Episode 5: Know what you're FOR
with Jeff Henderson

When making difficult choices, even ones that people think are crazy, it’s important that you are grounded in the knowledge of your calling and your passion. Author, speaker, and leader Jeff Henderson shares with us his story of leading through difficult times by acknowledging that “anything worth pursuing is going to be difficult.” Like all of us, even renowned leaders like Jeff face doubts, but we can be encouraged by hearing how he has learned how to lean in and lead in an effective and inspiring way. Jeff truly is a leader that others love to follow.

About our guest

Check out Jeff's website
Learn more about The FOR Company
Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn
Follow Jeff on Twitter
Follow Jeff on Instagram

Forbes Magazine named Jeff Henderson one of 20 speakers you shouldn’t miss. His message is based on his experience working with organizations such as Chick-fil-A, the Atlanta Braves and North Point Ministries. Over the past 17 years, Jeff helped launch three churches and inspired churches around the world with the FOR strategy outlined in his book, Know What You’re FOR. He now leads the FOR Company —helping organizations  define what they want to be known FOR.

Episode transcript

Sara: Welcome back to The Growing is Grown-Ups podcast. We are so excited to be bringing you another amazing interview with a leader that is really inspiring to both of us, Jeff Henderson. Keith, you got to have this conversation. So why don't you tell us a little bit about Jeff to get us geared up for this conversation?

Keith: Yeah, we can. You can read his bio in the show notes but I think the thing that's not going to show up in his bio or in this interview is just the influence and the scale of the influence that Jeff has had, whether it was his time with Lanier Islands, whether it was his time with Chick-fil-A, whether it was his time with us at Buckhead Church or when he went on to Gwinnett Church - he has been involved in leading and it's not all him, but he's had significant influence of taking things to a scale, for example, the thing that I had the most experience with is that under Jeff's leadership, Buckhead Church went from about a thousand people involved in a grocery store to a 40 million dollar campus and twenty five thousand people calling this place their church home. With ten to twelve thousand people showing up every week. He's leading an organization that's as big as, you know, more than half the companies in the city of Atlanta. So, I mean, he's such a cool person and that's not going to show up in this. But I want our listeners who aren't familiar with Jeff to know that this is not a person who's kind of leading a small enterprise. He's taking things big. Yeah.

Sara: So what would you want our listeners to be paying attention to as they hear this conversation?

Keith: Well, I mean, they're going to hear some things from Jeff about clarity of purpose. They're going to hear about limping here, about the importance of having advisors around you that you're paying attention to. And Jeff is going to use his vocabulary to explain all of that. But, you know, the connection point I want to make for the listeners is that the vocabulary that we so often talk about, about really getting clarity around our bigger ME values, where we're going, what we want to be about that to get clarity around how we hold ourselves in place, the importance of surrounding ourselves in developmental relationships and how that facilitates growth and that you really have to intentionally fight to close the gap. All of these things come up in Jeff's interview but they don't come up in the way that we've talked about them in the growth gap tool. Right. So I think that'll set them up well for listening.

Sara: Yeah. So just a reminder to our listeners, if you want to take yourself through the exercise that Keith just mentioned, the Growth Gap Tool, it is available for you on our website. We would love for you to get it. There's a resource guide to help you walk yourself through it., if you want to go straight there, it's - Growth Gap Tool - and you'll hear those pieces in Jeff's story. So with that, let's just jump in and hear your conversation with Jeff Henderson.
Keith: Jeff Henderson, so good to have you on the Growing Grown-Ups podcast. What a treat this is for me, my dear old friend.

Jeff: Keith, I'm so honored to be here. You have had a significant (in bold underlined caps) influence on not just me, but Wendy and me in these years. And I'm so grateful. And you know this. I may think of this as a counseling session versus a podcast. So I hope your listeners understand that. But I'm so grateful for you and your influence on me.

