Oct. 2, 2020

Leading with Love: An interview with Darin Gerdes

Leading with Love: An interview with Darin Gerdes

In this episode I interview a friend and colleague Darin Gerdes about how to be a better leader and Christian.

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Transcript
Speaker 1:

In this episode of balancing the Christian life. We talked to management, professor and podcast, or Darren Gurtis about leading with love.

Speaker 2:

[inaudible]

Speaker 1:

I think the Christian life I'm dr. Kenny Ambery , we'll talk about being better Christians and better people in a digital way .

Speaker 2:

Let's go

Speaker 1:

This week on the podcast represents a discovered treasure for me, Darren Gurtis is a guy I've known for six or seven years now, but not well, he and I attend an annual conference in Myrtle beach, South Carolina, which has a special place in my heart. The people there are kind and generous, but Darren was not someone I had spent any real time with until I started listening to his podcast, the leader Smith, while my podcast talks about Christianity and figuring out how to be a better Christian, Darren is looking at leadership and how to be the kind of leader you'd like to follow. But if you listen more than a few minutes, you quickly recognize he's also talking about being a better Christian. It took a podcast for me to see that Darren introduces himself very well. So I won't tell you his background here, but what I will say was this was a delightful hour long conversation I edited down to about 20 minutes. There's probably another episode or two left behind, but what's here I think is excellent. So I hope you enjoy this conversation this week. It's my pleasure to be talking to Darren Gurtis . Curtis is a guy that I've been going to a conference with for several years now. And he's a great guy, but one of the things that he started was it a podcast. I see that he and I really align on many things, not least of which is the spiritual dimension of leadership. So anyway, welcome Darren. Hey, thanks for having me, Kenny, what's a little bit about your background that , that we ought to know. So I teach at Charleston Southern university. It's a Baptist college in North Charleston, South Carolina. This is like my 10th year there. Before that I was at Liberty university for six years, went to region university, another Christian college in Virginia Beach. So, I mean, I've grown up in this ethos of Christian education at a certain point. It becomes so part of you that it just comes out of you. You know, I I'm trying to help my students see clearly how to lead as a Christian. Should I agree with that? I think it's a mistake for us to section out our Christianity from the rest of our lives. Look, we're Christians first and then everything else kind of falls into place because of that fact, I think if you approach it the other way around, like you're just trying to add the Christian element as an add on, or here's your Christian assignment or something along those lines, it just falls flat. And then your proof texting in order to make something that's not necessarily Christian have the appearance of being Holy and that's just a bad place to be. You have to start thinking through the scriptures in order to do what you do. And then you separate out the wheat from the chaff. How would you describe proof texting to somebody who's not familiar with that idea? You take a Bible verse to bless whatever concept you're talking about, whether it is a legitimate concept or not. And sometimes you can do this in a bad way saying no, this theory is a good theory and it's really not, but you're taking something out of context. I'm very tired of hearing people use when they talk about vision in a well, the proverb say where there's no vision, the people perish. Well, that's not what they mean. They're not talking about the same vision that we're talking about. When we're at a business conference, talking about a leader, having a vision for the enterprise, that's not it at all. It's more like God's vision for how you should be leading your life, not your own vision that you come up with out of your head. And so when you can found those things, then you can misuse the scripture and try to make it say something that it doesn't actually say.

Speaker 3:

I listened to a guy named Phil Vischer. He was Bob, the tomato. And one of the things that he talked about was how deceptive dreams and , and these kinds of goals can be. You end up trying to reverse engineer reasons that you should be doing this again, proof texting, and you don't really look for God in it. You try to put God into it in a similar

Speaker 1:

Or way . What is it that God wants me to do? Not how can I fit God into my agenda and then ask him to bless whatever my agenda is. You have to be open. It's fine. I mean, if you put a burden on your, in your heart to do a particular thing, moving that direction, but as long as he can alter that direction and move you being in motion is not a problem, as long as he can alter that. But if he can't alter that and you're just, no, no, God, you got to bless this thing that I'm going to do. Then, then you have a problem.

Speaker 3:

What should a Christian be interested in leadership? How does this play into a Christian's life?

