The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“Is Your Leadership Jesus Centered?“
May 31, 2021
Dr. Steve Brown
Intro: Would you like to be led more by Jesus, live and lead more like Jesus, and lead more to Jesus? Well, today’s podcast is just for you.
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. As we all face today’s leadership challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe having a healthy culture is more important now than ever before. We are here to help you eliminate toxicity, improve your employees’ engagement, speed up new innovation, and grow your organization’s impact.
And before we meet our 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.
If you can share this podcast with others, and rate it, it would mean a lot to me. Thank you.
And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
In the next few minutes, I want to give you a new kind of pathway so that you can live more like Jesus and perhaps renew the sense of His presence, especially in your work. And I’ve got just the person to take us on this adventure. Dr. Steve Brown is the president of Arrow Leadership and the author of a very timely, engaging book titled Jesus Centered: Focusing on Jesus in a Distracted World. Steve, welcome again to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Steve Brown: It’s great to be with you, Al.
Al: Steve, you serve as the president of Arrow Leadership, a Christian leadership-development organization, and you’ve spent the last 17 years developing Christian leaders around the world, so give us a bit of the heartbeat of Arrow Leadership.
Steve: Arrow Leadership, the name arrow, comes from a passage in Isaiah, Isaiah 49, verse 2: He polished me like an arrow and concealed me in His quiver. So this idea of God polishing His leaders and preparing them for His purposes is where we get the name. And the heartbeat is Jesus, Jesus-centered leadership, that we’re led more by Jesus, that we lead more like Jesus, and that we lead more to Jesus.
So Arrow’s been around for 30 years, started with Leighton Ford, and our flagship program is called the Arrow Leadership Program. One stream is with younger leaders, 25 to 40, usually on the front lines of church or parachurch or nonprofit work; and then an executive stream, which is often nonprofit leaders who are thinking about how do I lead this organization, or marketplace leaders in that stream as well. That’s our flagship, and we really try to create a safe-but-not-soft environment for leaders to really see transformation in their lives and in their leadership.
Al: I’ve known Leighton Ford, talked with him and got to know him and actually have done a podcast with him. And, also, one of your previous board members, Charlie Dokmo, is one way that we got connected, and he just would continually talk about how grateful he was because the leaders that he would send to the program really came back transformed and became better leaders. So that’s a great testimony to your work.
You know, Steve, we know that God works all things together for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, and so during this last year or so, how have you experienced this truth in the face of the pandemic?
Steve: It has been quite a year, to say the least. I think back to 9/11, and, obviously, the world changed. And then fast forward almost 10 years to the subprime mortgage crisis, and again, there’s a significant reshuffling and upheaval. So almost every 10 years, when you get to 2020, things have been kind of going up in the air with this upheaval.
But this was pretty different in a lot of ways. One was a personal way. So just before the pandemic, in February of 2020, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. So we spent kind of 2020 coming to grips with that word, which is a big word to kind of try to put your head around. And so mastectomy, chemotherapy, 25 rounds of radiation. She’s done treatment, I’m thrilled to say, but that was kind of the starting point for our upside down 2020, just gets a different perspective on it.
And then leading an organization through, one of my mentors says, “Why waste a good crisis when you’ve got one?” and I think there’s good words to that. So we kind of said, “How can we serve leaders in this season?” So that meant creating resources. That meant prayer. That meant pulling people together, encouraging leaders, but also innovating. So our ministry primarily is bringing people together for transformational experiences, so we had to rethink that. Actually, it wasn’t easy. It was a lot of stretch for a lot of our team. But we’ve got some ideas, as we go into strategic planning tomorrow morning, we’ve got some ideas that we’re going to hold on to, some things we’ve learned, some things we’re going to do different because it came out of the crisis. So there’s been some good things in the midst of it that we’ve learned from and ways to serve and come alongside leaders who are, I know on the front lines, it’s tough.
Al: Yeah. We’re kind of tired of the word pivot—
Al: —I know. And I think we’re all talking about hybrid now. So in six months, we’ll probably be tired of talking about hybrid. But yeah, new ways of doing things, and I appreciate it. I know I had a chance to speak into the lives of one of your groups here recently and certainly an engaged group, and still, even though it’s a video conference, that does bring new opportunities and availabilities to us.
So, let’s talk a little bit about your new book that’s just been released, Jesus Centered: Focusing on Jesus in a Distracted World. So give us, our listeners kind of the big picture of the book, Steve.
