25 min read
Transcript: How to Gain Momentum Through a Culture of Trust // Dr. Michael Lindsay, Taylor University
Best Christian Workplaces : January, 16 2023
Flourishing Culture Leadership Podcast
How to Gain Momentum Through a Culture of Trust
January 16, 2022
Intro: Do you feel you're spinning your wheels as a leader? Well, today our guest outlines proven approaches to creating a culture of trust that has created great momentum in the accomplishment of their key goals. Listen in as Dr. Michael Lindsay, president of Taylor University, leverages hinge moments to move a team forward.
Welcome: Welcome to the Flourishing Culture Leadership Podcast, your home for open, honest, and insightful conversations to help develop your leadership, your team, and build a flourishing workplace culture.
Al Lopus: Today we're going to talk about how your leadership matters. And as an organizational leader, you set the tone for those you lead in terms of workplace culture and strategy, and you also have the responsibility to bring together people who have different roles and ideas to achieve your mission.
Today on the Flourishing Culture Leadership Podcast, we're going to discuss ways that you can build trust as a leader. We'll also address leadership transition and continuous learning as a leader. We'll explore these topics within Christian higher education, but the principles we highlight will also apply to leaders in other organizations as well.
Today I'm delighted to welcome Dr. Michael Lindsay. Michael’s the president of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. And Michael, it's great to have you on the Flourishing Culture Leadership Podcast.
Michael Lindsay: Thanks so much for having me on, Al. Great to be here.
Al: I'm really looking forward to our conversation.
Well, let's start with a little background. Michael, you've been at Taylor now for nearly two years, and prior to that, you were the president at Gordon College for ten years, and you took that role after being a faculty member at Rice University. So you came to Gordon as a young leader. You know, and as you look back, what were some of the leadership lessons that you learned at Gordon? What were some of the areas that you grew in and, especially, areas that were as essential for a young leader and especially as a president of a Christian college?
Michael: Well, I would certainly say I benefited from a great team of colleagues at Gordon, and I will always look back on that season with a deep appreciation to the Lord for all that He did in and among us, which was great. There, you know, of course, you learn a number of different things, and one of the great opportunities of a second presidency in the university administration is the chance to learn from those mistakes and, hopefully, not make the same ones.
One thing I learned is that I tend to overestimate what I can get done in a single year and underestimate what we can do in five. So I think it's important to have the long view and to be thinking about how you build a multi-year strategy.
I also learned the importance of hiring the right people. It's a lot better to just leave a position vacant than it is to hire the wrong person. And I don't know how often this is true for other people, but I would many times feel the pressure that I needed to somehow respond and hire somebody, even if it wasn't the right spot. So that's a lesson that I've learned that I'm trying to learn how to respond to.
A third I learned is that in times of great challenge or crisis, the very best gift the leader can give is his or her presence. Just showing up, being present, having that kind of incarnational approach to leadership makes a huge difference. And I think, I'm hoping, that I'll do that even more effectively during my time here at Taylor. I learned that every experience that we have, whether good or bad, you can learn from. Learning agility is one of the most important factors, I think, that makes somebody effective in leadership. So how can you develop a growth mindset and apply it along the way, as Carol Dweck would say?
And then, finally, I think it's important for leaders to make peace with themselves. We leaders tend to be hardest on themselves, and so you have to just be able to say, “Okay, I accept that I'm not Superman or Superwoman, and I have areas of gaps and deficiencies.” And, really, the key thing in leading is to figure out, how do you reallocate so that people can help compensate for your weaknesses, not how do you somehow shore them up and change who you are? You lean into your strengths, and how do you do that most effectively? And oftentimes that means getting the right people around your team who can help you and who can provide complementary strengths, not just shaping or repeating who you are.
Al: Yeah. Wow, yeah. Those are great lessons to learn. I know listeners are kind of digging in, thinking about that, you know, especially the experience of hiring the right people. And when, as you say, sometimes there's pain when you don't, and to getting it right the first time. And, yeah, learning agility and showing up is certainly a big part of it. Yeah. Great lessons. Thanks, Michael. Yeah.
Well, you know, earlier this year, I attended a workshop that you did with my friend Colby Burke at Leadership Conference, and I was impressed with your focus on the importance of building your faculty and staff culture. And now at Taylor, you've conducted an Employee Engagement Survey for two years in a row with Best Christian Workplaces, and even in this short period of time, there's been significant improvements in the health of your faculty and staff culture. And I just want to say congratulations. That's fantastic.
