the impact of decisions that we were considering would be in those places was not necessarily something I felt comfortable in until yeah, I would say maybe seven years ago, but in the last 10 for sure.

[00:13:54] Tommy Thomas: Going back to your team. What’s the most effective team building exercise that you found to use?

[00:14:02] Andrea Buczynski: This might be pretty basic, but other than taking some time to hear one another’s histories and life experiences, the process of team formation is one of the best team building things that I think you could do. And those would be simple things like how do we want to treat each other?

What are norms? Developing team norms and then taking the team through some kind of strategic planning process. What is it that you know, from our current reality? Where do we want to head? So doing those processes are kind of work processes, but it’s what enables a team to see the big picture of what needs to happen.

They understand the rationale they’re participating in the decision making around what are we going to do? And how are we going to do it? And who are we going to be to each other?

[00:14:59] Andrea Buczynski: And then I would say from then, it’s just the continuous improvement, let’s evaluate how it went. It’s always fun. We love assessments, try to find out a little more insight about who you are.

And so, I won’t discount those because they give insight. But when I think about what really helps a team gel, it is knowing that we’re going to the same place, we’ve agreed on who’s doing what, we know the processes we’ll engage in, we know our obligations toward one another, those kinds of things make for a good team experience.

[00:15:32] Tommy Thomas: What’s the most ambitious project you’ve ever undertaken with your team?

[00:15:42] Andrea Buczynski: That’s a tough question because we’ve had some good ones along the way, but I will say the most recent restructure my team was responsible for designing a process to care for 680 staff whose jobs would be eliminated because we were taking a level of the organization out. So how would we care for those people in transition?

What help would we provide in finding a new assignment? Because we didn’t want to lose them. They were all great people. It’s just that we were going into a different structure, and we needed to be able to evaluate the role that might be best for them. So, you can imagine if you have those folks, many of them serving overseas in international assignments, moving in a family, or the way something was going to be structured now isn’t going to fit exactly what they were doing. So that one and thrown in with that was a global leadership conference to celebrate the past 10 years, all in one package.

[00:16:52] Andrea Buczynski: So different parts of my team participated in that, but the people care part was a multinational task force. I think eight to 10 original participants grew into something around maybe 100 to 150, if you include the conference.

[00:17:15] Tommy Thomas: Now, was this done face to face, or was this all through via zoom?  This is probably a pandemic (ish) timeframe.

[00:17:22] Andrea Buczynski: It was exactly. It was during the pandemic. And so, we did everything by zoom, even the Global Leadership Conference, three mornings, three hours each morning and working out a design that would somehow enable us to celebrate and to lament because all of us were in different situations and many people had lost family or friends.

And then to anticipate what the Lord might want to do the next 10 years as we go forward. And it was an amazing time going, how do you do this in a relatively short amount of time? I think we had somewhere between 1,000 to 1,500 people participate online. Which was just an amazing thing.

[00:18:09] Andrea Buczynski: I cried. I’m just watching people populate the chat high from this country, high from that country, coming in, in different languages. It gives me chills even thinking about it as I’m telling you about it, because it was such a work of God, how that, you know that team was different from the People Care Task Force.

I had never led a conference planning team. And we got to a point where we had the design in place. And I didn’t know what to do. And I got an email from one of my fellow VPs who said, there’s a woman on my team who led the biggest staff conference in a certain part of the world. And I’d like to make her available to you.

[00:18:58] Andrea Buczynski: And I called her that afternoon. And said I’m stuck. Like we have the design, and it turns out her husband was on my team, but I didn’t realize he had program director experience. He was reporting to someone else on my team. And the two of them got on zoom with me and they said, let us look at what you have, and we’ll come back with recommendations tomorrow.

And the next day they came back, and they said, here’s what needs to happen. And it said, the composition of the meetings needs to change. It needs to go to the production team now. And they said, do you really want us to lead this? And I was like, yes, I’m happy to be in the meeting, but I have no bandwidth.

[00:19:41] Andrea Buczynski: Like to set an agenda for another set of meetings. And that was about four weeks out from the conference. Maybe three. And Tommy, it went off without a hitch. It was a beautiful experience of the provision of God, people operating in their giftedness. And all of this was happening. We had people on the team from Singapore, from Paris, the U.S.

A couple of other places that I can’t think of right now. But it was, that same kind of multinational over distance. How can we do this? Let’s figure it out kind of situation.


[00:20:25] Tommy Thomas: Thinking about the pandemic and hopefully we’re through it for the most part, from a leadership lesson perspective, what do you think maybe you and your team learned that’s worth taking forward?

