The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“What It Takes to be a Flourishing Leader“
March 23, 2020
Intro: The COVID-19 crisis has created a lot of uncertainty for Christian leaders. Revenues are going straight down, our teams are working remotely and we’re forced to do things differently as we try to keep our families, employees, and communities healthy. It’s frightening, exhausting, even disrupting. But today, we want to shed some long term perspective. Listen in to the story of a ministry leader who thrived during his twenty-six years as the CEO. We hope it allows you to regain a healthy, long term perspective on the importance of building a flourishing culture through the ups and downs.
Female: This is the Flourishing Culture Podcast. Here’s your host, president of the Best Christian Workplaces Institute, Al Lopus.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire you to build a flourishing workplace. We are here to help you eliminate workplace distrust, improve your employees’ experience, and grow your organization’s impact. And before we meet our special guest today, I urge you to subscribe to this podcast. As a result, you’ll receive our action guide. It’s our gift to help you lead your organization’s culture to the next level. To subscribe, simply go to bcwinstitute.org/podcast. Hit the Subscribe button, and receive our free action guide.
Also, if you could share this podcast with others, and rate it, it would really mean a lot to me. Thank you.
And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
It’s a pleasure to welcome BCWI regional director for Canada, Barry Slauenwhite. Barry, welcome to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Barry Slauenwhite: Thanks, Al. It’s really good to be here, and my temptation is to say, “Sorry.”
Al: Well, we’ll talk about that a little later, Barry.
Barry: We’ll talk about that later. Yeah, for sure. But it’s great to be with you.
Al: It’s been great to be working with you here over the last couple of months. Barry, you bring something that’s very distinctive and valuable to our conversation. And what would you guess that I might be referring to?
Barry: Well, you haven’t given me many clues to work with, but if I were to guess, it’s probably that I’ve come from the other side of the table. I have been a long-time user of BCWI’s tools when I was CEO of Compassion Canada. That’s my guess. Is that correct?
Al: I think you’re exact—well, you are exactly right. And we’re going to talk about even how you’re uniquely qualified for this role because you’ve got a business background. You started off in the construction business. You were called to the pastorate, so you had become a pastor and minister in the church. And then, combining that with your heart for Christ, your business experience, you’ve managed for 26 years CEO of Compassion, and now you’re bringing all of that experience, as you say, to sit on the other side of the table. So I’m looking forward to our time together here today.
So what’s distinctive about you and so much of what you have to offer organizations that we serve that’s going to really be clear in the next few minutes? A good way to talk about that is for you to tell your story about how we first met—and that’s a great story—and your reaction to the workshop you attended.
Barry: Yeah. I’ll never forget that, actually. You had quite an impression on me. It was a dual impression. One, as I’ve joked many times with you, was your bow tie, and the other was the topic. So leading up to attending this Canadian Council of Christian Charities conference, I had been struggling as a CEO to find tools to help me build what we would now know as a flourishing culture at Compassion. I had done the best I could. I had read as much as I could find, which was precious little. But I was in a position where I was hungry. I was hungry to find a tool. And I saw your workshop listed at the conference, and I just said, “Well, what have I got to lose?”
So I went to your workshop, and it was as if you were speaking directly to me, and if I recall, the room was jammed full. There was a great attendance there. But I just felt—we had never met before; I had no idea who you were—but I felt like you understood every problem I had and every part of my vision. And I took notes, I absorbed what you had to say, and I really felt that you were sent there by God just for me. And that began the relationship with Compassion Canada beginning to survey with Best Christian Workplace, and that’s been a quite a few years ago now, and BCWI has been a very, very important tool in our tool kit. And we can actually point to the proof that it works.
Al: Yeah, absolutely. What I remember is after your staff participated in that first engagement Survey, I remember talking with you about your Survey results. In fact, this was pretty early on in our ministry as well, and I remember being somewhat skeptical about one particular Survey finding. Do you remember what I’m talking about there that got my attention?
Barry: I’ll never forget it because I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know if I should feel insulted that you asked, or if I should take it as a commendation.
When we did our first Survey with you, I remember getting a call from you saying, I think—I might be paraphrasing here, but you said something to the effect—I think something went wrong, either with technology or maybe your staff didn’t understand the question or something. And it was around the topic of trust. And you seemed to indicate that our trust score was probably too high and maybe erroneous. So it’s funny because of all the things I had worked at over the years without the tool of BCWI, all the things I’d worked at, I didn’t deliberately address trust. It wasn’t on my radar. I was doing other things to improve our staff culture. And when you surveyed and you came back with that, I’m going, “Oh, oh, I guess we did something wrong.” So I assumed the blame right away. And we did it again, didn’t we?