And two of the FLOURISH factors with significant improvements are inspirational leadership and sustainable strategy, two very important factors. And the employees at Taylor feel like they can trust leadership, and you have created positive momentum for continuous improvement. Two really important questions. So, we know that trust takes time to build, and it's hard to make quick changes in an institution, especially as old as yours. So how did the Engagement Survey guide you, and what were some of the steps that you and your senior leadership team took to grow trust and strategy over the last couple of years?
Michael: Well, I think it starts with candor and trust. Our first-year Survey results, truthfully, were disappointing in many ways. Team members were honest about the university and what they loved and appreciated, but also where we had missed the mark. And so as a leadership team, we faced a critical decision: do we share the complete results, even if it makes us look less than ideal? Or do we somehow put the best gloss we can on the results and hope that people don't ask too many questions? And as tempting as the gloss was, we decided, you know, if we're going to make improvement, we've got to be open and honest and to share what we heard.
So we decided to do something we'd never done before. We had an all-campus meeting, where we shared the results. And then we announced that in a couple of weeks we would have a special worship service, and the focus of the worship service was threefold. One, we were going to lament the fact that there had been disappointments and moments where the institution had missed the mark or where we had not lived up to our ideals. And that was important because there were people who had actual grievances against the institution, and we needed to give a chance to sort of, in a worship context, drawing from the Psalms, to acknowledge, “Yep, we missed the mark, and so we acknowledge that,” and to ask God to forgive us if there are things that we have done that were out of alignment with His will.
We also spent time in thanksgiving, and we thought coming into the recovery phase of the pandemic, this was the right moment for us to try and acknowledge that, you know, there's so many ways that the Lord had sustained us and given us good things, and we really wanted to be able to thank the Lord in gratitude.
So it was a service of, you know, lament, of thanksgiving, but also one of recommitment. And so we wanted to provide an opportunity for folks to say, “You know, I'm frustrated. I've had difficulty. But I'm ready to sort of sign back up, and I'm really committed to the mission and to serving the students that the Lord places on our campus.”
We knew that we wanted to accomplish all of that in the context of an hour-long worship service. But of course, the emotion work around that is not something that you move through in a matter of minutes. It's hours, days, even weeks. So we prepared sort of devotional guide that would help people, in their time of prayer and scripture reading, have an opportunity to move through each of those three movements individually and to create some context where we had what we called discovery groups, where in small-group settings, 10, 12, at most 20 people could come and share their observations from this Survey, and then, in many ways, help them to process this movement from lament to thanksgiving and to recommitment.
And by all accounts, I think that strategy worked well, giving people to absorb the news, process it individually, then have a chance to sort of discuss it in smaller groups, and then for us as a whole community, to come back in the context of a worship setting and to say, “Look, we've got to get better.”
And that ended up being an inflection point, what I would call a hinge moment, for our community. I think it recast the bonds of trust among one another and between the leadership and team members across campus. And through these different discovery groups, we identified eight practical areas for improvement, drawn from the Survey and from the conversations. And we spent the last year working on trying to make improvements in this area. Some of them, I'd say, we knocked the ball out of the park. Other areas, we still have some area for growth, but, really, trying to get better and more intentional about helping to serve our community.
I'd also say you really have to appoint somebody who's going to own the organizational-engagement process. So somebody who wakes up every morning and says, “This is my passion. This is what I want to do.” And, you know, this is not a one-and-done kind of thing. It's more like working out at the gym. You've got to be there two to three times a week to get stronger and healthier. There's always more that we have to do. So having a champion is kind of like having a trainer at the gym, who thinks about it and strategizes ways to get better and is helping us to make considerable positive, incremental improvements day after day, week after week, month after month.
Al: I can't tell you how many leaders, Michael, will get some disappointing results and put them, you know, in the lower desk drawer. And I know there's a temptation to do that, isn't there? But I love your process. And you recognized it. You came out with candor. You know, again, I know of leaders that have, “Well, you know, the results were a little disappointing. But here’s the strengths. And we’re not going to talk about the weaknesses,” and gloss over it. And that doesn’t solve anything. If anything, it makes it worse.
