Rich Stearns – President Emeritus World Vision US – An Inauspicious Leadership Journey – Part 2

“The key to a CEO/Board working relationship comes down to mutual respect.” -Rich Stearns

[00:00:00] Rich Stearns: I learned early on, just the importance of, I’ve said this earlier, being truthful and being a person of integrity in the workplace, you never get caught in a lie if you don’t lie.

And so, some of my early bosses drill that into my head. Bad news delivered late is terrible. Bad news delivered early is the best thing. If you have bad news, deliver it early. And don’t try to hide things when they’re going south. Tell the boss or the management that you’ve got a problem early on.


[00:00:28] Tommy Thomas: Thank you for joining us today. We’re continuing the conversation we began last week with Rich Stearns President Emeritus of World Vision US.  Today we will continue with Rich’s leadership journey. We’ll also be discussing the all-important topic of board governance. I’m so grateful to Rich for taking time from his schedule to talk with me. As we mentioned last week, the search that JobfitMatters conducted that brought Rich to World Vision literally set our practice on a trajectory that helped make the firm into what it is today.  Let’s pick up on the conversation we started last week.

If you were creating a dashboard for a nonprofit to get at their health, what might the dials look like? How do you tell if a nonprofit is healthy?

[00:01:19] Rich Stearns: This is one of my pet peeves. You’ve got these services like Charity Navigator and almost all of these services focus on financial metrics.

What’s the overhead? What’s the balance sheet look like? What’s the recent growth been over the last two or three years? Basically, those things have very little to do with whether a charity is a good charity, a well-performing charity, or a poorly performing charity. So, the only thing that really matters is the kind of impact that the nonprofit is having.

It’s about impact. So, let’s say it’s a homeless ministry, right? What matters in a homeless ministry is how many of their clients actually get out of homelessness and go on to lead independent lives. That’s really the outcome that you’re looking for in a homeless ministry. And sometimes homeless ministries talk about how many beds they have and how many nights off the street they give their clients.

But just giving somebody a safe bed for the night doesn’t solve their problem, right? So, you can say we put 300 men to bed every night, in this homeless shelter, and the next day they’re on the street again and then the following day they come back to the shelter and there’s nothing wrong with providing some safety for a little bit, but ultimately, you’re looking for the cure, right?

How do we help these men, if they’re men, get out of homelessness and get into more productive lives? But none of these charity evaluation websites talk about impact because it’s so hard to measure. And it could be that the charity with the greatest impact also has high overheads. So, they get a negative rating from Charity Navigator, even though they were having a tremendous impact on the people that they’re serving.

You always try to get inside the charity and say, what kind of work are you doing? And are you making an impact? Now, after that, you start to look at finances. So, at World Vision, we got into the clean water business a number of years ago. So then there’s a measure called impact per dollar spent. The cost to bring clean water to one person for life through World Vision is $50. So, you tell a donor that for $50, I don’t know what your water bill is, but mine’s higher than $50 a month. But for $50 I can bring clean water to a person for life in Rwanda. And then I say, how many people do you want to bring clean water to?

How big a donation can you make? So that’s impact per dollar, right? Impact per dollar spent. And that’s the other thing I tend to look at.

[00:03:50] Tommy Thomas: Kind of a similar question. I’ve been asking this the last month or so and I’ve gotten some fascinating responses. If you were a judge on a nonprofit version of the shark tank and nonprofit startups are coming to you for early-stage funding, what questions have you got to have solid answers for before you open your checkbook?

[00:04:10] Rich Stearns: The very first question that a shark tank guy would ask if you come with a new product is how is this product different from every other product that’s already out in the market? In other words, nobody needs another cola drink, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola, RC Cola.

There are plenty of cola drinks out there. So, if your big idea is I’m going to do my own cola drink, the first question is why? So, with a nonprofit, for example, I’ve seen young people that want to start up a new World Vision, right? I want to help the poor in Africa. And so, I’m going to start my own non-profit organization to help them. And my question is why would you do that? Because World Vision is a $3.2B organization helping the poor around the world. Compassion is $1.5B helping the poor around the world. Samaritan’s Purse is a billion-dollar organization.