Keith: Very good. Very good. And, you know, the feeling is mutual. I have told audiences for years we talk about the ability to sort of lean into otherwise avoidable challenges. It's almost like an athleticism that someone doesn't get to choose. They get to steward it well or not so well. But some people just very naturally lean into things that are difficult that could otherwise be swept under the rug and grow from those. And for me, you have been the model of that amongst all the leaders I've gotten to work with. It's just, you know, you've always leaned in when the easier option was just to maintain what was. So, again, I'm so excited for this audience to get to hear a little bit about how you think through challenges and difficulty.

Jeff: Yeah, I'm excited to be here.
Keith: You know, on this podcast, we're really getting people to share things that they've bumped up against in the past and how it has shaped them and what was scary about it and how they tended to hold themselves in place. And you've been through a lot of challenges, changes, etc, over the course of your over the course of your life. I've been privy to a handful of them over the last 20 years almost. But when you think about a landmark event that really shaped you and changed you, what comes to mind for you?

Jeff: Well, looking back, I think in your 20s, I think you're trying to find ‘where am I going to land’? You're kind of clawing and fighting for ‘where's my place’? And I had a variety of different marketing roles, which I loved. But eventually it led me to Chick-fil-A and I managed their beverage marketing partnerships with Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper in all of their sports marketing strategies, which was just a dream job for me. And so I felt like I'd arrived. And I've often told people I feel like I had the second best job other than the founder of Chick-fil-A,Truett Cathy. And it was just fantastic. And in fact, I would tell my wife, Wendy, ‘I can't cut the grass on Saturdays, going to have to watch college football to see if the chick fillet commercials are airing’, you know, so I had a fantastic job. But as you well know, long story short, I was presented with an opportunity to join the early days of Buckhead Church and to be a part of that. And suddenly, I think this situation comes to many of us in different forms. Suddenly, I had a decision. I could see where the career path was going at Chick-fil-A. I think Chick-fil-A is going to make it. I think they're going to be well, you know, and they could and everybody they were so great to me and I could see a career path. At Buckhead Church, not only is it a church, it's a video church. So I'm going to work for a church where the pastor is on video. And I had some people say this. So let me get this straight. You're leaving a multibillion dollar company to go work at a church where the preachers on video, that's crazy. And it was crazy. And I think crazy decisions like that, they don't, fortunately, they don't happen a lot. But I do think they come along in our career. And you've got to be really crystal clear. And for me, that was a pivotal moment. And there were some things that I benefited from, from those decisions. And there's some things that you give up. I gave up a financial trajectory in terms of where Chick-fil-A was going versus working at a church. But you have to measure the reward and risk. So for me, that was a pivotal moment because I saw what could benefit. If you go after what you think as you get wise counsel - what you think is the right calling and you don't listen to fear - you listen to wise counsel and really to your calling. And so that's happened two times since then as well. And so that was a pivotal moment for me to make sure that I wanted to leverage my career in a way that really served as many people as possible.

Keith: Oh, my gosh. It's just so good. I mean, there's so many components to talk to, so much of what you just said. Because for so many people, I think so many of our listeners on this podcast, there's this sense of self protectiveness that's maintaining what I know for a fact, right, and my gosh, in your role, not only was it a great company, not only was it a great position - it was cool to boot. Right. I mean, that was to be a sports marketing at Chick fil A is a lot of people's dream. So all of this wanting to protect, the worry, the fear, the scariness, the what ifs, all that kind of unknown stuff has to be bumped up against. And yet the thing that I love about your story is there was clarity of the bigger you that you wanted to be, the opportunity that you wanted to move to and man, all of those moving tensions in there. I noticed a couple of decades ago. But as you reflect back, the worry, fear and resistance and the you that you were maybe trying to protect, right, the status quo that you were going to have to let go of - are you able to still give voice to what was hardest during that time?