In the context of worship, lamenting, thanksgiving, and recommitment, you know, having the discovery groups, a devotional guide. I love that. And as a Christian organization, you know, building the spiritual aspect into it, I think is fantastic. And then we're going to talk about hinge moments in a book, particularly, a little later, but how that really was one to help recast the bond of trust going forward. Yeah. So really great advice. That's fantastic.
Well, another area, and this is always a healthy improvement, another area that improved for Taylor is healthy communication. And, you know, people like that they're involved in the discussion and their suggestions are being heard. And, you know, you can already hear, you know, in your process how people are saying and feeling. “Wow, I'm glad to be involved in this.” So are there some particular practices that you and your leadership team have implemented in terms of communication? You've already mentioned several, but, you know, what experience can you share that might help another leader, somebody who's listening, that wants to grow in the area of healthy communication?
Michael: Well, the team put together a series of strategies, and Will Hagan, our vice president for strategy and chief of staff, really took the lead of building a system of cascading communications that after every senior-leadership-team meeting, we would agree upon the three, five, six key topics that we discussed and how we would be discussing them with team members. Then, each vice president was tasked with sharing that information within a day or so, ideally face to face, to sort of brief them on what we learned, in sort of a stand-up meeting. And then, they in turn were asked to share that in a stand-up meeting with their direct reports.
And the idea is that this provides a communication flow. So it’s not just, “Here's what was discussed,” but also, “What are your thoughts? Or do you have some opinion?” And oftentimes in the cascading communications will raise topics that we're considering but have not fully decided and invite people if they have ideas to come back to us. And so that cascading-communications flow has been really helpful to us.
In addition, we really dramatically increased the flow of information, where senior leaders are communicating more frequently. So, you know, there's probably eight or nine vice presidents at the university, and each of them have taken on responsibility for helping to increase their flow of communications. So our chief academic officer has a monthly newsletter that goes out to faculty and staff. Our chief enrollment and marketing officer does Loom videos, where she shares some of the data and records sort of a three- to five-minute briefing that happens. The chief of staff does a regular update of where we are with the strategic plan because we set an ambitious strategy that includes six big pillars that we're working on, but 125 objectives over five years. So he's walking us through methodically, how are we doing, and what progress is being made?
In many ways, you know, we worried, is this going to be overcommunication? Are people are going to be sick of hearing from us? But it's turned out that overcommunication is precisely what we needed. And so my one encouragement to your listeners is that when you're in leadership, I think sometimes you assume everybody knows all the stuff that you know at any given time, when in fact they're busy, they’ve got things with their families, their own jobs. So we really have to overcommunicate to get the message across.
Al: Yeah, Michael. That's really great advice. I remember as a young leader thinking, you know, if I said something more than once, I was being disrespectful and inefficient. And then I realized when it came to communication, no, that was wrong, that communicating as much as possible. And those are—really like the cascading communication and putting that structure in place. And also, in organizations, it's the grapevine where people really rely on communication, and it's not the right kind of communication. You've got to break the grapevine. And by having that formal process is really helpful.
Well, you're still relatively new in your leadership at Taylor, and you've seen some really very positive improvements in your culture in a short period of time. How are you planning to continue the positive momentum and the employee engagement over the next few years?
Michael: Well, I mentioned we've engaged our mutual friend Colby Burke, who is a tremendous HR consultant for us. I recommend him to everybody. He's just done a tremendous job of helping to build the institutional plumbing that we needed in order to be able to increase engagement.
Taylor’s a complex place. We’re a workforce of 600 employees. We serve, you know, probably 2500 students, all told. And we're a community, a network of alumni and parents and supporters, that's over 30,000. That's a lot of people. And just thinking about, how do you increase their engagement?, it feels overwhelming and in some ways defeating. But Colby keeps reminding me, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
So we've been working on eating that elephant and, you know, trying to hold monthly gatherings. Just yesterday we held one of our staff forums. So we have a faculty meeting every month and a staff forum every month. And that's a chance for us to both do some developmental work, sharing of information, and fielding questions. And I think that has really been helpful.
Colby also encouraged me to think about, how could I engage with our team members in a less-presidential format? How could people get to know you as a person as opposed to you, the leader? So we implemented a weekly Bible study that I have been leading, and that's just a chance for us to be engaged in Scripture—we've been going through the gospel of John—and it's been a really nice strategy. I travel 40% of the time, so I'm gone some weeks, but I have a vice president or sometimes my wife, who also has a part-time role at the university, steps in. But that's been a nice context for people to get to know us in just a different kind of way, and I think folks have really appreciated that.