So, what are you doing that they’re not doing? Why would I give my money to you instead of an established, successful nonprofit that’s doing that work? And, a good example of a positive answer to that would be the International Justice Mission. My friend, Gary Haugen started it about 27 years ago.

He looked around and he said, there are a lot of organizations that are feeding the hungry and bringing clean water to the poor and doing microfinance. I don’t see any organizations that are helping the poor with their legal problems protecting them from corrupt police departments and representing them in court when they’re falsely accused of something or getting them out of bonded labor in India by using the court system.

So, Gary started International Justice Mission to focus on justice and legal issues. He could have called it “Lawyers Without Borders” if he wanted to, because essentially, he hires a lot of attorneys that go around the world, and they work through the legal systems to help people who are being oppressed in various ways.

So, the first question to ask is, why would I give to your charity? What is unique about it? And why wouldn’t you just partner up with somebody that’s already doing this work? If nonprofits are doing it, the next thing you look at is the leader’s vision and motivation, right?

If there’s a powerful leader with a powerful vision and capabilities you believe, just like you’d look at a startup CEO. Do they have the right vision? That’s the other thing. Because it takes a lot of elbow grease to start up a nonprofit.

[00:06:40] Tommy Thomas: Frederick Wilcox said progress always involves risk.  You can’t steal second base with your foot on first. What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken and how did it come out?

[00:06:51] Rich Stearns: Let me mention the Parker Brothers thing again. So, getting Parker Brothers into video games was a huge risk. We had to take our foot off first base because we had to hire 180 people.  We had to create almost another whole company and another whole capability within the company to enter this new marketplace.

Cost a lot of money, and a lot of investment upfront, and I would say the outcome was both good and bad. So initially for a couple of years, we doubled the size of the company. We had huge growth, huge profit. But then about two years in, the whole video game market collapsed. It had been a bubble and it collapsed.

And when it collapsed, we had seven of the top ten selling video game cartridges in America. From our startup position, we had been very successful. But once the market collapsed, you couldn’t give those products away. They were selling video game cartridges, three for $10 in a barrel at Toys R Us because the market was glutted with people trying to get into that market.

It was a little bit like the Dot Com bubble in 2000. So anyways, all that profit we made. We had to give it all back over the next few years. That’s one of the reasons I got fired from Parker Brothers. But I tried to persuade Parker Brothers to stay in there, hang in there, right? Because video games are going to come back.

But they decided that it was too risky. They wouldn’t stay in. And of course, we now know that the video game market is bigger than all of Hollywood combined in terms of revenues. And it’s bigger than most professional sports. And so had we stayed in video games, we would have probably had huge opportunities in the future, but that was a huge risk to take. And when you take a risk, you bet big, and you lose big, or you win big.

I think the other risk was the AIDS campaign that I did with World Vision, because there was a possibility that HIV and AIDS would turn the American church against us.

People say, why are you doing this? Why are you helping people that were affected by this, disease that’s sexually transmitted? I thought you were about helping children. And so, we had to get our messaging right with AIDS. We took a bit of a risk to go there, but in the end, it really paid off because what people learned about World Vision is that we would tackle the most difficult issues in the most difficult places.

And that earned us a lot of respect from pastors and donors. Because nobody else was doing it at the time, nobody else was willing to take that risk. And we did, and ultimately a lot of organizations followed us a few years later. But that was another pretty risky venture.

[00:09:39] Tommy Thomas: What’s the best piece of advice anybody’s ever given you?

The best piece of advice that I have received is to be truthful and be a person of integrity in the workplace. You never get caught in a lie if you don’t lie.

[00:09:41] Rich Stearns: The best piece of advice that I would say, first of all, I learned early on, just the importance of, I’ve said this earlier, being truthful and being a person of integrity in the workplace. You never get caught in a lie if you don’t lie.