Jeff: Well, I think there are certainly in any decision like that, there are people that aren't going to buy in or understand it. And so I understood that. So you have to listen to a really close trusted group of advisers. And you have been with me on two of these decisions. And so I've surrounded myself. And I think there's whether you believe in the Bible or not, I think there's a biblical principle that says ‘plans fail for lack of advisers’. I think that's true. And I think sometimes you can have too many advisers, but you got to have the right number of advisers. And when you get green lights from those advisers, then it gives you confidence for when you have difficult days in the decision. I mean, as you know, there are some challenging days in those Buckhead Church days when we lost the Kroger parking lot, and we had very few parking spaces to begin with, that was a tough day in Buckhead Church days. So if I had not done the green light of my advisers, I could have thought, how did I get here and what am I doing? But I had done the due diligence and people who I respect and admire had spoken into this situation and said, nope, this is what you need to do. And you've been with me on two of those decisions. And so in those challenging days, I'm able to go, you know, I know I'm supposed to be here, but I also know that anything worth pursuing is going to be difficult. And as I've told our team at Gwinnett Church, we didn't sign up for easy. We signed up for worthwhile. And worthwhile is going to have its challenges. And when I understand that and these challenges come, I don't start doubting it. I'm going, no, this is part of starting something. This is part of launching a new phase. So you've got to prepare yourself in those difficult days because you don't want to start questioning and going back and undoing decisions. And so with your voice, among others, speaking into important decisions, it just gave me strength and confidence to go. No, I'm supposed to be here.

Keith: Yeah, and we're sitting today and we're all enjoying the product of that change, amongst others. But when you look back on that specific time, what are your biggest takeaways now about how you saw yourself, others or the world differently coming out of that time?

Jeff: I think for me that time allowed me to understand that I can lead within my own style and with my own gifting and with my own personality. I'm not naturally a loud, talkative person. I can communicate on the stage, but I'm more introverted. And I never saw myself as a leader. I never saw myself as kind of a military general that says there's a hill, we're going after it, follow me, we're going to get to the top. My approach is, hey, look, there's a hill over there. I think we could take it. What do you think? I think we should and kind of cast vision for getting there. But I just never really - I just thought there was one style of leader. So when you guys kind of thrust me into this role at Buckhead Church, suddenly I began to go, ‘I’ve got to lead’. And I had never had a church position to this level before. I never really had a leadership position to this level before. I mean sure I was leading a lot of people at Chick-fil-A and it was a lot of money that I was stewarding. But at the end of the day, I mean, I was kind of the person people are looking at as the lead pastor. It was a brand new world. But then I began to realize, no, I can. A lot of it comes from time with you and the sessions that I did with Leaders Lyceum. You know, I can actually lead out of my own gifting and my own weaknesses. And actually weaknesses does not disqualify me from leadership. Actually, weaknesses can actually draw people to my leadership. So that was one of the biggest moments in the early days of church when I realized, oh, I don't have to pretend to be anybody other than who I am. And that was a that was a big aha moment for me.

Keith: So fun. So fun. I love that. If we fast forward to today. And here we are sitting in the middle of the challenges related to covid. You know, economic issues for so many people, social unrest, racial issues. You, for the last decade have been leading Gwinnett Church, one of the most diverse populations in the state, one of the fastest growing populations in the state. Great economic and social diversity. Right. So you're leading a group of people with all of these challenges, but I'm imagining this is also challenging you. You know, leading groups of people and drawing together thousands of people every week and now looking at a camera to communicate and generate energy. What's the what's the biggest challenge that you would say you're facing today?

