Bagging a different kind of CEO

My recent involvement in three CEO searches (one as counsel and two as a member of the search committee) has given me a new appreciation for Flannery O’Connor’s lament about a good man [woman] being hard to find. It’s no small task for faith-based nonprofits — and especially those with modest budgets — to fill the seat at the top.   

For several years now, the average tenure of nonprofit CEOs  has hovered around seven years. Virtually every week of the year, some organization, some place, launches a search.

Boards of directors charge search committees with bagging, tagging, and carting home the biggest catch in the prospect “herd” (in other words, someone better than the outgoing CEO).  It’s assumed that success in one setting guarantees a repeat performance in another. However, real and lasting success, at least as I’ve seen it, requires more than a lengthy list of accomplishments. It takes spiritual mature and a servant’s heart.

Three characteristics of such a leader stand out.

  • First, spiritually mature individuals have a clear sense of calling and personal purpose. Their resumes tell the story of a long obedience in a specific direction. The link is obvious between the position needing to be filled and the past accomplishments, preparation, and passions of the person under consideration. 
  • Second, spiritual maturity shows up in an ability and willingness to ask critical questions about the conventional wisdom of organizational leadership. Ministry organizations are best served by individuals who draw good ideas from anywhere an everywhere, and then are quick to test those ideas against the standard of what they believe God desires for the organization. 
  • Third, spiritual mature leaders are able to integrate principles of their faith with organizational theory in novel and creative ways. Spiritual maturity shows itself in those moments when the rhetoric about wishing to lead in a different way comes to life in creative thought, words, and actions.

To quote Henri Nouwen, “The question is not: how many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show some results? But: are you in love with Jesus?” Everything else flows from how the candidate responds.

What's your take on this topic?

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