And so, some of my early bosses drill that into my head. Bad news delivered late is terrible. Bad news delivered early is the best thing. If you have bad news, deliver it early. And don’t try to hide things when they’re going south. Tell the boss or the management that you’ve got a problem early on.

One piece of advice I got during a difficult time, I can’t remember where I was, probably at Parker Brothers. It was a difficult year and one of my coworkers said, what you have to understand, because most of us, we’re afraid we’re going to lose our job or we’re afraid something’s going to happen to us.

And he used to say, remember this company needs you more than you need them, right? Because if you’re a good worker and you’re productive and you’ve got good ideas, the place you work for needs you more than you need them. And I learned that later as a CEO looking for good people. When I had good people working for me, all I want to know is how do I keep them?

How do I motivate them? I need them more than they need me because they can find another job, but it’s going to be hard for me to find another person of that caliber. So, the importance of retaining really good people struck me.


[00:11:09] Tommy Thomas:  You’ve been out of office for a couple of years now, but let’s go back three or four years.  If you had invited me to one of your staff meetings and then we had dismissed you, and I asked the team what’s the most difficult thing about working for Rich?  What might I have heard?

[00:11:27] Rich Stearns: I don’t know. I want to say you have to ask them that question. You’ve interviewed some of the people that worked for me in the past. But I would probably say I tended to be an idea machine, that in a particular meeting, I would throw out 20 new ideas.

What about this? Or what about that? What if we did this? And what I learned is that when you’re the CEO people are frantically taking notes on everything that comes out of your mouth. Let’s say you throw out 20 ideas. They’re likely to leave that meeting and spend the next month pursuing all 20 of those ideas.

And I realized that I had to tell people, look, I’m going to throw out a bunch of ideas in this meeting. I want you to throw out ideas too. Not all my ideas are good.  Number one:  Don’t be afraid to challenge me just because I’m the president.  In this room let’s think of ourselves all as equals.

Everybody in this room has got good ideas and we need to challenge ideas. Some are good, some are bad, some are worth keeping, and some are not. They’re like panning for gold, right? I realized that I needed to give people permission to challenge me as a leader and to challenge me in front of other people.

I used to say, if you don’t challenge my ideas, you’re not very useful to me because I need other people to help me evaluate which of these ideas have merit and which ones really don’t. And if you can’t contribute to that, why are you at the meeting? You realize that they probably say Rich threw out too many ideas at the meeting.

And I left wondering which ones do I really focus on? So I think that could have been frustrating sometimes for people.

[00:13:04] Tommy Thomas: What do you think they would have said was the most rewarding part?

[00:13:09] Rich Stearns: I don’t know. I like to feel that people enjoyed working for me. I tried to create a sense of camaraderie among my teams.  I tried not to lead like the imperial CEO that I’m the boss and you’re not. Or I’m here on the organization chart, you’re down here. So I tried to be more of a collaborative leader.  Hey, we’re all a team and every member of the team is important.

All these people that work for me are made in the image of God and they have incredible talents, ideas, backgrounds, uniqueness, unique gifts, and talents.
Everyone’s gifts are different.

And you’ve all got great ideas. And I tried to, especially in the latter half of my career, I started to see that all these people that work for me are made in the image of God and they have incredible talents, ideas, backgrounds, uniqueness, unique gifts, and talents. Everyone’s gifts are different.

Everyone’s abilities are different. And when you start seeing that kind of symphony of talent in front of you, you’re like an orchestra conductor and you say, how can I bring the beautiful music out of these talented musicians that I have working for me? I might have a CEO who was brilliant.

In fact, you knew one or two of my CEOs who would have been terrible at marketing, right? But he was a brilliant CFO. And so, I recognized that and made sure that I relied on him and leaned into him for his giftedness. Then over somewhere else, I’ve got a really talented person in product development coming up with new products.