Al: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Barry: I think we ran the Survey again, and it came back either identical or even stronger. So it would have been easy for me to pat myself on the back and say, “Well, I don’t need to survey anymore. I’ve got that one done.” But with trust being a high score, there were other scores that I knew that we needed to address in order to keep going in the right direction. So that kind of was a bit of a surprise. Now we look back and I laugh.
Al: Well, I’ll tell you what led to that, Barry, was just how in our research in those early years, I just realized how hard it was. I kind of assumed, coming out of the secular workplace, that trust would be higher in Christian organizations. We asked the question, there’s a high level of trust between leaders and employees in my organization, and that score is actually lower in Christian organizations than it is in the secular workplace. And it was so high it Compassion Canada it’s like, well, I was thrilled to know that that might be the case. But just, yeah, I was a little skeptical. So you proved me right and probably was the beginning of our relationship.
Barry: I got to tell you, though, every year after that, I was afraid to get the results of our score.
Al: So, Barry, you’ve recently retired after being the CEO of Compassion Canada for 26 years, which is just a remarkable run. Tell us about your first leadership offsite. I mean, this is what I really want to convey, and we need to do this more with leaders. But tell us about your first leadership offsite after you were announced as the CEO. What was your priority? You’re a new leader. You’re taking your staff, your leadership team, offsite. What was the priority you really wanted to focus on in that first offsite?
Barry: Well, with all due respect to my predecessors, who did a great job leading, we found ourselves in—I wouldn’t use the term then, in 1993. But now I understand that term from working with BCWI—we would describe our culture back then as being toxic, maybe even extremely toxic. The workplace was not a happy environment. People didn’t smile when they thought about going to work in the morning. There were washroom meetings and hallway meetings and just not a productive place to be. And my heart ached. As the new CEO, I was aware of that. I lived in that every day in my VP role, and I knew that more than anything, that’s the most important agenda for me as the new leader, more than revenues, more than in deficit budgets, more than productivity areas. I needed to fix that.
I didn’t know how to go about it, really, so I really sought God’s heart on that, and I felt impressed the first day of my role as leader—so that was a Monday morning—I felt impressed to close our office down for two days and take the entire staff into a retreat setting. And as I said earlier, I didn’t have many tools to work with, but I thought I understood, as a pastor, I thought I understood the heart of God and scripture, that people who are people of faith ought to love each other, ought to care for each other, and ought to be able to work together in an enjoyable climate. So I went into the retreat with that craving, with that assumption, not knowing how to do it.
So I sat down at my desk on the weekend, and I articulated my vision for our culture. Here’s where I want to take Compassion Canada. And I articulate it. And I just drew things just from my heart. I didn’t take things from a book. Back then, there were no podcasts. There was no Google. And I began to write things down, things like, people matter, people’s voice is important. Things like, if we are a Christian ministry, then we should be honoring Christ in everything we do inside these four walls and outside. We had concentrated a lot on honoring Christ outside the four walls. We hadn’t done well on the inside.
So I made my list. It ended up being about three pages long, under about a dozen subheadings, and I just presented this to our staff. I said, “This isn’t scientific. This is just my heart. Here’s where I’d like to go.” And I actually used the term utopia. I said, “I would love for this workplace to be a utopia, to be a place where we are honoring God so much that we could be an example of a Christian workplace.” And then I passed out a sheet of paper, and all I had on the top of the paper for a heading was, “If I were president/CEO, I would…”and the page was blank. So I sent everybody away with that page and a pen. I said, “Go find a quiet spot somewhere. Take as long as you need. But I want you to articulate what you would do if you were in my position.” Now, this is my first day as CEO. I’m in the position now for a about three hours. So sent them away.
What I got back was phenomenal. I got the most-incredible ideas. I didn’t get what I expected. I didn’t get a lot of complaining and whining. I got some of the best ideas. And I took those ideas, I categorized them, and that became my business plan for the years to come. And I tried my best to implement as many of those as I could.
What happened along the way is I got a lot of credit from the board, from others outside the organization, for all these wonderful things that I was doing, when they actually came from the staff. And I was very careful to make sure everyone knew these ideas were grassroots ideas from my staff. Having taken the time to listen to them, having, then, given them the respect of a backseat, trying to implement their own ideas and then giving them the credit for it, I think—not back then. I didn’t realize it—but now I think looking back, those were some of the building blocks to this high-trust score that we talked about earlier.