Speaker 1:

I got interested in this topic when I was really, really young. And I remember reading, you know, I was bored one Sunday in church, the next, my dad's an elder in my church. And so I, I remember reading in the scriptures when there were good Kings, what happened to the nation? They went the right way. When there were bad Kings, they went the wrong way. And so I saw this profound influence on leadership. And I think that's, that's true. Wherever you are, leaders should have an interest in it, but they should approach it differently. They should approach it

Speaker 3:

In a way that bespeaks

Speaker 1:

What a Christian should be doing. That's not lording it over. It's actually having more of a servant's attitude and Christ demonstrated that. But if you don't what happens, there's a vacuum.

Speaker 3:

When are you being a leader? And when are you not being a leader? What is leadership?

Speaker 1:

So that's so difficult to define. And , and , uh , you know, here's your simple, quick 12 word definition. Now scholars can agree on the definition of leadership, but I'll tell you this. It's helping people grow. It's helping people become something. It's getting something done through other people, helping them grow, helping them become more themselves. It's all those kinds of things. And if you really want to know if you're leading or using people that really becomes a test, are, am I using them to get things done? Or am I leading them, helping them become more in the process? The question that I wouldn't say you have to ask yourself is how much do I care about them?

Speaker 3:

What's the difference between leadership and influence? Is there a difference?

Speaker 1:

So Maxwell says in the 21 irrefutable laws, that leadership is influence nothing more, nothing less. A lot of people think that they're a leader because they're in a particular position. That's not necessarily making you a leader. I mean, you have this artificial leadership bump. I was reading something over the last week. I had this great quote I'm still wrestling with. And I'm curious what you think people say all the time, like we fall in love. You've never heard anyone say I fall in trust. You're right, right. Yeah . I mean, trust is something you have to build. And so that's your obligation, your moral obligation as a leader to build that trust so that people will follow you. I tell students, if you really want to know if you're a leader, go work at some volunteer organization, because if they come back tomorrow, you're a leader.

Speaker 3:

You and I would both agree on is that there are people who are in positions over us. Some of them we trust and some of them , we implicitly don't trust. And as long as I can predict what they're going to do, I can work with somebody. I don't trust. I just need to know that I can't give them anything that they would have to be trusted .

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And then you hold back.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely. I hold back because it makes sense because I can predict what their next step will be. What does it mean to be a,

Speaker 1:

Either working with those people or

Speaker 3:

Tellingly? What if you are one of those people?

Speaker 1:

