Can a leader demonstrate the life-giving nature of Christ with authenticity and trust? And can that leader’s character, ultimately influence a workplace culture to advance God’s kingdom on earth?
My unconditional “Yes” to both questions lives and breathes in the words and ministry career of Bob Lonac.
Bob recently retired as the fifth president and CEO of CRISTA. Based in Shoreline, Washington, just north of Seattle, CRISTA’s seven distinctive ministries involve 1,800 employees in 27 countries. Their mission is to “Love God by serving people.”
Over the past eleven years CRISTA has surveyed with BCWI and under Bob’s leadership, the organization has developed a solidly healthy culture. One of the prominent qualities of CRISTA’s culture is Life-Giving Work, the second of eight culture drivers that make up centerpiece of our new ongoing series, “Eight Ways to Build a Flourishing Workplace Culture.”
Here, the tail end of his presidency, Bob spelled out a remarkably fresh understanding of Life-Giving Work I’ve never heard anyone else articulate. You’ll see what I mean in the three humbling lessons Bob has gained through his productive years of leadership at Young Life International, International Justice Mission, and CRISTA.
The backdrop for three humble lessons
Bob is convinced that a healthy workplace culture isn’t an option, but rather a necessity.
“My passion has always been to build a highly professional organization that is filled with the aroma of Christ. When I came to CRISTA in 2006, the workplace culture needed refocusing.
“We wanted each new employee to see that in coming to work at CRISTA he or she was being called by Jesus. Ever since then it’s been all about finding your calling, knowing your gifts and adding value to the whole organization.”
“To learn and appreciate the health of your culture, you just can’t talk to a few employees, you have to understand what’s going on in the entirety of your workplace culture. This is especially true in a larger organization.”
“BCWI has allowed us to see the width and breadth of our culture through the eight statistically important areas that identify and measure employee engagement. The BCWI survey confirmed that you can’t address, much less improve, the areas of your culture you don’t understand.”
“For our workplace culture to grow stronger, we at CRISTA need to see it from the varied points of view of our employees. The only way this could happen was for our employees to give us their clear, anonymous, open feedback.”
Bob had nailed the advantage of the BCWI survey to a tee. I wondered how he would build upon Life-Giving Work, which we define as “work that is full of meaning, significance and purpose.”
He did not disappoint. “When people are living out and growing in who God has made them to be, you can feel the difference.” It was a great little prelude to three lessons for every leader who wants to build a flourishing culture:
1. To build a life-giving workplace, become a life-giving person
“The biblical word for life-giving work is ‘joy.’ You experience joy, when you’re connected to the Spirit of God, the Lord himself.” Bob then added, “Recently, an employee stopped me to say, ‘I’ve been looking for a place like CRISTA all my life.’ You could see his joy. He was living proof that people who love God want to have fun at an organization where they care about others.”
Inside, I wondered how Bob came to embrace life-giving work.
“I’ve learned you can’t ask, or expect, someone to be someone they are not. The most important thing any leader —especially a CEO—can be is to be the very thing you value and hold to be true. You build a life-giving workplace by being a life-giving person.
“The key to authentic, trustworthy leadership is to know yourself and understand yourself. If you hope to transform the workplace, you have to be transformed from the inside out.
You build a life-giving workplace by being a life-giving person.”
2. Learn to receive and embrace constructive, honest feedback
“Every leader needs to face the reality of who you are. The 360-leadership review helped me embrace the good things other saw in me and helped me face up to the areas in which I need to learn and grow.”
“When I came to CRISTA, I got an email from an employee: ‘Bob, I think you’re a very serious person; you walked by me the other day and didn’t smile. Do you care about your employees?’
“I could have said to myself, ‘That’s just one person. I don’t need to listen to him.’ However, after taking the 360, I started to listen and smile more to others.”
“This lesson taught me how important it is for leaders to know and be known. Relationships are where it’s at. You’ve got to talk to one another. You’ve got to speak the truth in love and hope people will talk to you.”
“Great leaders are always listening and looking for input, thinking and praying about it, and then playing to an audience of one: Jesus. He’s the one a leader needs to listen to in the end—and, ironically, others help a leader do just that.
3. Develop a life-giving board
Bob wanted me to see that life-giving work extends to the boardroom. “You will attract good employees and good board members, when you do great ministry. There’s a big difference between doing great ministry and merely discussing it. Some people can talk about great ministry, but when people see it and smell it, they’ll want to be around it.”
“I’ve learned what an effective board is and is not. I’ve learned I don’t want to build a “show and tell board”: They show up, you tell them great ministry stories, and then, thank them for coming.
“I’ve learned you need to recruit great board members who can contribute wisdom and understanding to the deliberative process. That’s how you obtain wisdom–by getting other people’s points of view. Whenever someone makes a proposal to the CRISTA board, a couple of board members intentionally ask, ‘Why shouldn’t we do this?’ You need this blend of point-counterpoint perspective that contributes to wisdom.”
Putting the exclamation point on Life-Giving Work
In his final words of his final interview as CRISTA President, Bob punctuated Life-Giving-Work to a tee:
“The words ‘life-giving work’ are easy to say. Living these words is another matter. The reason they matter to a leader and a workplace culture is that Jesus is alive and real. His Spirit is palatable. God’s ways are not our ways, but they are tangible. The older I get, the more I know about the ways and the life of Jesus in us and through us.”
When this happens, the result can truly be life-giving for our organization, our culture, our colleagues, and ourselves.
It’s Your Turn
Which of three lessons caught your attention? Where do you feel most affirmed and challenged as you seek to be fulfilled in your work?
Coming Up Next on our Continuing Series
“The Eight Ways to Build a Flourishing Workplace,”
“When Live-Giving Work Goes to the Head of the Class”
Paul MacDonald, Headmaster
Crossing Christian School,
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
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