by Chris Cloud
The following interview is the second of a series of four interviews with missional business owners on the lessons they’ve learned about leadership.
Brett is a CEO who coaches and advises other CEO’s on how to run their companies wisely. He is a Christ-follower in the marketplace, involved in mentoring businesses around the world.
What is your philosophy of leadership?
To be a good leader, you must first be a good follower. Everyone follows someone or something. Even if you’re the CEO, you must follow after a purpose greater than yourself or what you consider to be ‘the right thing’ to do.
Here’s why: If you think of yourself as a mere island, leading by yourself, for yourself, you will be here today, gone tomorrow and no one will notice, or even care, that you’re gone. You will have lived, you will have died, and at best … you will have simply not mattered. At worst, not only will you have failed to contribute to society in any meaningful way, you quite possibly may have become complicit in evil. But, if choose to lead from an other-centered perspective, regularly connected to and informed by the source that imagined, formed and breathed life into your very being, for purposes far greater than anything you could ever ask or imagine on your own; then, you will have led effectively and will have truly lived a life worth living.
What experiences, people, or philosophies have most influenced the way you view and practice leadership?
I’ve learned vastly more from my failures and times in the ‘desert,’ than from my successes and ‘mountain-top’ experiences. Times of trial purify us. Suffering quickens us and sensitizes us to the needs of others around us. I’ve seen this to be true in the lives of all great leaders I admire (Washington, Lincoln, Mandela, Gandhi, Joseph, David, Jesus himself), and I’ve found it to be true in my own life.
How has your view of leadership changed, in your years of involvement in leading and running your own company?
I used to think it was my job as a leader to create the Vision for the organization and then to lead people to the achievement of that Vision by getting them to do what I thought would take us there. I’ve come to realize, that I had it very, very wrong. As a spiritual leader, I now know that the role of visioning belongs to only to God Himself. He creates the Vision. It’s my job to cultivate an intimate enough relationship with Him that when He chooses to reveal it, I am sensitive to Him and hear his vision clearly enough that I can articulate it to others. It’s shifted the emphasis entirely from leading from my own agenda, to getting people onto God’s agenda. Doing His work in His way.
If you could rewind the clock to when you started your first business, what advice would you give yourself about being an effective leader?
Relax. Stop trying to be perfect and stop caring so much about what others think about you. You’re really not all that important. Love God. Dwell in his presence at all times, and make His agenda yours and then just watch what He accomplishes through you!
What are some of the areas of leadership that could improve, among missional business practitioners, from your perspective?
Don’t follow the best practices of leadership you see in the world. As followers of Christ, we are not of this world. We’re of His Kingdom. There is a huge difference. Get a fresh word from the Lord on a regular basis (moment-by-moment even), and then lead from that vision, not your own. Quit playing it safe. We are children and ambassadors of the King of Kings, yet we walk around thinking small and begging for money to fulfill the mission we’re committed to. If God calls us to it, He will provide for it and we needn’t go around all the time seeking provision on our own. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding for His ways are much higher than our own.
How do you intentionally develop your leadership talents and skills?
I regularly try to find opportunities to stretch myself. True growth, transformational growth, seldom occurs inside our comfort zone, so if we always play it safe and never take risks, we’ll stay pretty much the way we are.
One more thought here: There’s a popular leadership philosophy (in the world and in church/mission-driven organizations) that asserts we should identify and know our strengths and focus our activities only in those areas where we’re strongest. It’s a powerful concept that has obvious merits … that’s why it’s taught broadly in business and in academia. The problem is, I just don’t think it’s supported Biblically, nor does it match my most profound leadership experiences.
Here’s what I’ve learned about strengths and weaknesses: I bring absolutely nothing to the table in terms of Strengths that God needs. He needs nothing from me. Nothing! I also possess no weaknesses that limit Him or his ability to act through me in the slightness. In fact, it’s in my weaknesses that He shows himself strong and brings great glory to Himself. He doesn’t need my strengths, He’s not limited by my weaknesses. It’s not my abilities He needs to advance His Kingdom. He does, however, crave my availability. How CRAZY is that? The God that created the universe out of nothing CRAVES fellowship with me! Am I present with Him, mindful of Him, in each and every moment – listening, waiting, watching for Him to move and invite me into His work or is my attention focused on me and what I can or cannot do? Elevating our gaze from self to God is the secret to leadership that can change the world.
How are you personally involved in mentoring or raising up leaders in your context?
For the past eight years, I’ve led a Vistage Board of CEO Peer Advisors. A group of CEOs and business owners in non-competing businesses that meet monthly to process issues, challenges and opportunities they face. Monthly, I also meet with each member of the board individually for what I call Spiritual Leadership Coaching – helping them discern God’s voice more clearly and lead from His agenda vs. their own. Additionally, I speak to over a hundred other Vistage CEO boards around the world each year on the topic of Living a Successful Life of Significance. Combined, these two activities comprise the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.
What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring leader?
Don’t pretend you have it all together. You don’t, and everybody around you knows it. (They know it because they don’t have it all together either, it’s common to the human experience). Instead, embrace your brokenness, lead with humility and vulnerability. Love and encourage others, helping them grow and achieve their goals. You’ll be amazed at how many others will find your candor refreshing and be eager to follow you.
Who is the most effective leader you have ever known personally, and why?
While I can’t claim to know him on a deep, personal level, I did have the privilege of once meeting Nelson Mandela. Hard to find a leader more ‘effective’ than him in my opinion. Here was a man who changed the world. Literally. He did so by first allowing himself to be changed – from the inside out. He spent twenty-seven years in prison or Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. He went in, filled with hate. He emerged having embraced forgiveness, and was able to model that – real, genuine, authentic forgiveness, for a nation that desperately needed to be healed from problems that went back generations. Truly an incredible leader.
What is one book, aside from the Bible, that has most influenced your leadership?
Hard to narrow it down to just one. Sorry! The writings of Stephen Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and The 8th Habit), Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning), Brother Lawrence (Practicing the Presence of God) and Henry Blackaby (Experiencing God) have all profoundly shaped me as a leader and I have immense gratitude for their contributions to the world of thought in advancing leadership and the human condition here in this fallen world.
Interview by Chris Cloud, with thanks to Brett Pyle.
Brett Pyle has enjoyed a thirty year global business career with Andersen Consulting, oil giants Amoco & BP, and Vistage Worldwide — living, leading and learning in 60 countries on six continents. Today, Brett serves as a Vistage Board Chair, the world’s largest and most respected CEO development forum. He also leads the Global Executive Group, delivering keynote addresses and conducting, private and public, leadership development workshops & retreats internationally — building bridges that connect people to their purpose to deliver breakthrough results that truly matter to the world. Find out more about Brett at brettpyle.com.
Chris Cloud is an entrepreneur who has been living and working with his wife in Nepal over the past 3 years. He is passionate about helping companies and individuals identify their perceived growth ceiling, and break past that ceiling. He is partner at a firm in the U.S., ALIGN. ALIGN helps leadership teams clarify their “true north” and gain traction by aligning every aspect of the organization to that vision. He holds a degree in business administration, but counts his 12+ years of starting or serving in a series of fast-growing startups as his real entrepreneurial education!
On a good day, you’ll find Chris running up a mountain or snowboarding down one. You can connect with him here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ccloud/