Oh man, you're asking way too many questions here. So let's, let's start with , uh, what does it mean to be a good leader? And so you'll see , um, you know, honesty and vision and , uh, you have competence. All those kinds of things are important. Cruises, imposter. Talk about , uh , those kinds of things. Um, my definition, what I, what I tell my classes is something simple. And you tell me what you think about this. I say, if you have my back, you get my heart. I agree. I completely agree if you have my back, you get my heart. Okay . So if we think that the high road to profit is doing well for the organization is greater productivity, greater productivity leads to a greater profit. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to measure how much time your butt is in your seat. That's ridiculous. Why would I do that? That's only going to confound the process. I know I have to give you enough freedom and respect your human dignity because you're made in the image of God, a little lower than the angels, right? I mean, God endowed you with great potential. Now I don't want you to rip me off. So I'm going to have to have legitimate guardrails . I mean, that's the way the founding fathers were thinking, but within that, I want you to be able to Excel. So if I respect your human dignity and worth, I'm not going to dictate to you. I'm going to allow you to thrive and use your brain because God's creative and in your reflection of him. So you're creative. So I want to encourage and elicit that, pull that out of you. If I can do that, that's a great sign of leadership. That's the kind of person that I want to work for. That's the kind of leader that I want to follow. Peter Drucker talked about and , um , adventures of a bystander. He talked about how one of the questions is what I want my son to work for this guy. That is a great test. What I want my son work for that person. And that's a great test of whether somebody is a good leader or not. I agree. So this almost becomes a character issue with you. Oh, it's not almost, it is a character issue. I want to follow somebody. Like you said, if you don't trust somebody, what do you do? You hold back. You're not going to give your full potential. Let me, let me talk about somebody that I think the world of our new president here, he's been here just two years. Uh, dr. Costin at Charleston, Southern, he's a retired two star general air force. Uh, the , uh, chief of chaplains. The guy is phenomenal. Every I I've , I have yet to see where he's made a wrong leadership move. And I implicitly trust him because not only is he saying the right thing, but he's doing the right thing and I've observed it again. And again, and over time you build that trust. Now I was hopeful that he would be a good leader when he first got here. I mean, I had my fingers crossed. I was like, I hope this guy's going to do a good job because it'll impact us. And we know that, but as I watched and learn, and I was just quiet, I didn't interact with them for like , um, probably more than a year. I mean , I , I mean, I said hello to them passing them, but I didn't interact with, when I did interact with them because of a committee assignment, I saw the real deal, everything lined up and you have to line up like you can't have, you can't say this and then do the other thing or do this. And then say the other thing, it all has to be consistent. That predictability is there and it has to be there. And you hopefully, hopefully that predictability will line up doing and saying the right things, not just being predictable, but what'd you say before about predictability? I still would rather have somebody who's predictable that I don't actually like, and don't want to work for, or, you know, he's doing the wrong thing, but he's predictable than somebody who's erratic because I predictability, at least I can, I have some sense of what what's going to happen next in business school, we often talk about the difference between a leader and a manager. What's the difference between somebody who's leading and somebody who's managing. Okay. There's a lot of pithy sayings that, that talk about, you know, the , the differences between manager is tasked with getting something done and he's focused on the day to day, making things, run, making the system run that is going to cause him to lean towards using people in order to getting these things done, because he's got to get these things done. Leadership on the other hand is looking at your people and trying to help them grow, trying to move to the next stage or the next step. It's going to involve change management deals with complexity, more often than not. And leadership deals with change. Now, the manager and leader sometimes have to be the same person. So it's almost like schizophrenia. It's working against each other where you're trying to get things done right now, but you're trying to move to the next level. And in doing that, it can be really difficult. It's especially difficult if you're not thinking in leadership terms. So you're just thinking about getting things done. You're going to run over people and use people and chew them up and spit them out and then go hire somebody new. If you're thinking in terms of leadership, because you're thinking about people first, because Hey, that is made in the image of God. They have these talents, these abilities, these, these qualities, how can I bring that to a greatest fruition? You're going to operate differently in how you deploy them in order to meet your current needs. So there is a significant difference. And I think, you know, it's funny because I show this, but I give this presentation in class every semester in a class called managing with excellence and integrity. A couple of years ago, I went to Florida to give a presentation that said the title was, if you want leaders, stop teaching them to be managers. And it was intentionally a little provocative, but the thing is, we teach them to do these managerial kind of things. And then we want them to be these people leaders, but we've not equipped them to be people leaders. We've kind of minimized leadership to just motivating them to do our plan. No , if you're going to be in leadership itself, you're going to be involving them from the process. From the beginning of the process with what's important. It's not going to just be, do my plan. It's , here's where we think we're going to go. What do you think about this? How can we involve you in the process?

Speaker 3:

I think one of the things you and I are touching on is good leaders love their followers. Yeah . And the thing about people you love, you are willing to sacrifice and you are also willing than let them make mistakes. You are willing to let them

Speaker 1:

Do the wrong thing on occasion, all with the understanding that this is somebody

Speaker 3:

You really want to see grow. And

Speaker 1:

Does he get better? And I say this about professors too, in a non bad way, fall in love with your students as quickly as you can. Yeah. The faster that happens, the better a professor, you'll be. I have a similar discussion with my students about that. I say, you know, I show them some quotes about very similar things that leadership is , is love. Right? And so it sounds like creepy, but we unpack it. And no , it's not, I don't mean like that. I just mean like, to the degree that you love them, you deal with them differently. So , uh , we're going down very parallel tracks with that. And , uh, so you said fall in love with them as soon as you can. That that's, that's very, very right there . There's something. Yeah. There's something that resonates with me about that. I just know that if you act that way, you will do the right things reflexively rather than like, I don't know that you can be a good leader longterm and not actually love your people. Right .