Jeff: I think the biggest challenge is leading an invisible church that you can't see, and you can't stand in the lobby. One of our kind of hallmarks as a church is we want to grow small, we want to grow, but we want to have a small church feel. One of the ways we did that is just hanging out in the lobby afterwards. And what I did is Buckhead Church, how at the end of the service I would just go and just hang out by those guest services desks in the lobby and just stand there. And when I left Buckhead Church, that was one of the things people commented over and over again, is you made this church feel small. And I wanted to do that still. Well, it's kind of hard to do that when it's all going virtual. So but one of the things we did early on is we gave everybody that, you know, all that we have 4000, over 4000 financial contributors to our church. And we just spread out phone numbers to everybody on our staff and said, just pick up the phone and call them. Don't ask for money, that's not what this is for, just touch base with them and ask them how they're doing. And we did that. It took two months to do that as a staff. But the feedback we got from that was phenomenal. So I think trying to grow small and then asking the question, what does this season make possible? And we've been able to stumble upon some things that maybe we would not have thought of if we had not had these challenges. So I'm encouraged by that, that because in this season and I think this is true for the business world as well, that they're not missing content. They can get content with the click of a button. What they're missing is community and how we can foster community and leverage technology to do that. We can still do that. It's just going to allow us - we're going have to think a little bit harder about that. And the other thing for me is I have tried to stay as visible to our staff as possible, either calling them on the phone, and I'm not a big call on the phone guy, staff meetings etc. I do a weekly video that goes directly to our staff communication channel just to tell them what I'm thinking and just encourage them. But I have to be more visible physically. And, you know, for them to hear my voice, that's been something I've wanted to do. And that seemed to have had a big impact.

Keith: Wow. Well, you know, it's fun having this conversation with you because it just reminds me not only how, you know, for a guy who up to date has worked for two pretty major organizations in the United States of America between Chick-fil-A and North Point Ministries, and in your various roles at both of those places. You're so entrepreneurial and creative, but you've also got this crazy intentionality about you that you don't just have the big idea, you think, what are we going to have to do to put this into place? And I remember you had note writing campaigns where people are going to send a handwritten note to somebody, or this idea of calling everybody. How often do you have an idea for a way that you want to accomplish, the bigger me place that you're heading toward, right. This hey, I've got this idea, we need to be more community oriented, but we can't gather. How often do you have an idea that when you think of it, you think, oh, yeah, but I'm a little reluctant to even bring that one up. Like, do you ever have ideas and you think, oh, no, that's too big or do you blow right through that phase and just move straight to what would we do to make this happen?

Jeff: I never want to say that's too big because I'm hoping it is. But I do think every idea needs a twenty four hour waiting period. So if I come up with an idea, I don't immediately go, this is what we ought to do. I'll go, huh, that's an interesting idea. And I'll just sit on it. And if I wake up the next day and it's twenty four hours later and I'm still excited about it, then we need to potentially move on that idea. But you know, really good ideas can compete with the best ideas. And so you've got to make sure what the pipeline is, how many ideas are in the pipeline. And I knew early on that we couldn't throw a lot of ideas because first, everybody's personally trying to catch their balance, because now not only are we shifting online to church, but so many of our staff are trying to figure out how are they shifting their kids online. For us personally, our son was a senior in high school and we're wondering what's going to happen with his high school senior year, all that. So there’s all this stuff personally going on. Then you're wondering, you know, are you going to catch the virus. And then you’ve heard somebody has, and all this personal stuff. You can't throw a ton of ideas down here, but you can leverage some really good ones. But we knew at the end of the day that for us, we wanted to make sure that as it related to Gwinnett Church, we didn't want the people of Gwinnett Church to get too accustomed to doing life without Gwinnett Church. We had to make sure that they we were staying connected with them and technology allowed us to do that. And yes, we shifted our content on Sunday mornings to online, and that's fine. And that was a that was a good decision. But that can't be ‘that's our strategy’. No, that's a supplemental strategy. Our biggest strategy is building community and letting people know we see you out there. One of the ways we do that, Keith, is every staff meeting will go to Instagram and search the hashtag #ForGwinnett. And we just sit there and comment and like people's photos who have commented about our church or something that's going on, and people just lose their minds. They're like Gwinnett Church, the staff commented on my Instagram! And that's a way to let them know that we see you. And this is a growing small as the church. And when people feel that they there's a closer bond to the organization.