And so, you bring that talent out. Ultimately, a leader is like that orchestra conductor. How do you get all these really gifted musicians, each gifted in a different way to play together so that what comes out is a beautiful symphony instead of, discordant, loud sounds that are unpleasant.

I like to think that I could create a positive work environment, positive culture for the team. And what I learned about success in the workplace is that teams of people that work well together and feel valued and are in a healthy culture, they’re much more productive than people in a negative difficult culture.

Culture matters a lot and leaders tend to create culture.

[00:15:20] Tommy Thomas:  Here’s a quote I’d like you to respond to: “When you’re sitting around the table with your leadership team, you never want to be the smartest person at the table”.

[00:15:29] Rich Stearns: I love that quote. And actually, one of my first, I’ll go back to Parker Brothers, the President of Parker Brothers, Randolph Parker Barton, when I joined was the family vestige or holdover from the old company that had been acquired by General Mills.

Mr. Barton was, how do I say it? Not the most capable leader. He didn’t have a Wharton MBA. He didn’t come up through other consumer products companies. He inherited his job because he was a family member. He knew a lot about toys and games, but he wanted to hire the smartest, most gifted, talented people he could find and let them do what they were capable of doing.

And he developed a reputation from within General Mills, the parent company, for having some of the brightest up-and-coming leaders in the whole General Mills organization, which was much bigger than Parker Brothers. And he basically did it by hiring well and then delegating a lot of authority and influence to the smart people that he hired.

He never felt threatened by them because he realized that as long as he kept hiring the best people, he would get the best performance for his division. And General Mills would reward him as the president with bonuses and compensation, increase and all of that. I learned from him to hire really the best people you can, to try to find people smarter than you or smarter than you in their field.

Hire the best people you can.
Try to find people smarter than you or smarter than you in their field.

So again, a CFO who is much better at finance than I am, or hiring a head of human resources that’s much more gifted than I am in human resources. A General Manager or a President is really a generalist, right? The orchestra conductor can’t play all those instruments, so they need people that are really good at the violin, really good at percussion, really good at clarinet and woodwinds.

And when you get the very best musicians working for you, that’s when the beautiful music starts to happen.


[00:17:34] Tommy Thomas: Let’s just switch over to board service. I think board service is hard at any level. Talk to me about the board chair. What’s the primary function of the chairman of the board?

[00:17:49] Rich Stearns: I think the primary function of the Board Chair is to manage the board.   We used to have 18 board members at World Vision. It was a pretty large board. And you got 18 people in a room that are all pretty smart. They’re all from different walks of life and they’ve got ideas and suggestions and things of that nature.

The Board Chair’s main job is to manage the Board. 
That Board Chair reminds the Board that their job is governance, a policy role.

And the Board Chair has a very important role in focusing the board on the job at hand. You’re not necessarily here for everybody to throw in their ideas. We have a professional staff to run the company or run the organization. The board chair reminds them that their role is a governance role, a policy role.

Certainly, their ideas can be offered, but it’s really the role of the CEO and the staff to determine whether those ideas are effective or usable. I think the board chair really must control the work of the board and direct it in the right ways. And he’s basically herding, 10, 12, 15 other board members, to focus on the job at hand.

The other role of the Chair is to be close to the CEO so that the CEO and the board chair are on the same page. The Board Chair can deliver some difficult information to the CEO if let’s say the performance is poor or other board members have a problem with the way the CEO is conducting the meetings or leading the organization.

The Board Chair is often the messenger that brings that information to the CEO, hopefully in a way that’s redemptive instead of crushing, that, how can I help this CEO be more successful by giving feedback to him from the board?  The board chair is really a pretty critical pivotal role.

[00:19:37] Tommy Thomas: I know your past Board Chair for the last few years of your time at World Vision. What was the key to you and Joan working together so well?

The key to a CEO / Board working relationship comes down to mutual respect.

[00:19:45] Rich Stearns: I think it comes down to mutual respect. I think Joan had a lot of respect for me. I was a long-serving CEO of World Vision by the time she was Board Chair.

