Jeff Haanen

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The Top 5 Struggles of Christian Business Leaders

Behind the veneer of confidence, bold risk-taking, and decisive leadership, all of us in positions of influence struggle – especially CEOs.  Considering these challenges tend to be perennial challenges for Christian business leaders, what experiences and/or resources can pastors, para-church leaders, and other business leaders provide for the executives in their network? What still needs to be done in the faith and work movement to serve leaders in this area?

Recently I grabbed the phone and called my friend Greg Leith, the CEO of Convene, a group that serves other Christian CEOs, to ask his opinion on the topic:

“Greg,” I said, “Based on your experience serving Christian CEOs around the country, what do you believe are the top areas that Christian CEOs struggle with?” 

“I’ll tell you,” Greg said, in a matter-of-fact tone. Turns out, they had recently just polled hundreds of CEOs connected to Convene about the tension points they feel on a daily basis.

“The first one is universal and common among everyone we polled,” he said. The #1 challenge facing Christians CEOs is:

1. Loneliness in leadership. 

If there’s any experience common to all executives, it’s loneliness. In whom do you confide when all complaints go up the chain of command, and not down? When you’re expected to make the decision, set the example, and lead the way? When revenue is down and you sense being in over your head?

It’s tough to share these challenges with other people at church, many of whom can’t identify with the responsibility of leading large staff teams or deciding on major budget issues. Even spouses can sometimes be hard to confide in for wisdom on actual business decisions.

If there’s any one place the Church can start in serving executives, it’s in providing a safe place for relationship among decision-makers.

2. Complexity in a rapidly changing, information-saturated world. 

Opportunities come and go at the speed of the 24/7 news cycle. Big data (and little data) pour into our pockets through iPhones. No information is inaccessible, yet almost all information is incomprehensible without a larger story or framework into which it fits. Filtering the wheat from the chaff is an ever-present challenge in the Information Age.

The truly scarce commodity in today’s business culture is not knowledge, accurate metrics or access to markets, but wisdom.

3. New technology.

Only a decade ago, CRM software or mass communication tools were so expensive only the biggest corporations could afford them. Now every start-up has free access to high quality email communication tools (like MailChimp), event registration (like Eventbrite), or shared calendaring or data storage (like Gmail).

This is great. But new technologies just keep coming. From manufacturing improvements to new software programs, companies are born each day that aspire to be the next unicorn (start-up valued at over $1 billion), offering the tool that will ensure business success for their customers.

So which ones are necessary, and which are simply noise? Who can help here?

4. Balance between profit, people, excellence and God.

Greg shared that this challenges is such an issue among executives that they formed their last national conference around the subject. We pretend like answers for Christian business owners are easier to come by than is really the case. In all honestly, questions abound:

  • Should we return more profit to our shareholders, or raise the wages of our employees?
  • Should we spend more on manufacturing in efforts to build a higher quality product, or will the market bear a similar price using less expensive materials?
  • Should I extend grace to my manager who just yelled at his employees – or fire him?
  • Should I spend time praying or hustling to land the next deal?

To say that the purpose of business is to serve the needs of the world is easy; to make actual decisions on what needs get prioritized often is not.

5. Integrating Christian faith with day-to-day business practices. 

“So many don’t have a clue as to how to integrate their faith into daily business practices.” Greg shared that so many of his CEOs are wonderful men and women who desire to bring God into their business, but often don’t know where to start. They lack, according to Leith, a theology for their actual work life. What’s really lacking are resources that are accessible (“They’re not going to read a tome by Tim Keller”) and directly applicable to what Christian faith says to day-to-day decisions on hiring, firing, profit margins, strategic planning, supply chains, prices, marketing or HR policy.

To this end, Leith and his team are creating more short video resources on topics like “theology for hiring” for busy business leaders eager to learn, but without the luxury of extensive leisure time for academic study.

Moving forward, I wonder what kind of experiences, resources, and communities are needed to address this growing need among the influential, yet often lonely, business leader.

A version of this post first appeared on the Green Room blog. Image credit. 

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