Keith: Yeah. In in what areas, and I don't know that there are any, but in what areas do you feel like it's hardest for you to grow, to implement, to move in the direction of your strategy? Like in what aspects do you feel the greatest degree of challenge when it comes to that?

Jeff: I'm naturally an encourager and you know this. So conflict will always be a weak spot for me. And I just don't do it well. I probably do better than I think. It's just so excruciating to me because I would much rather encourage and tell people that because I look at life a little bit more, maybe too optimistic at times. But if I'm not careful, I can encourage someone down the wrong road. It's hard for me to be able to challenge people. And here's the fear is a big aha moment for leadership for me - I didn't know that if you gave people feedback and was critical feedback and they didn't do this job particularly well, they would actually like that. I didn't know that that was actually a real thing. I just thought they were kidding. And not everyone does. But so many people would say, oh, that's a gift, because I didn't know that. But now that I know that it's going to help me get better. And so I had to make the shift and I'm making it every single day. And it's not like I've turned the corner and I'm cool with conflict. But I saw conflict differently by seeing it as if I see something that someone on our team is doing that's not pushing us forward and not helping them, if I shy away from that, I'm being disloyal to them. And when I saw that as being disloyal to them, it really kicked in the true care and empathy I have for people to go, oh, I'm going to move toward that now, because now I see it as a way to care for them versus a way to criticize them. But I'm telling you, I will always walk with a limp as it relates to conflict.

Keith:  Yeah, you and I are built, we talked about this in the past, fairly similarly in terms of personality. You're a little more introverted than I am, but along the same lines and for us there's this not necessarily maintaining the peace, but wanting things to be easy, especially relationally. Right. And a lot of times - I just I love the way you just talked about that whole segment because it was lens changing, right, there was a lens change in that when I give someone feedback that may be critical, that may be uncomfortable for me. The thing that would be easiest for me would just be to maintain my status quo and maintain and encourage to keep encouraging, that's what I heard you saying. But actually, the more encouraging, the more caring, in a way, response was to bump up against your own discomfort in order to give them something. And it changed the way you even saw the value in that is am I getting that right?

Jeff: Absolutely. And it also applies to me as well, because, you know, when speaking of ideas and trying to be as creative and innovative as you can, well, that comes with its own challenges. It comes with its own sort of pathway of criticism. And sometimes when I felt like I've been doing some things, it's kind of maybe a little bit different than maybe, you know, typical or whatever. And I feel like, you know, people might be taking shots and a mentor of mine said, hey, that's the pathway of innovation. If you don't want to get on that pathway and get shot at, and that's too exaggerated, but that's the pathway, buddy. So if you want to be this innovative idea person, then that's the road. And I thought, oh, gosh, I never I never saw it that way. So it just comes with the territory and didn't make necessarily the criticism easier. But it allowed me to go ‘I know where it's coming from and I still think this is going to be the right thing to do’. So and, you know, you have to make sure that when you're doing ideas, you're not doing new ideas for the sake of new ideas, there has to be a strategy behind it and needs to be in line with the vision and mission of any organization. If not, you can go off the rails. But when you're doing that within the context of any organization, you're probably going to get some feedback and it's probably not going to be the most encouraging. So as an encourager, I like to encourage and to be encouraged. And so that's criticism is going to come. So I walk with a limp on both sides of the equation on that. But again, I've been able to make the leap in my mind to go no, this is the pathway of innovation and I'm going to I'm going to move toward that because I have a stewardship responsibility to this organization, to whatever organization I'm working for. And if it comes with some criticism, then that's good. Some of the criticism is actually great and needed. I just got to make sure I'm listening to it. And the ones that aren't, I'm going to learn how to not listen to those.