And we've also worked really hard to find opportunities to celebrate, to build a culture of celebration, which, you know, we had a roller-skating party for all of our employees and their kids. We did it a couple days before Halloween so that they came dressed up as costumes, and we had a costume contest. You know, silly things like that actually have a good way of building an esprit de corps within the community and folks feeling celebrated and appreciated.
I also think it's important for you to find ways to be able to tangibly demonstrate appreciation. So last fiscal year, we actually gave two rounds of bonuses, which that had not been the culture at Taylor. And as part of doing it, each supervisor or vice president had a handwritten note that went along with the letter that provided the check that was the bonus, to just say, “Here's what I really appreciate about what you're doing.” So the more specific we can be, the better. And I think that has really been helpful.
We made one of our big goals, which is retention of first-year students to second year. It's one of the key measures. It turned out our retention rate this year was better than half of the Ivy League, and so we're really proud of that. So we decided we got to do something special. Historically, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is a half day for employees. We decided to give them the entire day as university holiday, just to say, “Look, we achieved a great objective, and we want to be able to celebrate.” And that matters a great deal.
I also think it's important for us to steward spiritual leadership on campus. Inspired by Psalm 78, where David is praised for leading both with integrity of heart and with skillful hands. And so we want to build a culture of spiritual vitality at Taylor. As a senior team, we read and meditated Ruth Haley Barton's book, Pursuing God's Will Together, which I recommend. And then, we've been in the process of saying, “How can we incorporate more spiritual disciplines in our leadership? And how can that be lived out in how we conduct ourselves?” So just being more intentional about those kinds of things have made a real difference.
Al: I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
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And now back to today’s special guest.
Well, Michael, I know in a future podcast, maybe we'll learn more about how it's going with the spiritual leadership. Love that. In Christian organizations, it's really not developed and focused on enough, from my perspective. But, you know, great, great. Going back to your original, your thought there, institutional plumbing. Well, you know, it doesn't sound very sexy, but it really is important, isn't it, just to have those things in place that will build culture. I know, you know, many times Christian higher-ed organizations will say, “Monthly meetings, are you kidding me? We're too busy. We're going to take time out for a monthly meeting?” And yes, getting the group together, you know, weekly Bible study. I love that idea. You know, celebration, recognizing performance. Congratulations on high retention. All of that. Just, those are great examples. Thanks. And I know leaders can, regardless of their sector, can understand how they can do similar things.
Well, you know, higher education includes a community of many different constituencies. You've already mentioned, you know, you've got leaders, you've got department heads, you've got faculty, staff, students, alumni, and parents and, you said, like, a community of 30,000 people.
Michael: Not to mention donors and trustees as well.
Al: Oh, yeah. Let's not forget those.
Michael: It keeps us busy.
Al: Exactly. So, how do you and your team listen to get input from all elements of your organization? How do you build bridges to develop consensus on priorities and goals?
Michael: One of the things that I was asked by our board when I came in was to develop a strategic vision and plan for the university. We had not done that in a number of years. And it just so happened that my first year at Taylor coincided with the 175th anniversary of the university's founding. So we decided that we would recruit 175 external leaders to be part of what we call the 175th Commission, that would come alongside a group of faculty and staff leaders here on campus. And together, we would help to identify strategic opportunities before the university, as well as persistent problems and challenges, and build a strategic plan that everybody would feel like is responsive to our particular marketplace opportunities and challenges.
We also did surveys of students and faculty and staff and parents and alumni to be able to give them a chance to speak into it. And so we just had reams and reams of data that we were processing.
We held regional gatherings around the country. So we're based in Indiana, so the first gathering was in Indianapolis. Then we went to Denver. We did another gathering in South Florida, another one in Dallas, then in Chicago. Then we came back to campus. So these were designed as opportunities as sort of convenings, where people could speak into what they think the future was looking like. And we asked them to join us in a spiritual-discernment process. So we would have little devotional ideas or spiritual disciplines we were incorporating. All of this was designed to come up with lots of good ideas. Every idea was a good idea in the beginning.