Al: Yeah. I can see exactly, Barry. When you involve people in their work, you listen to them, you’re acting on their suggestions, I mean, those are questions that are at the core of healthy communication in our Survey. And transparency, humility, compassion, all that builds trust. Yeah.
Barry: You can see why when I sat in your workshop first time, you can see why the lights were going on and the dots were connecting in my heart. I’m going, “Oh, somebody else thought this through better than I did.”
Al: Well, you actually did it. That’s the hard work. Great work, Barry.
Well, let’s go ahead 16 years from that point. You’re a CEO for 26 years, but 10 years—tell our listeners about your succession, because 10 years before you actually retired, you announced to the board your plans to retire in 10 years, and that’s exactly what happened. Walk us through the succession planning process with your board, and tell us two or three of the most-important things about succession that those listening might find beneficial to their experience.
Barry: Well, I’ve always made the point to tell my staff routinely that this ministry does not belong to us, it does not belong to the board, and it does not belong to me as CEO. I just felt in my heart that I needed to put that stake in the ground, and I did it. At least once a year, I made a strong point of that at a staff meeting, and I tried to drill that thinking into the hearts of both our board and our staff. It’s easy for a leader to get so good at what they’re doing that they and others around them think the ministry can’t operate without them, and the accountability levels don’t need to be so high, and people can’t get along without me. So I made that an annual process to drill that ethos, that thinking, into the hearts. And I tried to live that as leader.
What that means is that if the ministry doesn’t belong to me, then I am a steward of the ministry. A biblical steward is someone who manages something on behalf of the owner. So the owner of our ministry, whether it’s a church, whether it’s a parachurch, whether it’s a Christian business, the owner of our organization is God. Therefore, we owe it to God to ensure the wellbeing of the ministry, over and above our own personal wellbeing. So those were the building blocks that led me 10 years ago in 2009.
In October of 2009, I presented our board with a fairly lengthy paper outlining my dream, my vision, that in 10 years from now, actually October 2019, 10 years from that very month, I would be stepping out and allowing God to bring someone else in to take over the leadership. I didn’t do that because I thought I’d be burnt out or worn out by then. I did it because I felt in my heart the ministry deserves fresh leadership at that point. And so we began a process with the board to put together a timeline, an event line, and we worked that timeline so that on October 25, this past year, 2019, 10 years almost to the week, I retired. I stepped out of my leadership role. God had brought in a fabulous young leader to replace me, and I felt that I was able as a steward to hand over the keys to the next steward who would take, then, care of the operation of God’s ministry.
That was the 10-year plan that you referenced. I’m not suggesting that everybody should do a 10-year plan; probably 10 years is too long for most. I’m not even sure why I picked 10 years, to tell you the truth. I’m a planner. If I have a fault that I know where I’m going to park in the Walmart parking-space block before I even leave the house, and my wife, it drives her crazy because she’d figure out where to park when she’s going up and down the aisle. I’m a planner, so I just felt I had to be true to how God made me and my DNA. And I had to be true.
The other part of this was I made it very clear by putting this in writing and saying both to the board and to the staff—so the staff knew this as well—“You hold me accountable.” I’ve seen too many leaders say they’re going to leave, and then they change their mind. So I said, “You hold me accountable. This is in writing, in the minutes of the board meeting. It’s in writing, and it’s been communicated to our entire staff. So you hold me accountable. Don’t you let me mess this up, because I want to finish well.”
Al: Wow. That’s a fantastic story. I just think about the vision. You’ve already communicated vision a couple of times of how you created a vision for the culture, and here you are, 10 years prior to your retirement, creating a vision of retiring well and, really, at the top of your game. And I love it, your story about stewardship. And, gosh, we all need to have this attitude that we’re managing on behalf of the owner—we’re not the owner; Christ is the owner—and how are we managing on behalf of that owner?
I also know, Barry, as we’ve talked, in fact, we’ve talked probably a few weeks before you had retired, and I had heard that the Lord was birthing in your heart a new direction for your next season of ministry. And I’m guessing you probably weren’t working on how to improve your golf game. So what were you thinking? How was God working on your heart?
Barry: Well, let me be clear. I do love golf. I’m not very good at it, but I love it. But I haven’t picked up a golf club in almost a year. And I’m not saying that to brag. I’m saying that I didn’t get the rocking-chair syndrome that some people get when they retire. I went from one busy lifestyle to another.
But here’s what happened. I didn’t retire from Compassion because I was tired; I knew it was the best thing for the ministry. So that’s an important piece of information to understand in my story. I am passionate about excellence in leadership. That does not mean I’m an excellent leader. So I want to make that clear. I try to be an excellent leader, and I’m always learning. But I’m passionate about excellence.