Speaker 3:

We recognize a good leader, but we're often blind to how good or bad we are. Oh yeah. How do you get a gauge on how

Speaker 1:

Good you are at this? And yeah . How would you change if you're not very good? So one of the things that I see all the time is that good, good leaders really? I mean, like you can see after a while, and I'm sure you see is things like this in your profession as well in communications kind of issues. But you start to line things up where you're starting to see, like this always happens when that is good, or this always happens when that's not good. And so one of the things, that's almost an always thing. If a, if a leader loves accountability and welcomes accountability and doesn't resist accountability, that is a huge sign. That they're probably a good leader, a leader who pushes away accountability, who does not want accountability, tries to Dodge, a response responsibility and accountability. That's almost always a bad leader and it might be a good leader for a short period of time, but there's going to be a train wreck somewhere down that line. If they don't have some accountability as sin blinds, you that's just the way it works, where you start thinking, well, that doesn't really apply to me. I mean, I'm me, right? I mean, yeah, that, that hypocrite over there. Sure. But not me. And so, because sin is so blinding, you need, we need each other in order to make sure that we're not going off the road. And I think that's, that's design it's. I mean, that's the way that God made us. And so we need to , uh, operate within legitimate constraints. And so those social constraints are powerful and profound. And again, where I don't see them, it makes me worry

Speaker 3:

Consciously. We often surround ourselves with people who like us because the people who like us usually do well around us. And then that becomes an echo chamber where the only people who are surrounding you are just the people who are telling you what you want to hear. And that's a danger. Yeah. How do we get a reasonable and reality-based feedback loop.

Speaker 1:

Part of that is knowing yourself and knowing what is needed and being respectful of other people. Our tendency is to think, wow, that person thinks like me, they must be brilliant. That's kind of arrogant. We probably shouldn't do that. But if you respect that other people have other gifts and other abilities, then you free yourself from that trap.

Speaker 3:

I agree. I think one of the other things that I would just add on to is we often understand our intentions and most people don't see our intention to just see our actions so we know what we're trying to do, but we're not always very good at figuring out how that's reading to somebody else. And I think one of the most important things you can do is, and you said it find somebody who does

Speaker 1:

Agree with you, that you can respect. Maybe you don't even like them , but yeah .

Speaker 3:

I respect them because you realize they're going to help you and make you better. So I , I think, and I think I'll only speak for myself. I keep on surrounding myself with people I really liked .

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Well, yeah. Well, why wouldn't you, I mean, it's , it's kind of thing that would be a natural thing for you to do. I mean, they said the same thing. I was just thinking, how smart are they? I mean, it's something arrogant, but I mean, that's the way that we function.

Speaker 3:

Echo chambers, I think are incredibly unintentional. I don't think we're trying to do that. I think we just end up there it's because the people that we have influence over who are succeeding wildly look a lot like us. And that's the danger when everybody starts saying the same thing, maybe you're falling into what you and I would call groups.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. I think that's probably right. But yeah, but you have to try angulate and they have to have different perspectives and opinions. And then they have to be legitimately willing to speak truth to power. If you have power, if there's a power asymmetry, that becomes a block as well, as long as they're able to speak to it. And I've seen a lot of leaders that have Jack themselves up by not allowing that because they , they just don't want any resistance, but wounds from a friend can be trusted. And as long as they haven't blocked that path by smacking them down, when they do try to speak to it, they'll get good advice. If they're willing to listen and actually do something with it. I think one of the things that ,

Speaker 3:

That blindside of , of Christianity and the blind side of leadership is a very real threat for all of us. It's easy to fall into the trap of being self diluted. On the flip side of that, how do you grow as a leader? Comfort is a lousy place from which to grow. How do you intentionally put yourself in uncomfortable positions to make yourself?