[00:20:41] Andrea Buczynski: That’s a great question. There’s probably a couple of things. One is, Zoom showed us we were pretty reliant on face-to-face meetings to get anything done. And it slowed any kind of corrective action. If you’re dependent on face to face, it takes six months to a year to plan a multinational meeting of any size and to get people there, budgets and all of that.

Suddenly, we went, oh my goodness, there’s another way to do this. We had to use Skype, but it was difficult in some cases and the efficiency of zoom was amazing. So, it changed the way we thought about how to do things. It gave people some bandwidth. If you didn’t have little kids at home, it wasn’t so hard for singles, the isolation was challenging.

[00:21:45] Andrea Buczynski: And when you think about it changed, it actually affected my view of remote work and for whom will it be a challenge and for whom will it make life easier? In some ways. So, when you have some discretion about, how to use your time, I’ve never been one for, let’s say, punching an office clock, although I like having an office, but it’s my point of view has been if people are doing the work, I’m not going to count the hours that they’re spending doing it.

So, that was never a problem with me, but certain conditions for remote work. You have to have a place where you can be undistracted, or work without interruption. You just, all of those funny videos about kids or pets, coming into the meeting. You can live with them, but it’s not good for an ongoing situation.

[00:22:41] Andrea Buczynski: The other thing I would say was it actually prepared us for the kind of structure that we have now because we’re more highly dependent on tools like zoom and then shared like a shared Google drive. Like, all those things have changed the way we get work done and the pandemic was like proof positive of that.

Could we do work in a sort of asynchronous way and be together when we need to be together and move things forward? And then I’d say the third part would be there’s nothing that replaces face to face contact.

[00:23:18] Andrea Buczynski: So, I had a big birthday during the first year of the pandemic, and I’d been at home for two months by myself and I was sitting in this office, and I looked out the window and I could see people from my team emerging from cars. And what are they doing here?

My assistant convened a birthday party. So, they were setting out chairs that were six feet apart from each other in the parking lot. And she went and got a couple dozen donuts. And they’re singing happy birthday to me out in the parking lot of my condo complex. It was one of the kindest and most touching things looking at it, just, I’ll never forget it.

[00:24:02] Tommy Thomas: There’s that fine line between nothing that can replace face to face contact with the economies that you get through technology. And I think that’s a balance that we’ll carry forward now that we’ve had to go through it.

[00:24:18] Andrea Buczynski: Yeah, we’re highly dependent on those economies right now.

[00:24:21] Tommy Thomas: Yeah, you referenced Dick Bennett and basketball. One of my previous podcast guests was David Chadwick, who played for Dean Smith at Chapel Hill, and he wrote a book called It’s How You Play the Game, the 12 Leadership Principles of Dean Smith, and one of his quotes was the concept of team may be Coach Smith’s greatest contribution to basketball leadership and society.

[00:24:47] Tommy Thomas: Obviously, you work with a lot of teams, and you may have already answered this, but how does that work? The concept of team impacted you.

[00:24:57] Andrea Buczynski: I love it. I don’t mind doing some thought work by myself. But there’s nothing like getting in a room with people who want to go to the same place, and to be able to put ideas out there, bat them around. And then it might be the same group of people, but it also might be a different group of people that comes in and says here’s what it’s going to take to do it.

I just look at it and go, when it resonates with me with the body of Christ that we, that we all have a part to play, and God’s created us uniquely and we need others to bring the best out of each other. We build each other up when we’re in that process. And the team that’s working well together will be more brilliant than any individual player and that was Dick Bennett I’m sure that was Dean Smith when you and others other coaches who do team really well realize that, and you go the team can accomplish more than the individuals can accomplish when the team is leveraged to do their best.

[00:26:06] Tommy Thomas: So, you would probably subscribe to this quote, A group is a bunch of people in an elevator.  A team is a bunch of people in an elevator, but the elevator is broken.

[00:26:21] Andrea Buczynski: Yes, teamwork will emerge pretty quickly in that case, right?

[00:26:26] Tommy Thomas: Join us again next week as we continue this conversation with Andrea Buczynski. Andrea shares a bit about the empowering world of Arete – The Executive Women of Influence and the wisdom that emerges when high achieving women come together in a spirit of confidentiality, shared values, and ethical leadership. We’ll also be discussing whether the availability and abundance separate from my shin has impacted organizational leadership and how she, as a non-digital native has learned to thrive in this environment.

“Tools like zoom and a shared Google drive have changed the way we get work done and the pandemic was proof positive of that.  We learned a lot about work during the pandemic.” -Andrea Buczynski


Links and Resources

JobfitMatters Website

Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership with Tommy Thomas

The Perfect Search – What every board needs to know about hiring their next CEO


[email protected]

Follow Tommy on LinkedIn


Listen to Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership with Tommy Thomas on:

Apple Podcasts | Spotify