My father, who was poorly educated and worked hard all of his life as a carpenter, my father used to say this, it sounded like, thousands of times. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. And when he became a Christian later in life, he applied that to say, anything we do for God should be done to the very best of our ability, whether we’re an usher in church, a Sunday school teacher, a parking-lot attendant, a neighbor in our neighborhood, we should do it with the very best skills that we can muster up and the best attitude. So I’ve been passionate about leadership. I’ve been passionate about building a healthy, godly culture, which I explained to you earlier how I tried to do that at Compassion even before I got the tools from Best Christian Workplace. And I’m passionate about people who call themselves Christ followers being equipped to use their gifts for God’s kingdom.
And so when I looked at—I don’t like to call it retirement. I like to call it graduation. So when I looked at my graduation after 26 years, I wanted to take whatever God taught me and whatever energy God gave me to invest in other leaders. I didn’t want to go in to the consultancy business. I wanted just to allow God bring people to me to make a way for me to invest in lives. And it’s incredible how God has done that, just in humbling, humbling ways.
BCWI was not on my radar. I didn’t know you were looking for someone in Canada. I didn’t even think I qualified to take a role like that. So it was not on my radar. If you hadn’t called me and had some conversations with me, I probably—well, I know we wouldn’t be speaking today. I would not have pursued this, not because I didn’t like it—I love BCWI—but I just didn’t know that that would be a place that God would put me in to help me do more of what I just explained.
Al: And there’s a story, isn’t there, Barry, about fishing, isn’t there? that our friend Charlie told you. Tell us that story.
Barry: Yeah. So a month before I retired, I was visiting with some dear friends, Charlie and Diane. And Charles has been gifted as a mentor of leaders. And now we’re leading up now, we’re about a month away from my retirement. And he asked me the question, “So how’s it going, and what are you going to be doing after retirement?” And I said, “It’s going well. I’m nervous. It’s going well. I don’t know what I’m going to be doing after I retire. I don’t know whether I should be going out and looking for ministry opportunities. I don’t want to sit in a rocking chair the rest of my life.” So I guess I just sounded confused to him. And he told me a story, which, at first, listening to him sounded kind of, well, it was elementary. He told me, he said, “Picture someone sitting on a fishing dock out on a lake, and they’re throwing their line in with the bait on the hook, and they’re fishing, and they’re just frantically working that line, trying to catch a fish. And the longer they wait to catch the fish, the more frantic they get. And they get all worked up. And they worked so hard at catching a fish.” He said, “Imagine if you were the one sitting there. And instead of being so focused on catching the fish, you just threw your line in the water, you let it drop down, and you take your eyes and you gaze around you. And you look at the beautiful clouds that God created. You look at the landscape across the lake, trees, the flowers. You look at the water, and you imagine all that God created that’s in and under that water. And you will lose this kind of stressful feeling that you have that you have to catch this fish, and you’ll be caught up in the wonder of the surroundings ,and you’ll be worshiping God. And then when God’s ready, your line will tug, and you’ll pull it up, and there’ll be a fish on it. And you might even look at that and say, nah, that fish is too small, or nah, don’t want that fish. You might even throw it back, bait your hook, throw it back in, and then again, just kind of forget about fishing. And when God’s ready, He’s going to put the exact fish on your line that he wants you to have.” He said, “That’s my advice to you, Barry. How about retirement? Don’t get all caught up in trying to meet deadlines and trying to find something to do. Let God introduce you to the right thing. And that way you will have the peace of knowing it was from Him.”
And you know, Al, within four weeks of him saying that to me, I had four job offers. Some of them were quite substantial, like full-time CEO roles, which I was not looking for. Those are the kind of fish that was easy to throw back. But one of those fish that bit my line was a guy called Al Lopus, Best Christian Workplace.
Al: Well, God is faithful, Barry. I love that story. I love the way Charlie explained it, because we do need to believe and have faith in the way God works. And that’s oftentimes, that’s the way He works.
You’re in a unique position to coach and mentor the next generation of Christian leaders in Canada. Talk a little bit about what God birthed in you to be a coach and mentor for the next generation of Christian leaders.
Barry: Yeah. From as early as I can remember, even in my teen years, I’ve been in leadership roles, at my church, at my jobs. I always felt too young for every leadership role I found myself in, even my first pastorate. I went from seminary, Bible college, right into the senior pastor role. I came to Compassion. I felt too young. I became the CEO. I thought I was too young to be a CEO. I always felt insecure that way, and I always wished I had had more people come around me and speak into me and help build me and build my confidence and build my skill level. I had some and the precious ones that did that. That process, that lifelong journey, has given me an appetite to be that person or whoever.