Keith: Yeah, Jeff, there's always been a groundedness in you. Now that you've aged up a little bit, as notable as it was when you were thirty five or thirty or whatever it was at the time, but this sort of groundedness in where you want to lead from the values that are important to you, the alignment with this bigger picture that you're that you just spoke about. That is the place that so many people who we have the opportunity to work with, and I hope so many of our listeners who are struggling with this - not feeling liked my personality, what others think, my income, my position, conflicts, being liked - all of these kinds of things are like these outside forces that we don't really control anyway, right. But the goal, and so many of the things that you've just said over the last 20 minutes or so have been about, no, I realized that I had to own this. No, I realized that I had to do this. And this is the reason we started this podcast, is to encourage people who were earlier along the journey to say, hey, this tension between where we're trying to be and where we are right now, what we're trying to protect and the worry, fear and resistance in our natural ways of - I love walking with a limp. Right. And we've got different limps. But that this never ends. There is an opportunity to keep growing, and so we want people to have courage that they can take the steps, take the challenge, seek counsel, do the things that they need to do to move in a direction where they begin to own for themselves more and more of who they are. And so, you know, as you think about and my gosh, you folks listening, if you're not familiar with the Northpoint Ministry's model, the average age of most of the staff is young. I mean, we've got a few people that are forties, fifties and beyond, but for the most part, it's a really young group. Very much understanding the world from the outside in and feeling stuck a lot.  What advice would you have for folks in their pursuit of growth, at this stage in your journey?

Jeff:  Fight for your emotional health. I'm all for, you know, studying and going to college and all that, I'm all for that because I'm talking to a doctor here, by the way, Dr. Keith Eigel. So all that's important. But you can have all that And if you are imploding on the inside, it will just give it enough time. It'll catch up to you. And when I say fight for your emotional health, it is a fight. It's a battle. And one of the best gifts that I've been given is really through you and through David and Scotland and Rocky in terms of that advisory group. That advisory group has allowed me to fight for my emotional health. And there would be some things I would say out loud that I'm like now that the words are coming out of my mouth, why am I even bothered by that? And then you guys would say, why are you even bothered by that? There are other times when you would go, no, that's valid. You need to pay attention to it. But I say all that to say, fighting for your emotional health, and that means being emotionally aware, understanding what it's like to be on the other side. I mean, the question we ask around here is, what's it like to be on the other side of me? All that's really, really important. And it seems kind of wishy washy, soft, does that really matter. I'm telling you, if you ignore that, just give it time. It will catch up to you. And again, as I mentioned, the word fight is a really important word because when it comes to growth, we don't naturally trend toward health. I don't naturally at night grab a bowl of broccoli. I naturally tend toward a bowl of ice cream. That's the natural drift. And so you've got  - and that's why the work you're doing is so important, why this podcast is so important - because I think sometimes we see the highlight reels of leaders and we don't really understand the war it is internally. And that's the thing I've experienced in these 20 years. It is a war, but the biggest war is me and what's going on side of me. It's not the person outside of me, it's what's going on inside me. That's the biggest battle. And I've got to have the tools in my case. I mean, a person of faith, I have to have, you know, the help from God to make sure that I'm winning the battle with myself.

Keith: Oh, my gosh, Jeff, that is just, this idea of fighting for your emotional health, it triggers a lot of things in my mind. But, you know, over the years, all the people who've come through our programs, we've seen so many people who are stuck. They're in over their heads, they're feeling stuck and they don't know what to do. But this fighting is such a proactive word, right, It's not a passive word and it's not a, you know, throw up the ramparts and, like, keep the forces away. It is like I'm going to have to do something about this. And again, I hope that people can hear in your story and from your story and especially those you know, the so many people who you've had influence with. To know that it's not like they're going through something different than you're going through. But what you've done is you've leaned in, and you continue to lean into the difficulty. And the seeking counsel is one thing, and being clear about where you're going is another thing, but also the clarity with what you're talking about, what tends to hold you in place and that you're going to have to bump up against that. And I love the limp that is both external and internal. It's just all so good.

