vocation

Effective Leaders Embrace Relationships

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“Drew, how am I going to feed my family?” The question haunts me to this day. It was 2017 and the US government had just shutdown. The year before, I had taken over as CEO of a distribution company. The company was well positioned, which is how I was able to convince many of my colleagues from the family business we had just sold to follow me to the new company.

Now, I was staring at a turnaround. We were a specialist government contractor and most of our business was indefinitely furloughed.  A series of crises were triggered, all hitting at once: our revenue plummeted, and we were bleeding cash; a third-party partnership fell through, and we were suddenly without key warehouse services.

But it’s the question from David that I will most remember. A truck driver for over 30 years, David had started working at our family business before I was even born. He was everything you would want in an employee—which is exactly why I felt the crushing weight of his question. The future was uncertain and he was looking to me as the leader to provide clarity.

Over the course of my career, I have endured several crises. The worst are the ones imposed from the outside by forces you don’t immediately control. Over the last 18 months, many of us have experienced a loss of control in previously unimaginable ways. As we begin a new year, businesses and teams continue to face uncertainties that demand resiliency.

Leadership is hard. But workplaces provide tremendous opportunities for followers of Jesus to build and strengthen meaningful relationships through adversity. I have come to think that if we are doing are jobs well, we should expect that the people that God has surrounded us with will turn to us for clarity. But in such moments, how can we best lead?

Workplaces provide tremendous opportunities for followers of Jesus to build and strengthen meaningful relationships through adversity.

There are no easy answers. But I have found three leadership practices to be especially helpful:

1. Be present.

Because of the new world of hybrid work, many leaders find themselves in a paradox—with time on their hands. Invest that time in being available to your team, even if virtually or over the phone. In my experience, most employees know that you can’t answer the big unknown questions. But you can listen and support them, bringing real peace.

2. Be vulnerable.

Crises have a way of exposing the humanity in business. When faced with our limitations, we have two options: deny or embrace. Leaders right now have a unique opportunity to show the power of embracing our finitude. Appropriate displays of vulnerability within our teams can enhance trust and ease worries.

3. Be optimistic.

Christians ought to be the most optimistic people on earth. After all, we believe that the end of the story has already been written—and it is quite good. We can draw from this optimism when we speak to our teams about the road that lies ahead, no matter how dire it appears. And be ready, as Peter exhorted the crisis-ridden believers in Asia minor, to “give a reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet 3:15).

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Drew Yancey

As a dually engaged theologian and business advisor, Drew straddles the worlds of faith and work. Alongside his role as VP of Leadership Partners at DIFW, he is a business advisor helping clients solve challenging problems at the nexus of risk, strategy, and innovation. He has over a decade of strategy consulting and executive leadership experience across multiple industries. His career started in the food industry, where he was the Director of Strategy for a Top 50 Foodservice Distributor, helping lead the company through its acquisition by a Top 5 Distributor. He then became CEO and led the turnaround of a produce merchandising and distribution company. After that, he was a consultant at Clareo, helping Fortune 500 clients create new growth paths. Drew has a Master of Divinity from Denver Seminary, an MBA from Texas A&M University, and a PhD in religion from the University of Birmingham (UK). He is an adjunct professor of theology at Denver Seminary and author of 'Transforming Enterprise?' Drew is an avid traveler (having visited nearly 40 countries) and proud seventh-generation northern Coloradoan where he lives with his amazing wife and three kids.

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