You know, it’s not unusual for me to get a phone call in the evening here at home from a young leader. I got one just last week from a young leader in an indigenous part of Canada, and just sharing his heart and wanting some advice and wanting some guidance and praying with him. That happens routinely. And it seems like all of a sudden I went from being too young for every leadership role to now people are telling me, “Oh, you’ve got so much experience, Barry. You’ve got so much wisdom. You need to share that.” And I think that’s a codeword for “you’re old, Barry.”
But that’s how it was birthed. It was birthed out of a heart. First, a desire to have people build into my life—and the ones that did, to this day, I honor them—and a desire for me to be that person for others.
Al: Yeah. That’s great. Well, Barry, I can say you’re not old, as far as I’m concerned. But maybe that’s all perspective of where we are.
Barry: Everything’s relative.
Al: It is all relative, that’s right. As we get older, it’s amazing how young other people look.
But anyway, here’s maybe a little bit of fun but also something that we’ve both experienced as true. And that is, in your mind, what is it about being Canadian? Perhaps a distinctive quality or strength that appeals to organizations and churches in Canada, maybe even beyond Canada. Tell us a little bit about the culture and how others relate to it.
Barry: That’s where we go back to “I’m sorry.” Canadians are known around the world for saying, “I’m sorry.” I saw a public bus, a city bus, yesterday. It was going down the street, and the bus was heading back to the transportation office. And the sign said, “Sorry. Not in service.” And I’m going, only in Canada.
So, I think that points at some people don’t get is Canadian culture is different. We are different. We have a very unique culture. A lot of people would assume that because we share the same landmass as the United States that you can’t tell them apart. We have a different culture. We have a different mindset. We’re known around the world as peacekeepers, as collaborators. Canadians have a high respect for others, and we value other people’s opinions. We value teamwork. It really means a lot to Canadians to take time to understand how you’re thinking. So generally speaking, I’m generalizing here, but generally speaking, Canadians are good listeners.
Now, let me say that that’s not to say Americans aren’t. I’m just saying we have a different DNA, that you’ll find Canadians are often the quiet ones in the room. They’re standing back. They’re observing. They’re listening. And we process differently. We process more slowly, and we process more intensely and more personally.
So if you were to find yourself in a foreign country, being attacked by bad people, you would want the Americans to come in, and you’d want them to rescue you. They can be very decisive, and they can make a decision on their feet. You wouldn’t want the Canadians to command because the Canadians would want to get to meet everybody that’s attacking you, want to get to talk to they, try to understand what’s wrong here? Why are you doing this? In the meantime, you might be dead.
So I say all that to say that when we think of Best Christian Workplace working with, ministering to, Christian entities in Canada, it’s really helpful for us to understand that the Canadian temperament, the Canadian mindset is different. And so we need to approach all of our partners, ministry, understanding that perspective. I’m not sure if I explained it well, but it’s just understanding that that border actually creates a different culture on the other side.
Al: Yeah. There is one, that’s for sure. Anybody that has been and worked in Canada understands that, for sure.
I trust you’re enjoying our podcast. We’ll be right back after this brief word about a valuable tool that can pinpoint the true, measurable health of your culture.
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Al: All right. Now, let’s hear more from today’s guest.
As you look to mentor the next generation, as we’ve talked about, the next generation of Christian leaders in Canada, give us a few of the key godly truths and lessons that you’d want to teach, that you’d want to see lived out in this next generation of Christian leaders.
Barry: Absolutely. And one we already spent some time on, and that is this whole concept of stewardship. We are stewards, firstly, of God’s creation. And that’s including the church, the parachurch, the businesses that we lead. And that has to change the way we think. Our highest accountability is to God, not our boards. We respect our boards. We submit to them. But we have a higher accountability to the God we serve. We have a higher accountability to God than we do our donors and the general public or the governments who might fund us. When we understand that, it’s easier to say no to things that might end up costing mission drift in our organizations, in our ministries. It’s when we fear the word no that mission drift begins to take hold. And it’s subtle. It’s stealth. It just worked its way in there. And before you know it, it’s impossible for you to say no. I try to get that message across to leaders here in Canada and around the world whenever I have that opportunity.