She had a lot of respect for me, my capabilities, and what I’d accomplished at World Vision over those years. But I also had respect for her and her position.  I always respected the Board Chair’s position because in my worldview, the board chair and my board in a Christian organization, that was God’s way of holding me in the organization accountable.

These people were accountable before God for this ministry that was entrusted to their care and their governance care as board members. And I never saw the board as an adversary, I always saw them as really a gift that they were there to keep us on the right track, to keep us out of trouble, to ask the tough questions that needed to be answered to make sure we were financially solvent, to make sure we stayed on mission.

And by respecting their role they could see that I respected them, which caused them to respect and trust me more. A board relationship is very much about trust. If if the board trusts the leader who’s leading the organization and that leader’s team that’s a critical ingredient.

And the leader has to trust the board not to do inappropriate things or get involved in inappropriate ways and not to be disruptive and if you have mutual trust, which the chair often negotiates that, or referees that, or tries to ensure that you’re off to a good start with a board CEO relationship.

[00:21:24] Tommy Thomas: When I interviewed you back in 2017 you mentioned that from your perspective, the best thing that the World Vision Board did for you when you came on was you recalled an offsite retreat where y’all got introduced to each other. Could you share a little bit about that with us?

We probably have a lot of up-and-coming CEOs listening and that might be an interesting discussion.

[00:21:45] Rich Stearns: I don’t know how much that costs. Probably not much, but it was the best money World Vision ever spent. When I came into World Vision the Board and the CEO had what I’d call a turbulent relationship.

He wasn’t thrilled about his board and the way they behaved, and the Board wasn’t thrilled about him in certain ways. And so, I was coming into kind of a troubled marriage, right? You could say there’d been a divorce, and I’m the new husband coming in. And so, the Board had enough wisdom to say, you know what, we should start off on the right foot here.

Why don’t we hire a board consultant to come in and do a two-day retreat with a new CEO to teach the Board and the new CEO how best they should interact and communicate with one another? So, a friend of yours and mine named Bob Andringa, he’s retired now, but he was in the Board consulting business.

He’s written at least one book if not several. He came in and he conducted a Board Governance 101, 102 course for all of us and gave us tools to use and dealt with different scenarios of the dos and don’ts for Board Members and the dos and don’ts for the staff and the CEO. Here is the best way to understand your responsibility as Board Members.

This is what your responsibility is, and this is what your responsibility is not. This is the role you play. This is the role you don’t play. And the same with a CEO. Rich, your role is this. The board’s role is to establish policy. I guess the best way to say it is it laid down the ground rules for a healthy relationship.

And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I had a 20-year honeymoon with my board. Not that there wasn’t an occasional marital argument over the years. But it was like a 20-year honeymoon with the board. And I respected them, they respected me. My staff, when I first started, after a year, they said, boy, you’ve had a one-year honeymoon with this board.

It’s amazing. Because they’d seen some of the dysfunction in the prior years. And 20 years later, they were still saying you’re still on your honeymoon. And in terms of my response, what I attribute it to, is what I talked about earlier, Tommy, that the board knew they could trust me.

I would never tell them a lie. I would never hide anything. I was completely transparent. Anything they wanted to talk about at a board meeting, we could talk about. Any numbers they wanted to see; we’d show them. If I had some bad numbers, I’d bring them to the board and say, look, this is not good, and here’s what we’re going to do.  They never felt I was hiding anything. And so that created trust as well.

The board knew they could trust me.  I would never tell them a lie. I would never hide anything. I was completely transparent. Anything they wanted to talk about at a board meeting, we could talk about.


[00:24:34] Tommy Thomas: One of the guys that you’ve influenced over the years is Joseph J. Mettimano, the President at Central Union Mission in Washington, DC. And when I interviewed Joe he talked about a lesson he learned from you about the President’s Report to the Board. He would attribute part of his success to what he learned from you there.  Tell us about that.

