The Making of a Leader

I have had the fortune of holding lots of leadership positions in my adult life. Which, if you knew me when I was younger, is surprising. For I was desperately shy and awkward and insecure.

Well, I guess I’m still pretty desperately shy and awkward and insecure. But, as God has done for so many people in the Bible and throughout history, He has cultivated in me a certain leadership style that is inclusive of those and other traits.

In his book, The Making of a Leader, Robert Clinton refers to “sovereign foundations,” the building blocks God uses in our early life, even before we come to faith, to grow us into the people He wants us to be in this world. In that evolution, God tends to use many people and experiences to shape us and mold us. This post is an attempt to document some of those people and experiences, and in doing so to pay homage to them and ultimately to God.

I'll necessarily have to exclude my parents and my wife, who would each deserve their own posts for all the ways I've been influenced through them. And while I've had plenty of friends and peers whose intersection with my life has yielded profound insight, I'd like to limit myself in this post to role models who have represented for me fathers, mothers, and older siblings in terms of spiritual development and leadership formation.

• 1982: my fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Rousseau. I was good at math in grade school, which surprisingly didn’t translate into exalted status in the schoolyard pecking order. In fact, combined with my general awkwardness and shy demeanor, I was often the subject of teasing, which only further conflicted me about my arithmetic skills. In our parent-teacher conference, Ms. Rousseau gently pointed out to my mom that I was getting teased for my numeric smarts, and that it was a shame, because it was good that I was good at math. That subtle affirmation – that intelligence is a good thing – was a useful counterbalance to the prevailing messages I had been receiving at recess.

• 1987: my ninth-grade English teacher, Ms. Weisend. Another kind teacher I was fortunate to cross paths with, Ms. Weisend was very involved in our class, serving as our advisor through our four years of high school. One activity she chaperoned was occasional trips to the local college football games, where we raised money by selling sodas. Having gone to the first such trip, I instinctively sprang forward during our second trip to assist others who were doing this for the first time. Ms. Weisend took the time later that month to pull me aside and express her appreciation for my leadership skills in doing that. She used the word “leadership,” which was really the first time anyone had used it in describing me. Again, another seed of affirmation and confirmation was planted.

• 1988-1991: my FBLA advisor, Mr. Longinetti. I got involved in Future Business Leaders of America during these years, and Mr. Longinetti, one of the teachers in the business department, was an active counselor to our group, which dominated on the local and national scene during my time there. He was a unique mix of hyper-competitiveness and yet good-natured kindness that I find myself sub-consciously trying to imitate. From him I learned how you could simultaneously be the nicest guy around as well as focus yourself on being the very best competitor in the room.

• 1991-1995: my college advisor, Dr. Whitney. I had the good fortune of having Dr. Whitney as my college advisor. His warm encouragement for me to come to Penn when I visited the campus during my senior year in high school was enough to convince this California dude to leave my friends and family and ship off to the rainy East Coast. He was a darn good economics teacher, but was every encouraging us to broaden our horizons and follow through on our passions. I’ll never forget the morning he insisted I do my senior research thesis on the faith aspects of my journey through Wharton. I don’t know how much of what I hold dear from the Bible is shared by him, but he wanted me to explore it, own it, and express it. It was one of the most meaningful assignments I’ve ever been given.

• 1992-1995 my IV supervisors, Dave and Shannon Lamb: My years involved in the on-campus InterVarsity Christian Fellowship were formative to my faith and my leadership, and the Lambs were great role models and instructors in that formation. Dave challenged me to take the Bible and faith more seriously, to not be afraid to be a leader, and to give God room to show me what kind of leader I was to be. And in different but similar ways, Shannon pushed me as well, calling me on the carpet for bad habits and urging me on to a more rigorous and joy-filled walk with God. I owe much of my Christian leadership framework to their instruction and example.

• 1995-2005: my boss, Della Clark. Della, who I worked under for ten years and continue to work for and with, as I am now on the board of the organization where I used to be employed, taught me much about casting a vision and seeing it through. Her commitment to and excitement over what she wanted to accomplish through our organization was an inspiration to me; I could not help but run through a wall to help her make it happen. Importantly, her energy was not just borne of great effort on her part: for our entire time together, we regularly made time to come before God in prayer, remembering that it is He who gives us the direction, the energy, the resources, and the clearance to achieve His purposes.

• 1997-1998: Tom Suddes, fundraising and strategic planning consultant. One of Della’s coaches, Tom Suddes, inspired me to start a youth entrepreneurship program within the organization, and to annually host “business boot camps” in the summer. An entrepreneur himself, he had heard enough about my interest in doing this and basically just said, “Well then, just do it.” Clearer words I have hardly heard again in my life, but I needed to hear them so I could get out of the theoretical and give it a shot in the real world. With Tom’s not so gentle nudging, I left behind the fallacy that I have to figure everything out before I take one step, and began to lunge forward and learn along the way.

• 1997-2001: my associate pastor, George Haugen. George was one of my pastors at Woodland before he left for the mission field. During our overlap, George was an important anchor for me, counseling me through some hard times, presiding over my wedding, and throughout offering an example of God’s gentleness and grace. Sometimes God instructs, sometimes He kicks your butt . . . and sometimes, He comes alongside you and puts His arm around your shoulder and waits it out with you. George was a frequent manifestation of that aspect of my God.

• 1999-present: David Oh, lawyer and civic leader. David Oh was introduced to me through his sister, who had asked me to keynote a dinner meeting. Almost immediately, David took me under his wing, actively seeking opportunities to help me in my career. Himself a Christian, he has been a steady example of how to handle tricky situations, as a lawyer and politician, with commendable integrity. And he is the epitome of a public servant, in a day and age where there are few: wanting to do right by the people and for the people. He has found numerous ways in his busy schedule to do right by and for me.

So there you have it. Nine people God has sent my way to mold me into the person and Christian and leader that I am so far. And I’m sure He will need to send others my way, as I’m far from done, and still very much in need of the same kinds of affirmations, challenges, and examples that have already been provided. Still, it’s good to take a figurative break, look back, and be thankful for all of the people who have taken the time to help me, and for a God who has laid a “sovereign foundation” upon which He is continuing to build me up.
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