The other thing is we should conduct ministry and our business in such a way that we can honestly ask God to bless us. Again, one of the things I preach to my staff here at Compassion Canada has been, we have no right to ask God to bless this ministry if we ourselves are not living and working with integrity. And I have found that in all aspects of life, whether it’s business, church, parachurch, NGOs, I have found, I have met people and organizations who ask God to bless them and yet I know it’s public knowledge that they change their reporting to meet this criteria, or they accept money from this group, and it has these strings attached, or they play down the gospel because they don’t want to offend the donor. If we’re doing those things, which I’m not suggesting are a sin or wrong, but I am strongly, strongly suggesting that when we’re doing those things, we have lost the right to come to God with open hands and say, Lord, please bless this ministry. Taking shortcuts that border line to be unethical or unscriptural, these prevent us from the blessing of God.
So I believe with all my heart that God, like any good father, enjoys giving gifts to both his children and the ministries that they have created. I believe God enjoys pouring out His blessing on a church, on a parachurch, on a Christian ministry. But if we, the intended recipients of His generosity, if we are not living up to His integrity that He teaches us and accountability, then He withholds those blessings. Just like a parent would say, “You’re not getting the car keys tonight. You’ve got three speeding tickets. You’re grounded,” or “You’re not getting a raise in your allowance, because you won’t even take the trash out,” I imagine that’s how God thinks. And if we are honoring God above board, above reproach, we just have to whisper, God bless us, and He’s just pouring out His generosity on us.
Al: Well, that’s 26 years of experience right there coming out, and I know our listeners can just imagine the situations they face. Yes. Being stewards first and living with integrity so that God might enjoy blessing. That’s great to remember.
We’ve talked about this already, and that’s the importance of trust, and building high trust levels is always something that you’ve excelled at, and your staff have said that over and over and over again in the Best Christian Workplace Engagement Survey. So give our listeners a few of the methods or principles that you’ve used to actually build trust in your team.
Barry: Well, I don’t have a magic list. I can tell you some of the things that God put on my heart, and they work. So they’re tried and tested. And in no particular order, as they come to my mind, the first one is that as a leader, we must treat all staff as equal. Now, I know there are different titles, and there are different responsibilities. I know as an employer I sign the paycheck for every one of my staff. I know that; they know that. But does that make me better or more important than them? I think the janitor, the custodian, is just as important as a CEO or the lead pastor, and we need to treat people with respect. That does not mean we invite the janitor to come in and lead the board meeting, it does not mean we invite the receptionist to lead the budget session, but it does mean that we treat people with respect.
And one of my favorite things to do at the Compassion office used to be when I’m walking through the building and I meet a visitor, my favorite thing was to play with them and see if I could disguise who I was. When people heard that I was the CEO, they treated me different. But I would pretend I was the janitor or I’d pretend whatever, and I did that because I didn’t want to be treated differently because I had a title. I would have liked to believe that if my janitor walked around the corner, he’d have been treated with the same respect. And we would put our arms around one another’s shoulders. And the person visiting would say, “Which one of you is the president?”
I remember one time in Africa I was going up to a project way out in the boonies, and we were driving along in a pickup truck, the pickup trucks with a backseat. And we stopped to pick up one of the Maasai teachers for the school. And he was tall. I mean, I’m 6 foot 1. He was way taller than me. So I got out of the front seat and climbed in the back. I said, “You take the front seat because you’re never going to get back there.” And there was a big kerfuffle about that. But I insisted he take the front seat. So we drove for a couple hours, and we arrived at the church project, and there were all the hundreds of school kids around waiting for us, and they were singing and everything. And when the pickup truck pulled up, they all came to the front door, and they opened the door, and they welcomed what they thought was the president of Compassion Canada, while there was this a big, tall, lanky Maasai, while out of the back, climbed the president of Compassion Canada, just having had my legs wrapped around my head, almost. And I’ll never forget how they changed. And they were actually upset. Now, I know some of this is cultural, but they, how dare, this man in the front seat, how dare he take that seat and put this important person in the backseat. And I made it very clear in my speech that day that my brother in the front seat and I are equal in God’s sight. We have different roles. We all know that. But I respect him for who God made him to be. That was a hard lesson for them to hear, and it was a very strong sermon illustration for me. So it’s treating people with respect.
Another thing is every voice matters. We may not have to implement every suggestion that comes along, but people deserve the right to be asked their opinion. How would you do this? What would you do in this situation?
The third thing is transparency matters. We see this in Best Christian Workplace when we do surveys is sometimes there is this toxicity that comes in the workplace when decisions are made and not explained. People that have to carry out the decisions don’t understand why they were made. There may be really good reasons why that decision was made, but no one takes the time or no one thinks all the rest of the staff need to know why. So transparency is very important.