Steve: Yeah. There are so many distractions, pre COVID and in the midst of COVID, and we can get our eyes going in a lot of different directions. And our eyes, Scripture says, are to be focused on Jesus, the author and perfector our faith. So how do we do that? We can actually get so distracted that we lose sight of Jesus. He can be on the sidelines, so to speak. And when He’s on the sidelines, we can think that maybe He’s disinterested in us, or maybe He’s like the coach that we always didn’t want to have, who would just holler at the team for more. We can also dismiss Jesus. Maybe we’ve heard about Jesus all our lives, and we kind of figure we know it, we know Him, so let’s just kind of dismiss Him. But the book, and I believe God’s call for us, is to live and lead with Jesus at the center of who we are and, ultimately, that Christ be formed in us, that we’re conformed, transformed to the image of Christ. So that’s really the heartbeat of the book. And there’s three sections: How can I be led more by Jesus, how can I live and lead more like Jesus, and how can I lead more to Jesus?
Al: That’s great. I love those three purposes.
One of our eight drivers, and we’ve talked about this in our last podcast, is uplifting growth, and leadership development is certainly all about our uplifting-growth factor. So being intentional about developing your people in teams is critical to uplifting growth, our growth-and-development driver, and in the book you talk about the 100th birthday of one of your mentors, and tell me his name again.
Steve: Yeah, Evan Headley. So, I didn’t know many 100-year-olds. I’ve never been invited to a 100-year-old birthday party before, but I couldn’t miss this one. So I got on a plane, and I went to Pasadena, to Evan’s 100th birthday party. He’d had three separate little parties. One was with his family, one was with his retirement-home friends, and then this one was for his mentees. And I’m in this retirement home, kind of the banquet room at the retirement home. About 70 of us showed up. I met a Hong Kong investment banker, somebody that worked for NASA. I couldn’t figure out what they did, even though I tried. There were pastors there. There was a newlywed couple there. There was a young guy named Evan. And I was like, how this—his dad had been a mentee of Evan, so he named his son Evan, after his mentor.
Al: Yeah, wow. Yeah.
Steve: Just this rich room. It’s like, remember that old movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus?
Al: Right, right.
Steve: Seeing the life work of someone, all in a room. And what happened was they passed the microphone around the room, and each one of us was able to share the impact Evan had had on our lives. And it was the best workshop on developing people or mentoring or uplifting growth that I’ve ever been to.
Al: Wow. What a great experience, and what a way to give us a picture of even our own lives as we think about the impact that we’re having and how important it is to have those connections to be mentoring the next generation. That’s great.
In your book, you go through the seven practices Evan lived out, which are the seven practices that Jesus Himself lived out, so it’s interesting how that relationship goes. So name the first three of these principles.
Steve: Yeah. The first three are love, pray, and model. And you see this in Jesus’s life. Jesus loved His disciples. He spent time with them. He lived His life with them. He poured into them. He sacrificed for them. He washed their feet, on His knees. He loved them. And Evan loved me, and he loves the group of 70 in that room. And I remember getting voice mails from Evan, which I didn’t erase for a long time. And he would just say in the voicemail, “Steve, I love you, I’m praying for you, and I’m proud of what you’re doing.” And I didn’t want to erase those words.
Al: Yeah, right. Yeah.
Steve: They were just precious. And Evan just loved me and that group, just like Jesus loved His disciples. And Jesus prayed for His disciples. He prayed for unity, prayed for protection. A beautiful prayer in John 17 in Scripture, Jesus praying over His disciples. And Evan said, “Every day, Steve, I pray for you.” And I was like, “Wow, what a gift that is.” And I was just reading Ajith Fernando, and he said, “I’ve come to learn that my most important role in leadership is to pray for those I lead.” You just go, “Huh,” because there’s something to that.
And then the model part, number three. Jesus modeled well. He stood in the face of opposition, He stood, and He stayed true to His calling, even when He was tempted and pushed to do other things. And people were watching Him all the time. And same with Evan. I mean, at his 100th birthday party, here he is finishing well, right? Like, he’s lived his life, and he’s finishing well, and we’re watching it and celebrating it.
And when I think of those three for me, where it kind of gets to me is, do I actually love the people I’m leading? I know what the answer should be, but sometimes people are hard to like, hard to love. And sometimes I find people are like either vehicles to get stuff done or they’re obstacles that keep me from getting stuff done. So my prayer is, “Lord, give me a love for the people that You’ve entrusted to my care, to my leadership.”
And the praying part for me, too, I can just get so focused on getting stuff done that I’m actually praying for the people I’m around every day. And so for me, that’s meant I put on a calendar who I’m praying for today, and I’m not praying for the whole team every day. I wish I could say I was. But I’m praying for two people today and then two people tomorrow.