Then, my senior team and I spent last December and January distilling it and trying to say, “Okay, based on what we have heard, what do we think is the right direction for the strategic plan?” And we drafted what we called a hypothesis plan. And we rolled it out first with our board, then with campus leaders, then with faculty and staff, and then with our constituents. And we said to them, “This is our very best guess of where Taylor ought to go, based on what we've heard from you. What do you think about this plan?” And we intentionally included more initiatives than we thought that we could possibly do because we thought we need to winnow this down and focus.
As it turned out, nobody wanted us to eliminate anything, because they had felt like they participated in it, and people really felt a sense of ownership. But we were able to combine some things and begin to distill it. So by late April, early May, we had developed what ended up becoming Taylor Thrives, our vision for the future. And it includes six big pillars and 125 individual goals over five years.
Then, after we got widespread support, and I would say the hypothesis-planning process really worked because it gives you the freedom to say, “This is our best guess, but what do you think?” and then you can iterate several times. So we had probably five or six versions that we floated to different groups over the period of two or three months. So by the end of that, people were like, “Enough already. You know, you give me my feedback; just tell me where we're going.” So then the board was able to unanimously approve the plan.
And then over the summer, we sat down with every single department to make sure every one of those 125 objectives had a vice president who's providing strategic oversight and then a team member or two who actually owned it. And they built that into their own individual goal setting. It was a huge process. I mean, it took us three months to meet with every single department and to have that. But in the end, I think it was really excellent. It really drove us to action and made a huge difference. None of this was my idea, our approach. It was really ideas that emerged from the community. But I think that it made a big difference.
And then, we've also been able to parlay that strategic plan into a blueprint for a fundraising campaign that we're now trying to get resources to support these different initiatives. And because so many of our donors had a say in developing that plan, they also feel a sense of ownership. So it's easier for us to go to them and say, “You seem too passionate about this. Would you be willing to help support us?” And so far, we've been able to raise tens of millions of dollars as a part of this.
Al: Wow. Yeah. So the old days of having a leadership team sit in a conference room and come up with a strategic plan might not be the way to do it, huh?
Michael: The more engagement you can get, the better, I think.
Al: Oh, absolutely. And, you know, when I listened to your process at that discussion, you know, you listened. That's the key word that I drew out of this. You listened. You were humble, and you've learned, you know, okay, this is what our community is really interested in, and, as you said in the end, and willing to support and take action on. Without their involvement, of course, you know, you'd have much different outcome. So I'm really looking forward to hearing how that goes over the next couple of years.
We mentioned, you know, Taylor's been serving students since 1846, and, boy, that's a long tradition of Christian formation. And I'll also say in my years of working in Christian organizations, Taylor grads are certainly well known for being outstanding leaders in the faith. So you've got a long tradition from that standpoint. So as you lead Taylor into the future, you know, a key to achieving your mission will be having talented faculty and staff focus on developing that next generation of Christian servant leaders. And that's what I love about Christian education is that's the next generation of Christian servant leaders. So what are some of the ways that you plan to attract, develop, retain, outstanding talent in the next few years?
Michael: Well, I have to say this is one of the hardest things that we face. We're located in a relatively rural part of Indiana. We're halfway between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, about 45 minutes away from each. And so we've got to find ways to help attract people. And our pay scales fall below what institutions in other parts of the country, where they have a higher standard of living. But we just don't pay in the same way. So recruiting nationally and globally creates unique challenges for us along the way. And I can't change those macro factors, so I can't do that. What can we do? Well, we're trying to increase the creative ways in which we communicate, what makes working at Taylor so great? It's a concerted effort among our HR folks to do a better job of that, and thinking about simple things like an updated website, updating job descriptions, finding opportunities where you can develop sort of a suite of opportunity profiles. You don’t have to be the vice president or president that we're searching for, but opportunity profiles can communicate some of the great value. And so we're working on trying to do that.
And I also use, I have a monthly newsletter that goes to all of our constituents. I use that as an opportunity to link to opportunities that we have, where we're hiring positions. And those have yielded some colleagues who've come to join us because they heard about it in that way.
I'd say attracting talent in this recovery phase of the pandemic has been one of our toughest challenges. So we're continuing to work on it, but we don't have the solution all figured out.