[00:24:53] Rich Stearns: I started every board meeting with a President’s Report. So, the Board is gathered, in the case of World Vision they’ve flown in from all over the country and here they are at the World Vision board meeting, and remember, they’re all volunteers, some are pastors, some are business people.  They’re from all walks of life and so I tried to use the President’s Report to basically bring them up to speed on what was going on at World Vision. What were the important issues? What were we doing about the important issues? How are the finances doing? I tried to answer as many questions as they might have in advance.

I started every board meeting with a President’s Report. I tried to use the President’s Report to basically bring them up to speed on what was going on at World Vision. What were the important issues? What were we doing about the important issues? How are the finances doing?

Because the rest of the board meeting, the finance committee was going to meet and other committees were going to meet. And I tried to use the President’s Report to cast a bit of a vision for where we were as an organization, where we’re headed, what my outlook was for the coming year or the coming quarter.

And I try to use the Board Meeting to really cast a vision to remind them of the mission of World Vision. Often, I would start with a trip report. I’ve just gotten back from the Syrian refugee crisis, and I want to tell you what I saw. I would remind them, we’re sitting here in a nice boardroom, but people are dying all over the world.

And our job is to intercede for them to help them to rescue those who are perishing, as the book of Proverbs says. And so, trying to remind them why they were here, why World Vision was here, and then look under the hood at the financials, the numbers, the revenues, the overhead, and you had to deal with issues like real estate transactions and mundane stuff like that.

I wanted to always put it in the context of the bigger mission, vision, and values of the organization. My President’s Report would sometimes go 90 minutes to two hours, which is a lot. But usually, the board would say that was the highlight of the meeting because that really brought them up to date on everything.

My President’s Report would sometimes go 90 minutes to two hours, which is a lot. But usually, the board would say that was the highlight of the meeting because that really brought them up to date on everything.

[00:26:46] Tommy Thomas:  I’ve done a little bit of speaking here over the past three or four years, most of it pre-pandemic on succession planning and one of the things that we talk about in that is how much of the outgoing president’s identity is tied up in his or her current job. You’ve been away now for almost two years, any reflections on that? Did you have any trouble walking away?

[00:27:11] Rich Stearns: No, I didn’t actually. I talk about this a lot. We had a very orderly succession process when I left World Vision. In 2015, I hired a Chief Operating Officer, and he worked under me for three years, learning the ropes.

He then became a candidate to succeed me, although the board did a nationwide search. They ultimately selected him. But about two years before I retired in an executive session of the board, I said, look I’m planning to retire.  I had a contract that expired in two years, and we renewed my contract every five years for 20 years.

And I said, at the end of this contract, I’m planning to retire and I’m giving you a gift right now. The gift is number one, I’m leaving without any drama, it’s like you’re not having to talk at the bathroom breaks about when is the old guy going to retire, when is he going to leave, I’m retiring, I want to retire at the top of my game, not at the bottom of my game.

And that’s a gift to you because now as a board, you can focus totally on how can we have the best transition process. How can we use this time to find the very best candidate to replace Rich? And you don’t have to worry about any of the drama or that I’m going to be clinging to power and so long story short, Tommy, they did a very good job.

They did a pretty thorough search. They took a lot of advice from me because I said a lot of nonprofits do this very poorly. And some of the nonprofits that I shared with them during my 20 years at World Vision, some of these nonprofits that were peer organizations had 10 CEOs come and go.

And I said that’s very unhealthy for an organization to have 10 years. And the reason they had 10 CEOs is because their nonprofit volunteer board continued to make bad decisions about who to hire, so I wanted to help them make a good decision about who to hire with all the facts on the table and knowledge.

So then I retired, and I had a nice retirement party. We had a passing of the torch to my successor, Edgar Sandoval, who was the COO under me for the last three years. Then I walked away, and I know a lot of people really have a struggle in retirement and they feel like they’ve lost their identity.