And for the modeling part, it’s just for me to remember, people are watching.
Steve: There’s more caught than taught. And what are they catching from me, and what do I not want them to be catching? So those are kind of the first three.
Al: And I think about those three, Steve. I’ve been thinking a lot about trust, and our research talks a lot about trust between leaders and employees, and how in Christian organizations, that’s not always as high as I’d like to see it. And I think about love and pray and model, and those are a couple of the key elements of building trust. Even secular writers talk about compassion or concern for others as a key to building trust. And how do you show and develop concern for others? How do you love them, as you described? Well, praying for them, certainly, is a great way to do that. I find where I’ve got a conflict with somebody, if I start to pray for that person, the love that comes through my heart, through the Spirit that lives in me, makes a difference. And then modeling, you know, that’s integrity. As you say, more is caught than taught. And for our leaders listening, I think that’s a great triple play to get us started on this discussion.
So, you know, what’s one practical takeaway for leaders running through these first three principles?
Steve: Not to underestimate the foundation of love, pray, model, because all of us probably need to jump into the complexities of leadership-development strategies and pipelines and coaching techniques and all those things. But if we don’t kind of start with the basics, we’re building on a foundation that’s not as strong as it could be.
Steve, now touch on the remaining four principles that Jesus lived out that you’ve outlined in your book.
Steve: Yeah. Number four would be perspective. Jesus was a master of asking questions and helping people to see things in a new light. And I believe that leaders, that’s part of our job is to help give the team perspective, to help them to see the forest for the trees. And Evan was a master at following Jesus lead in this.
I remember I was in my forties and just overwhelmed with young family and with the pressures of leadership. And I called up to Evan, and he was in his mid-nineties at this point and sharp as a tack. And I said, “Evan, do you remember those times when you just felt the pressures and the weight of the world, and there’s so many balls moving and family and work and all the rest?” And he thought for a moment, and he goes, “No, I don’t really remember.”
Steve: And that was actually freeing for me to go, “Steve, why are you so tied up in a knot right now about things that aren’t going to matter if you live to 95?” And so I asked Evan a follow-up question. I said, “Evan, what would you do differently if you’re in your forties?” And Evan said, “That’s easy. I’d love people more.”
Al: Hm, wow.
Steve: Perspective. Those questions that Jesus asked, those illustrations He would use.
Number five is encourage. Jesus was an encourager par excellente. He would heal somebody and then say that their faith is what had healed them. He’d turn it back. He would call Peter the “Rock” instead of the bumbler. I would have called him the bumbler. Jesus called him the “Rock.” And on and on it goes that Jesus encouraged people, gave people courage. When people left Jesus, often they were either convicted when they went away or they had greater courage. And same with Evan. Every time I was with him, I left with more courage. And wouldn’t it be a gift if every time somebody spent time with you or me that they left going, “Actually, I feel more courage than when I started this conversation.”
Al: I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
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Al: And now, back to today’s special guest.
Steve: Number six is teach. And what a platform to start with, because if I know that you love me, that you’re praying for me, that you’re living it out by modeling it, that you’re able to give me a fresh perspective, and you’re my biggest encourager, I’m going to listen to what you want to teach me. You’ve got open ears with me if you hit the first five. And Jesus was the master teacher, obviously. Nobody taught better, with more authority.
And for Evan, he carried around a little card in his pocket, and on his card was all the things he wanted to give away to people, nuggets. And before he’d meet with somebody, he’d look at his card and asked God, “What is it that You have for Steve today, God?” And he’d find a nugget. It could be personal self-care. It could be about finances or family or business. So that’s teach.
And number seven is empower. Jesus empowered the disciples to carry on the ministry and then multiply it beyond Himself. And for all of us in that room with Evan that afternoon at the retirement home, we felt empowered to run with what had been entrusted to us and to multiply it into others. So that’s the seventh.
Al: Wow. So, the first three of the foundation: love, pray, and model. Then we have perspective, encourage, teach, and empower.
Al: These are great keys, Steve. Thanks.
And so, if you could give our listeners one sentence that brings all of these seven principles together, what would it be?
Steve: You don’t need a PhD to do them.
Al: There you go.
Steve: Yeah. Because you can—do you need a PhD to love somebody, to pray for them, to model the way, to give perspective, encourage, teach, or empower? You don’t. They’re accessible to you and me, and we can see them in Jesus. So following His lead, we don’t need fancy, fancy training to live these ones out.