Two more. Accountability. I am just as accountable as any of my staff are. We are accountable for the way we use ministry funds. We are accountable for our time. We are accountable for the kind of furniture we have in our offices, to the kind of hotels we stay in, through the kind of restaurants we eat in. We are accountable.
And lastly, I believe humility matters. I really believe that it’s very important for leaders—this doesn’t come natural for some leaders that I’ve met. Some people have to work at this—but humility, it shows itself sometimes by just saying, “I was wrong.”
I remember, it wasn’t that long ago, I made a decision that wasn’t the right decision to make at Compassion, and I’m sure everybody knew it. But I could have gone on and pretended that somebody else made that decision or I was forced into it. But I just stood up in front of my entire staff, and I said, “You know what. I was wrong.” And, Al, that had such an impact on my credibility level. It took a lot of humility. No leader wants to say they’re wrong. You hire people around you so you have people to blame. But when we’re humble enough to admit we’re wrong, we build a lot of trust.
So those four or five things are really important. That’s not an exhaustive list, but they’re some of the key things in my mind.
Al: Yeah. And thanks for sharing that, Barry. Really outstanding. Treating all staff as equal, respecting all, every voice matters, transparency matters, accountability, and humility and admitting mistakes. Oftentimes, we think that that’s going to erode trust because we think that leadership is all about being right all the time. Well, people know that we’re not right all the time.
Barry: Everybody else knows we’re not.
Al: Absolutely. Yeah, I’ve learned that over and over again. It actually draws people together, and you become more cohesive when you’re able to admit mistakes.
Barry, we believe in order to have a flourishing workplace culture, the top leader needs to be a flourishing leader. He needs to flourish as a leader. What do you see as a connection? What are some suggestions you have to give leaders some help to help them flourish professionally, personally, even spiritually? What advice would you have for us?
Barry: One of the things I’ve come to see in my many years of ministry is that a lot of leaders are very lonely. They’re isolated. They live in silos. I would encourage—and I do this routinely—I would encourage leaders to surround yourself with good people, good mentors, people that you can be accountable to, people that actually care enough about you and love you enough to tell you you’re wrong, people you can call in the middle of the night and say, “I’m going through hell. Can you pray with me?” So surround yourself with good people.
Learn from other people’s mistakes. I am such a big believer in why should I have to suffer _____(timestamp 44:33), making that mistake if somebody else has already done it? I can’t believe how many leaders make dumb mistakes that other people have already made and suffered for. Where have you been? Have you had your head in the sand? You haven’t noticed? You haven’t heard? Somebody already did that; it does not work. So why do it again? So learn from other’s mistakes.
Admit your own mistakes. I talked about this earlier. Admit your own mistakes. Really work/life balance is very important in being a flourishing leader. You can’t lead well at work if the rest of your life is in shambles. You can’t lead well as a pastor if on the way to church, you’re fighting with your wife or your kids. If you’re not living what you preach from the pulpit, if you’re not living what you tell your staff in staff meetings, you’re going to be in trouble. So get that work/life in balance. Your family matters. Your walk with God matters. Don’t just invest all of your time in the boardroom or in the budget meetings or in the leadership meetings. Invest it in the other areas your life.
And the last thing I would say, keep learning. I’ve met too many leaders that when they get to a certain age they just think, I’ve done enough. I’m a little bit tired. I’ve done enough. My last masters degree that I got in leadership, I got that in my late 50s, and I’m learning, I’m still studying. And I think it doesn’t need to be a formal study program, but keep learning, keep growing mentally and spiritually. So those are just some of the things that come to mind that are pretty key ingredients to being a flourishing leader.
Al: Yeah. Boy, that’s great advice. I think as we set a goal to have 1,000 flourishing workplaces in the year 2030, and we’ve got less than 100 in 2019, what a goal that is. And we’ve talked about, so how do we move Christian workplaces to flourishing faster? And it just comes back to me over and over again how important it is that we as leaders need to be flourishing in order for our workplaces to flourishing, that we can only bring who we are to leadership, and if we’re not flourishing, then it’s really going to be hard to lead a flourishing culture.
And I love what you’ve said to surround yourself with good mentors. Now, where do you learn from other people’s mistakes, Barry? If I were a young leader listening to this, obviously, you observe people, and you see them make mistakes. Is there a place that you would suggest to help us learn from other’s mistakes?
Barry: Well, I started thinking like this quite early in life. So I became a pastor, as you mentioned, after a short career in business. I was heavily involved in my church. I was very active in the church. But I knew for quite some time that God was calling me into pastoral ministry. I was just putting that off because every minister I knew was poor, and I was making pretty good money in business, so I tried to delay that.