Jeff: And I think many times we in leadership circles, if we're not careful, we think we have to project an image, and image management is exhausting. And one of the things that made this transition from Gwinnett Church, I've been meeting individually with all the staff members just to say thank you to them. I will always feel indebted to them and ask the question, how can I help you? And that doesn't expire when I'm gone. I'm always on my cell phone won't change and so I'm here. But one of the things I've heard is ‘thanks for being real’. ‘Thanks for letting us see when you were struggling’. And, you know, you have to be careful with, you know, sharing information. But I think people understood that no one looked at me as the leader here in that church said, does that guy have any issues? You know, I think they understood that I was, you know, had my challenges. And especially when you're a pastor, that's even harder to do because you're supposed to have it all together. Right. And if no one gets anything out of this podcast, let me just assure you, us pastors are just as broken as anyone else. And so I think I just love the fact that our team has said thanks for allowing us to see, you know, thanks for being transparent. And that didn't repel us away. It actually drew us closer.

Keith: This is all so good. I wish we could talk for hours. But I'm so grateful for you sharing some of your story with this audience and with me. You know, as we're talking, we're in the middle of a major life transition for you. When the podcast airs, we will be in a new place. And this will be, I mean this shift to me seems, to parallel in some ways to leaving Chick-Fil-A and coming to work for Northpoint Ministries shift. But, you know, I won't say any more than that. What's going on in your world right now that you're most excited about?

Jeff: There's a lot. As you well know, Wendy and I just became empty nesters. So both of our kids are now at Samford University in Birmingham. And we miss our kids, but we're actually enjoying this season. And we didn't really time it this way necessarily, we knew, as you well know, in fact, for a year and a half, we started conversations with you in my advisory group about, hey, what are these empty nesting years look like if you about it? Have you started planning about it? And there was such a helpful conversation to have a year and a half ago. And that really led us to ultimately deciding to leave Gwinnett Church to serve a broader collection of churches and organizations and businesses through the book I wrote and through the For Strategy. The two questions - what do you want to be known for? And what are you known for? And closing the gap between those two questions. And so to see what has happened over the last several months has been exciting, but at the same time, there's still risk. I don't know if people know there's a global pandemic going on, so making a career transition right now, it's doubling or tripling tough. But I go back to the Chick-fil-A to Buckhead, and Buckhead to Gwinnett, and I've kind of been through this road before. And we had the same feeling and the same answers and the same perspectives on both of those times as we've had on this one. But we've gotten green lights from all of our advisors. So I'm excited about going in this season with Wendy because she's going to be able to come with me a lot. I'll be speaking a lot and, you know, both virtually or in person. So I'm excited about what this means for our marriage and being able to kind of launch an organization on my own. I've always wondered, do I have the leadership abilities to launch something on my own? I remember talking to Andy Stanley about that one time and he said, ‘well, Jeff, you're the only one that wonders that’. So that was very encouraging. So here we go. But it comes with all of the 3 a.m. wake up moments like what in the world are we doing? But I'm excited about it. I'm excited about this season. So we'll see how it goes.

Keith: Oh, I'm so excited for you. And I'm excited for the, I don't know, this may sound overly dramatic, but it's like nationalizing or globalizing your influence because you've got a lot of it. And I'm excited that the influence is going to extend just beyond the church world where you've had so much experience and provided such great leadership. But to really move into just leadership in organizational settings to talk. So many organizations are wanting to make the difference that they want to make and that difference is really positive. And the insights in FOR, which is what I call the book, and by the way, you are a brilliant writer, I hope that is not your last. And folks, if you have not read this, I would encourage you to read FOR. It's, actually, "Know What You're FOR". And then there's a subtitle to it. But the FOR is in big letters. And please, you haven't read this book, take a look at it.