Al: Yeah. That’s great. Don’t need a PhD. All right. Well, we all feel better now, Steve. That’s great, Dr. Brown, I should say.
But so, how can leaders, how can everyone who’s listening apply this Jesus-centered perspective to cultivate, what we on our podcast talk about, the flourishing organization culture?
Steve: Yeah. This last year in my organization and I suspect many, we’ve been having many important tactical conversations. You have to figure out masks and hand sanitizers and partitions, and are we going to meet, and how many people, and all these different protocols, and it just makes you crazy. But we’ve had to do those. And in this conversation about Jesus centered, I want to take it up a whole bunch of levels from hand sanitizer, because I think all of us, our organizations would benefit if we had a conversation about how can we be led more by Jesus? I mean, if you read the first third of the book on that topic and then had a discussion with your team and said, “How can you do better at that individually, but then how can we do better at that as a team?” And then the next month, “How can we live and lead more like Jesus? So let’s kind of read the second third of the book and have that conversation.” I think that kind of a conversation, as you think about an organization, how can we live and lead and serve together more like Jesus? And then the third one, the last third of the book, the last conversation is how can we lead more to Jesus? Those three conversations are strategic, they’re Kingdom conversations, and the book is really a tool to set you up individually and as a team, as an organization, to have some strategic conversations that I think are going to benefit.
Al: Sometimes we leave out the third one: how do we lead more to Jesus? It really is all about Kingdom building in that sense.
I’ll bet you have more than one effective way leaders can develop their people with Jesus as a focus. Give us some thoughts on that.
Steve: Yeah. I mean, the seven principles of developing others, I think, is incredibly important. One that I think would be a good one, I didn’t originate this one, but it’s three S’s: safe, stretch, and stress. And just thinking about I’m doing this with my team tomorrow basically is, with my leadership team, having them identify where they are in terms of are they in a safe place right now, where things are pretty comfortable, they can do what they need to do with little kind of effort? Or are they in a stretch place? And a stretch place is where they have to think about it, work at it. There’s a healthy stretch involved. And the third place is a stress space, where this is stressing them out, and they are maybe not sleeping, maybe not feeling good. Maybe they come into work with dragging their feet a little bit because they’re stressed out. And helping people identify where they’re at can be really good and where the trend is going. So if I’m in a stress zone but I’m trending back toward stretch, then that’s positive. Or we ask, “What is it we could do together to help change your role so that it’s not as stressful? It’s more of a stretch.” Or if you’re in the safe space, “What could we do in your role to stir a stretch in you so that you’d feel more challenged and be able to contribute more in a stretching way?” So it’s a good, simple diagnostic tool. You can do it on a napkin with somebody. “Where would you put your X on where you are right now, and how could we get you to a better spot?”
Al: Oh, that’s great, yeah.
How about another effective way to develop people, Steve? What would you suggest?
Steve: Yeah. I think having an intentional growth pathway for every person on the team is really important. So what are the growth and developmental areas for this person, and how can you help them with that? So it might be internal mentor. It might be an external program. It might be a season with a coach or a counselor. But really just looking at individuals and saying, “What does this person need to move to the next level of contribution?” and then building a plan for them.
We use what we call a leadership-development plan, with everyone that goes through our leadership program, which identifies two areas for them to grow in over the course of a year. And we kind of look at what’s the objective? Why is it important? What does success look like? What’s actually undermining the person’s success in this area right now? because if you don’t identify what’s already at work undermining someone, then the effort is going to fail. And then, what are the one-time learnings for somebody? What are the rhythms that need to start for somebody? A one-time learning is, “I read this book,” or “I took this course.” It’s done. But an ongoing rhythm is a new way that they’re living and serving. And then, how do we evaluate progress? So that’s kind of a pathway that we’ve developed to help each person on the team know how they’re supposed to be developing this year.
Al: Yeah. And I’d encourage our leaders. Leaders, do you have a plan like this? Do you have an intentional growth pathway, the leadership-development plan that Steve just talked about? I think that’s helpful for all of us. I need to begin working on a more clear one myself.
So, Steve, as we wind down a little bit, I’d love for you, if you could, read a paragraph or two from your book. Give us some of the aroma of the bread baking in the oven, to use a metaphor, that those listening can look forward to sitting down and enjoying Jesus Centered, your book.
Steve: Thanks, Al. Storytime with Steve here—
Steve: —which is great. So my book Jesus Centered, the first third is about being led more by Jesus.