I felt like I gave everything I had for 20 years. I gave World Vision everything I had to offer. It’s somebody else’s turn. I sensed it was time for fresh leadership. I was 67 years old I had a family, a growing family, grandsons, a wife that I had been away from for a lot of months during my time at World Vision, traveling internationally and I was ready, and I looked at retirement as this is my sabbath rest after a 45-year career.

[00:30:01] Tommy Thomas:  Bringing this thing to a close. What’s something that you would have liked to have told a younger version of yourself?

[00:30:09] Rich Stearns: You know a couple of things come to mind. One is comical – a career is a very long time.

In your 20s or 30s, you’re in a particular job in a particular industry or sector and your career seems you’re focused on this year, right? You’re right now, this job, maybe you’re thinking about what would my next job be, but in a 40-some-year career, you can do a lot of different things, and if you feel like I used to, I tell young people, if your current job is not your dream job, and it probably isn’t, think of it as a stepping stone toward your dream job. Because every job you have gives you more information, more experience. I’m good at this. I’m not good at that. I like this kind of environment.

I don’t like this kind of environment. You’re learning more about yourself and hopefully, the next job you have, the next company, or whatever organization you work for becomes a better and better fit, and more and more like your dream job, the dream situation that you’d like to be in.

So don’t get too impatient. A career is a very long time. Look at me. I started out selling shaving cream for Gillette. I ran a toy company. I was there for nine years. I spent 11 years at Lennox China selling fine china, crystal gifts, and things like that. Then I spent 20 years at World Vision.

I’ve had three or four different careers during my 40-some years, and then developed a fifth career as an author. I’ve written four books now. You can do a lot of things in 40 years. Even if you don’t like your current job, take heart. There’s hope your next job may be the one that you really love and really fits you well.

One other thing I’d say, this is a little piece of managerial advice, the most powerful tool in a leader’s vocabulary is encouragement. You motivate people a lot more with encouragement. Hey, that was a great idea you had at the meeting today. Wow, I loved your contribution to that discussion.

The most powerful tool in a leader’s vocabulary is encouragement.
You motivate people a lot more with encouragement.

That report you gave was fantastic. With that kind of affirmation, people just thrive and they bloom when they get a compliment from the boss. The problem is, as bosses, we often like to lead with criticism. Yeah, I didn’t like the way you ended that presentation. Or, 90% of the presentation could have been fabulous, but you didn’t like their last two slides.

And you think, oh, so what do they hear? I failed. The boss didn’t like it. And that diminishes people. It crushes their spirits. You attract a lot more bees with honey than you do with vinegar. There’s a time for correction.

And even correction is more easily digested when it’s preceded by praise and encouragement. I think it’s a superpower that a leader who really encourages people, we’ve all raised kids, and your kid will bring home some crazy drawing from first grade. And what do you do? You praise it and say, I love the way you drew that pumpkin for Halloween, I love the way you drew that house.

We praise them. We encourage them. We need to find ways to praise and encourage our staff, and our teams. And then again, correction, when needed, obviously in the right circumstances, but encouragement is powerful.

Tommy Thomas:  Thank you for joining us today and thanks to Rich Stearns for sharing his leadership journey with us. I’ve put links to all of Rich’s books in the episode notes, along with some that he and his wife Reneé wrote together. Several months ago, we began to put a transcript of the podcast in the episode notes. Many of you have commented on how helpful this is to you. 

“The board knew they could trust me. I would never tell them a lie. I would never hide anything. I was completely transparent. Anything they wanted to talk about at a board meeting, we could talk about.” -Rich Stearns

Links and Resources

JobfitMatters Website

Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership with Tommy Thomas

World Vision

Books by Rich Stearns:

Lead Like It Matters to God: Values-Driven Leadership in a Success-Drive World by Richard Stearns

The Hole in Our Gospel 10th Anniversary Edition: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World by Richard Stearns

Books by Rich and Reneé Stearns:

God’s Love For You Bible Storybook by Richard Stearns & Reneé Stearns

He Walks Among Us: Encounters with Chris in a Broken World by Richard Stearns & Reneé Stearns


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