But one of the things I began doing was observing pastors, and I became a student of pastors. And I’d watch what they do. I’d listen to what they say. And I’d watch the consequences of some of their bad decisions. I’d watch annual business meetings and watch how pastors dug their own grave by just saying the wrong thing or being absent or not listening to the voice of people. So I began at that young age, when I talk about learning from other people’s mistakes, it’s not from reading so much. It’s mostly from observation of watching them.
When you’re in any kind of a meeting, observe. You’re not there to be a critic, but you are obligated to observe, what you see people doing that you say to yourself, “I want to be like that. I want to do that.” And you see other people and you say, “Note to self. Don’t ever do that.” And if we’re observant, that’s free education. That cost you nothing. They’re the ones that are paying the price for that. They’re the ones that have lost their leadership roles, that have been fired from their jobs, that have lost respect from their teams. You don’t have to pay that price—somebody has already paid it—if you’re smart enough to say, I’m not going to do that anymore.
Al: That’s great. As we think about flourishing leaders and we also think about learning from one another’s mistakes, what’s one area of your life that you’re still working to seek God for guidance, maybe even strength and direction, needed to serve others?
Barry: That’s a hard question. Nobody wants to answer that question.
Al: That’s why I’m asking it.
Barry: I’m kind of disappointed right now I stayed on the line. But I would say I tend to want to do too much. So I’ve been, especially in this new season of my life, I’ve been asking God to help me balance all of my passions at this stage in my life. I’ve got a couple of passions that drive me. One is the poor, one is the church, and another is excellence in leadership. So those are my three top passions and values. But I could not sleep. I could work 24/7 in those three areas and burn out and not accomplish much. So I’m asking God, in this new season of my life where I have more flexibility, “Lord, just help me balance those. Help me to give the right amount of time, the right amount of energy, the right amount of thinking and prayer to those three. And help me not to neglect the season of life that I’m in, with my wife, with my grandkids, my family.” That would be a prayer request, if you want to put it in those terms, for me is “Lord, I’ve never retired before. I’ve never done this before.” So I have to learn, how do I live this new season of life? How do I balance everything out? because my tendency is to want to say yes to everything.
Al: And Barry, as we talk about flourishing leaders, you’ve just written a book. Tell us a little bit about your book and where we can find it.
Barry: Yeah. God’s been laying this on my heart for many years in my working with the poor and trying to understand God’s heart for the poor. The book is entitled Strategic Compassion and talking about reuniting the Good News and the good works in the fight against poverty. What I’ve observed over the many years that I’ve been in ministry is that we as Christians have been bombarded with marketing and sales messages to the point that we think money is the answer to poverty. And so we throw more money at poverty, but it’s not answering the problem. And we’ve not taken the time or we have seldom taken the time to look at what the Bible has to say about poverty. So if I were to give my book and another title is, What’s the Bible Say About Poverty? Well, I take people back to Genesis and the first sin, and we understand the cause of poverty, the root cause. And then, looking at the book of Luke, and Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth, and He announced that He was bringing good news to the poor. So that’s what the book about. It’s available on Amazon, called Strategic Compassion. And I hope that God uses it to really help people get a better understanding of His heart for the poor.
Al: Yeah, thanks, Barry. We’ve learned so much from our discussion today, and I really appreciate the detail, the length, that you’ve gone into helping us understand what’s been helpful to you as a leader. How about one more thing? What would you like to add to what we’ve talked about?
Barry: I like what the Bible says, what we call the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. I would strongly, strongly encourage people to be sincere and love people. That’s what a flourishing culture is all about. When people know you’re sincere, you’re genuine, when they feel loved, even though they’re on your payroll and you think you may not have to love them, but even in that case, when you’re sincere as a leader, when people feel loved, you are well on your way to a flourishing workplace.
Al: Barry Slauenwhite, BCWI regional director for Canada, thank you for sharing your wisdom, insights, and stories, and thank you for investing yourself in everyone who’s been listening and benefiting from all you’ve shared with us today. Thanks, Barry.
Barry: God bless you.
Outro: Thank you for joining us on the Flourishing Culture Podcast and for investing this time in your workplace culture. If there’s a specific insight, story, or action step you’ve enjoyed, please share it with others so they can benefit, too. Please share this podcast with friends on social media, and show your support by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen.
This program is copyrighted by the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. All rights reserved. Our writer is Mark Cutshall. Our social-media and marketing manager is Solape Osoba. Remember, a healthy workplace culture drives greater impact and growth for your organization. We’ll see you again soon on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.