Speaker 1:

That's a , that's a really interesting question. My students come to my class and then these are mostly graduate students that I'm, that I'm dealing with. And they come to class with his ideas about leadership. Like I'm just going to learn how to tell people what to do and that kind of thing. And we resolve that pretty quickly. But leadership is about you, but it's not about you. It's about you for others. And so you have to grow in order to be more for others. And if you really care about others, you have no problem doing the kinds of things that you need to do in order to grow, because you care in the same way that I, you know, I don't like getting up in the middle of the night, but I have no problem getting up to take care of my kids for your kids. Not so much, but for my kids, I'm up. If they're there had nightmare, what the bed, whatever it was. I mean, I care about my kids, so I'm going to help my kids along. Like I said, it becomes reflexive. So for you to grow, if you care enough, you realize that your growth is the impediment to helping them become more. It becomes a natural process. I mean, like this isn't rocket science. It's more like gardening, you know? I mean, there's, it's not like there's no formula here. And if you just get the physics of it, right. It's not like that. It's so organic. So just care. And then the other things fall in place.

Speaker 3:

You're using the gardening analogy, which obviously Jesus does. You can do all the right things and still face calamity, just because something fails doesn't mean that you are a lousy leader. And just because something succeeds doesn't mean you are a great one, either in your opinion, what is the barometer of a truly great leader?

Speaker 1:

Uh, love care. Uh, and you know, you're talking about things can fail. Sure. They can , you know, a lot of these new students come in and they think I'm just going to do this. So I don't make any mistakes. No , you're going to make mistakes. Just don't cover it up and be transparent about that. That's one of the things that you look at certain things, do they love accountability? Are they transparent? They care, you line those things up and you're , you're starting to see that that person is a good leader. It's not one thing. It's a, there's a shot group of things, but that transparency is big vulnerability being willing to say, yeah, here's how I screwed up. And being willing to apologize, being willing to reduce power between the power asymmetry between you and someone so that they're approachable. All those things add up to seeing, yeah, this person's got it together. Let me change this

Speaker 4:

Just a little bit. I agree with what you're saying.

Speaker 1:

It's for a good follower. Huh ? That's that's a good question to be a good follower. You have to be willing to learn, to willing, to adjust, willing, to be open minded, try new things, be able to trust that that's a really good question. And , and some people are terrible followers because a lie or has had it my way or, you know, I got my trophy for showing up. And so why don't you, why are you being so mean? Well, sometimes it looks like they're being mean because they're actually trying to help you grow. They're trying to stretch you and try. So, so some kind of open-mindedness to what the leader is doing , uh , ability to extend trust until it's violated at least, but to be able to extend that trust, that that's really important for , uh, for followers. Uh, one last thing is , uh, and I'm taking this from , um , Jimmy Collins book, create a followership, doing the things that the, that your boss doesn't want to do so that you can compliment what he's doing is going to be an excellent way to learn, to lead by being a good follower. Well, Darren, I really appreciate this conversation, man. Hey, I'm always happy to talk to you. You're a good man. And , uh , I've really enjoyed your podcast. Uh I've I think I've well, I've listened to every episode until where whatever the last is. Uh it's it's great stuff.

Speaker 4:

Thanks. I appreciate that. How could people get ahold ?

Speaker 1:

So my podcast is the leader Smith, Lea D E R S M I T H. The idea is I I'm , I'm not claiming that I'm the greatest leader, but I know how to help you become a better leader. In fact, the tagline there is , um, I always end my episode saying that, you know, I hope this helps you become the kind of leader that you would want to follow. So leader Smith podcast, just Google it at Darren Gurtis, D a R I N G E R D E S on Twitter or Parley . You can look me up. I'm a professor at CSU, and you can find me that way, but the leader Smith podcast is where I essentially rant and rave about leadership kind of issues. I've just completed my 80th episode

Speaker 4:

Today . So there we are. Well, I hope you liked what you heard. Darren has an infectious enthusiasm for leading with love. I think he's right. I am also so grateful. Darren decided to pick up a microphone and share what he thought. Darren, I know you're listening. We need to do this again sometime real soon. Next week, I want to introduce you to Craig hut and Stuart pack . Two guys who started Appian media and are doing some incredible work by bringing excellent Christian video to YouTube. They will change the way you see digital discipleship, both in quality and in how many it can reach. So until next week let's be good. And do.