Al: Well, roller-skating parties with families beforehand, before, you know, Halloween. And I mean, what that creates is just a sense of remarkable community. And you know, what I've known over time as I've done lots of discovery groups in Christian higher ed is how people just love being able to serve Christian organizations, to teach through a Christian worldview, and they really achieve high levels of life-giving work through that. So you've got that to offer. There's no question about that. And who wouldn't want to be part of an exciting organization that really has an engaging, ultimately a flourishing, culture? So no question.
Well, in addition to your leadership in Christian higher ed, you're a sociologist by training. I love that background. And you've done some long-term research on leadership and what you call hinge moments, which you've already mentioned one that you've experienced so far in your tenure. And you've written a book by that title, Hinge Moments. So how can a leader move through transitions in a positive way and avoid pitfalls? And I've just gone through a transition myself, a succession plan. We’ve got a new CEO, and I’ve moved to the board-chair role and still do this podcast. But what are some important factors that a leader needs to pay attention to in these hinge moments as they move through transitions?
Michael: Well, if you live an average life, 70 to 80 years, we're going to have millions and millions of minutes in our life. But if you look back on the fullness of your life, probably there are 12 to 20 individual minutes that disproportionately shaped the rest of your life. The minute you're born, the minute that you develop a relationship with God, the minute that you meet your spouse, the minute you experience your first big break professionally, the minute you have your first significant failure or challenge, the minute a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, all of these become inflection points in our life. And how you prepare for and respond to those hinge moments have a disproportionate impact on your health, well-being, and satisfaction over the rest of your life. So you have to really think about those.
Change is something that happens to us instantaneously, in the blink of an eye. Transition is something that happens over months. It's the process of getting ready for that change, if you anticipate it, and then it's responding to it in the moment. And some of us, you know, we experience hinge moments of our own choosing. We decide to go to a particular university, or we decide to get married, or we decide we're going to pursue a new job and we get that job. But other hinge moments occur not by our own choosing. We were expecting something, and it didn't work out. Or we find that we're terminated from a job that we thought we were going to do for the rest of our career. These become inflection points as well. And how we respond to those makes all the difference in our long-term success. And so much of life is about preparing for the next hinge moment, so having the kind of skills to discern and to prepare for, having close advisors, whether it's loved ones or friends who can help us, and being open to the Lord’s leading.
In the book, I tell the story of my own process of sensing from God that He was calling me to step away from the presidency of Gordon College, a job that I loved and that I thought I would do the rest of my career. And it was unsettling to actually get a confirmation that the Lord was telling me it was time for me to do something different. And that unsettling process causes a lot of tumult and anxiety in our lives. But I can testify, having now gone on the other side, that I'm so happy and gratified. I loved my time at Gordon. I look back on it with a great deal of fondness, and there are things that I miss. I loved living close to the ocean. I loved some of the friends. I loved our church we were involved in. At the same time, I'm so much happier and more satisfied in this role because what Taylor needs right now is precisely the kinds of skills that I bring to the table. So it's a great match and a great fit. And, you know, having a chance to do a second presidency has been great because, hopefully, I'm not making the exact same mistakes.
So I'm on the other side of a hinge moment, and I can just testify the Lord has really guided me and brought me to the right place, and I think it's probably true for all of us. We can look back and say, “Hey, these hinge moments may have been difficult in the season, but the Lord used it for greater good.” That's oftentimes how we grow and develop.
So I hope that people do read Hinge Moments because it's a helpful guide of how about 20 or so leaders found their way through the challenge and the change and made peace with the transition, and in the end, they became stronger and better as a result of it.
Al: Yeah. And I think, as you say, we're all going to experience hinge moments in our futures, and maybe several of them. And so being prepared sounds like a great way to be ready. So yeah. Let's discern, let's have good close advisors, and most of all, let's be open to God's leading. Fantastic.
Well, you know, some of our podcast listeners are leaders in Christian education, but others are leaders in Christian businesses or nonprofits and churches. These are organizations that have been hiring graduates from Taylor and other Christian colleges for a long time and will in the future. And what are some of the characteristics of this new—and this is really what I think a lot of our listeners are looking forward to—what are some of the characteristics of this new generation coming into the workplace? You have a ground-level view of what the future looks like for leaders in the Christian community, in the faith, in Christian organizations. What are you excited about as you see graduates launching and starting a new contribution to their communities?
Michael: Well, I think that the current generation of young people are among the most entrepreneurial and innovative Christian leaders we have ever seen in the history of the church. So I'm incredibly encouraged by their desire and commitment to start new initiatives and enterprises and build them into growing organizations.