Steve: And the chapter I want to read from is called “Grounded in Him,” and it’s about having our identity grounded in Christ. We’ve all probably been around insecure people, and the only more challenging thing about being around an insecure person is being around an insecure leader. It’s just not a fun leader to be led by, and a lot of leaders are insecure. So this chapter is really about how do we get around our identity in Christ? And I talk about Ephesians 1, and the truest things about us are what God says about us, what Christ has done for us. So the little section before what I read here is that from Ephesians 1, that you’re blessed in the heavenly realms, that you’re chosen holy and blameless, predestined, redeemed, the riches of God’s grace have been lavished on you. You’re included in Christ and marked with the Holy Spirit. And then I’ll just read.
“That’s an incredible list. And it’s just the start of what God has done for you and me. It’s just the tip of the iceberg of the truest things about every follower of Christ. Based on just this list of statements above, every follower of Jesus is a spiritual billionaire. If we can deeply embrace these truths, the center of who we are, then our identity will be grounded and unshakable. Our insecurities will be replaced by God’s work and God’s truth. As pastor and author Tim Keller writes, if you’re that upset with your status with other people, if you’re constantly lashing out at people for hurting your feelings, you might call it a lack of self-control or a lack of self-esteem. And it is. But more fundamentally, you’ve lost touch with your identity. As a Christian, you’re a spiritual billionaire, and you’re wringing your hands over ten dollars.”
The last paragraph here: “If God has already made you a spiritual billionaire, what can the world give or take away that makes a difference? What can you earn or even squander that will make a difference? Who God is, what He has done, and who He says you are needs to be the foundation of your identity. When your identity is grounded in Him, you become the best version of yourself. It’s the box top that brings true clarity to all the pieces of your identity. Leaning into this truth can be a game changer, and it centers you on Jesus.”
Al: Oh, that’s fantastic, Steve, thanks.
Well, gosh, I’ve certainly enjoyed all that we’ve learned today. And as I look back at my notes, I love the foundation points, love, pray, model, and then perspective, encourage, teach, and empower. Those are great. And I love the way your book is laid out. Part one, being led more by Jesus; number two, living and leading more like Jesus; number three, leading more to Jesus. I think we can all relate to that. And then some of the examples that you gave was just great. I love the idea of helping us as leaders. Where are we on the safe, stretch, and stress continuum? Are we in a place where we’re stretched and growing, hopefully not too stressed, and certainly outside of our comfort zone, where we’re continuing to learn and rely on God for the work that’s being done. So this has just been a great discussion.
And I’ll bet there’s something we probably haven’t talked about that you’d like to add.
Steve: Jesus centered, being a Jesus-centered person or Jesus-centered leader, I mean, there’s nobody better to follow to center our lives on than Jesus. And it’s not a book you read. It’s not a course you take. It’s really a lifetime pursuit. So it’s an ongoing journey. And I know I’m on that journey, and I just want to encourage people to—if they have a fresh awe of Jesus, which is really the heart behind the book, you’ll be drawn to Jesus. And if you’re drawn to Jesus, you’ll be transformed by Jesus. And if you’re transformed by Jesus, other people will be drawn to Jesus, too.
Al: They will. That’s right.
Steve, tell us where we get the book.
Steve: Yeah. A little store called Amazon is one place. Amazon or Kindle. You can also check out Arrow Leadership at arrowleadership.org, and we’ve got a store there, and you can see the different things we do.
Al: Yeah, great, great. Thanks.
So to conclude our interview, Steve, what’s one thought or encouragement you’d like to leave with our listeners of ministry leaders of Christian-owned businesses, church pastors? What thought would you like to leave?
Steve: Yeah. Thanks so much for this time, Al, and for all the great work you and your team do.
This is a—leadership is often hard, it’s often lonely, and it’s often tiring. And COVID has added an exponent to those things, harder, more tiring, more lonely. And I just want to encourage leaders. One, what you do matters. It’s not been easy. And the third thought is to take care of yourself. And a lot of us have put off vacations and all sorts of things because we just head down, keep going. But I would encourage you to get some space somewhere in a safe place where you can just take care of yourself. That will benefit your team.
Al: That’s great advice, Steve.
So Dr. Steve Brown, the president of Arrow Leadership and the author of the book Jesus Centered: Focusing on Jesus in a Distracted World, thanks, Steve. Thanks so much for being so open, genuine, talking about the things that really matter. This is certainly one of them. And I really sense your integrity and true commitment to your colleagues and in the way you work with others to develop them in their calling. And I really appreciate your devotion for and the service that you have to our loving God. It’s clear in your book and just the way you relate with others. So thanks so much for your time and for speaking in the lives of so many leaders.
Steve: Thanks so much.
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