There's a real global concern among young people. So they're concerned about issues of poverty and justice, not just in their neighborhood or their local community, but really around the world. And they're globally connected. Social media, digital media makes it possible for them to develop relationships with people halfway around the world.
They are unlikely to stay planted in a single institution for their whole career. It's interesting because two-thirds of the current university/college freshmen in the country today, two-thirds of them will work in fields that have not yet been invented. Just as a small example, you know, a very robust area that most large organizations now have are social-media teams, social-media management. That's a field that did not even exist 10 years ago. So imagine what it's going to be like 50 years from now and how different that's going to be.
There's a real desire among the current generation of young people to bless and to serve others that sense that they want to try and make a difference for those who don't have the same kind of resources. It's palpable among Taylor students and lots of other young people. There's a godly ambition that they experience, where they really want to make a positive difference and are motivated by that.
They're spiritually hungry, but they really need biblical moorings and deep Christian community. They are less connected to the church than any generation of young people we have seen in the last 50 years. The pandemic just exacerbated the sense that you don't have to be connected to a local Christian community in order to be spiritually mature. So we've got to work hard to help them to see the value of Christian community and create pathways for them to develop it.
Those are some of the things I'm noticing among Taylor students that I think are probably reflective of the next generation of Christian leaders for the church.
Al: You know, I found many of the same. We work with Ph.D. program students, interns, and entrepreneurial, innovative, concerned, you know, globally around poverty and justice, as you say, a real desire to think of others and to bless and serve others, not necessarily all about themselves. And, yeah. And spiritually hungry. Clearly not having the biblical foundations that have happened in previous generations. And your focus, even, in building spiritual disciplines into your institution is an example of how important that is.
Well, Michael, this has really been a great conversation. I want to thank you so much for participating. Just as I look back how rich this was, just looking at, even, your background and what you learned in a previous role. But as we talked about trust and candor and how even with the disappointing news, you know, I love the definition: a leader's job is to describe reality and communicate it to their team. And you did that. And then you went through a process of, okay, let's create a new vision, recognizing where we've come from, where we want to lament and be thankful and recommit ourselves to move forward. How you're building momentum through communication and even making sure that you're focusing on the institutional plumbing as you build into the future and having consistent ways of communicating and building, building the character and competence of your team. I love the description of your strategic-planning process, the way you listened and involved others and how I am sure that's going to lead to great engagement going forward that will benefit the university. And your thoughts on hinge moments. I mean, that gives us all a chance to really think about the future, what we're going to be facing, and to prepare ourselves to serve God in that next season, whatever that is. This has just been a great conversation.
How about, is there anything that you'd like to add that we've talked about or maybe even left out?
Michael: You know, I guess I would just say I'm particularly hopeful about the future. I think part of it is getting to work with these amazing students. I see so much promise and possibility. I mean, there's lots of challenges. There are moments I get discouraged. I think that the church is too divided, and oftentimes we are our own worst enemies. And so I think that's affecting our ability to make the Gospel plausible and attractive. But then I get a chance to just see the positive difference. And I'll say it's been a great blessing for me to be at Taylor. And as I've been able to see how we've been able to respond, really grateful for the Best Christian Workplace Institute, which has helped us to think about, how do we increase engagement among our colleagues? You know, the workplace environment is, in many ways, just a place of formation. And so how do we use that for not just professional development and organizational development, but also spiritual formation? And how do we help people to live into their callings and who they are and who God could use them more effectively if they had some strengthening and development? So I'm hopeful about the future and excited to see what the Lord will do. Really grateful for this time, Al. Thanks so much for having me.
Al: Oh, it's been great, Michael. I've often said, in a Christian higher-ed setting, the health of the faculty and staff today is the health of your student body and, even broader, community tomorrow.
And, boy, I’d like to thank you for your contributions today. Really fantastic. Most of all, really appreciate your commitment, and as I said earlier, to the next generation of Christian servant leaders who will live out God's love and truth in a changing world. And thank you for your time today and the time that you took to speak into the lives of so many of our listeners. I really appreciate it. Thanks, Michael.
Michael: Thank you so much. God bless.
Outro: The Flourishing Culture Leadership Podcast is sponsored by Best Christian Workplaces. If you need support building a flourishing workplace culture, please visit workplaces.org for more information.
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