Jeff: Well, I agree. I think, you know, in organizations. Yeah, it's interesting how we think, you know, the business world is for profit and church world is nonprofit or not for profit. And over here we have purpose and over here we have profit. The exciting thing about being in challenging days is that I think purpose and profit will travel together. And the more you clarify that purpose, you will grow the bottom line. We're seeing that in marketing research - the lower, the younger the demographic, the more they're saying, what is your organization doing to help make the world a better place? So it's just no longer about being the best company in the world. It's about being the best company for the world. I'm just so excited about that message for the business world, because I think for some way it seems like that's a message for the nonprofit world. And while it still is true, it is not exclusive to that world. And so that’s what I’m excited about, just helping really serve where you actually can have a greater purpose in many ways. and greater influence than a smaller nonprofit can.

Keith: Jeff, what's the best way for people to reach you during this season?

Jeff: Well, they can actually, my phone number is in the back of the book. They can get the book and just text me. That's great. I get a text today, so that's fun. They can just go to but my email is And, you know, in these early days, if you email me, I'll probably respond because I'm probably not getting many emails in these early days. So email away.

Keith: All right, Jeff, thank you so much for your time and for sharing part of your life with this audience.

Jeff: Grateful for you. Thanks for your influence.
Sara: Wow, Keith. What a great conversation and Jeff is just such a great communicator of what it is he's thinking. I think that's why he's been so successful. And I just took so many great notes, so much good stuff in there. And I think you're right. Like his clarity of what it is that he, in his words, what it is he's FOR. Right. Which is making an impact, doing worthwhile work, really loving on people. It's so clear in all the decisions his transition from Chick-fil-A to Buckhead, and from Buckhead to Gwinnett and now going out to the FOR company, like he just really is clear on what he's doing. But he's also so honest about the fact that there are things inside of him that that make it difficult, you know, when he talks about walking with a limp. And I resonate with that so much because I'm guessing he's a feeler in the personality model that we use, like both of us, that it's like conflict is really hard. Saying hard things to people is hard and being told the hard things and receiving it is hard, especially when it's work that's so personal. And that he owns that and just acknowledges, like, I don't want to let my innate encouraging bent keep me from doing the hard things that need to be done in leadership. So I thought that was really great to hear from him, that it's not just easy all the time.

Keith: Yeah. And Sara do you know, I mentioned this at the front of the interview where I talked, kind of told him he's been an exemplar for me in front of audiences for four years, that he's the guy I'm thinking of, even if I don't mention him by name. And one of the things that I noticed about him so early on is that there wasn't a challenge for him that he did not just sort of naturally lean into. He just bumped up against the anxiety, the worry, the fear, the resistance, all these things that we talked about in a way that I was like, oh, my gosh, that's how everybody needs to be doing this. We don't need to run back to our little shell and try and protect our reputation, or even as Jeff talked about it, we don't need to protect that we're always going to be in an encourager. Right. That conflict, even though it's not easy for me, is something I need to lean into. And I think Jeff does that better than most. But I think the thing that I always want to focus on is this is something all of us can do and can learn to do. And it may take a little bit more of a support system or a little bit more intentionality for many of us. But, boy, when he talked about fighting for your emotional health and when he talked about just you know, it's it was almost implied that you were going to push through the things that were difficult, the things that you were bumping up against your worry, fear, resistance. It was almost implied that, well, of course, you do it. I mean, you get the counsel of some people, but you do just lean in. Yeah.

Sara: I have a couple quotes that he said that support all of that, and just to tack on that very last thing you said, he said we don't listen to fear, we listen to wise counsel. Right. And just that acknowledgement that those fears will be there, right, but I'm choosing to not listen to them. That's exactly this idea of leaning into the challenge. And this was from his story of when he left this dream job at Chick-fil-A. And like you said, he was probably in his thirties. And so the wise counsel then was really helping him make that shift in cement, who he was going to be in this season of his life. But even now, he's talked about the importance of counsel to really kind of support the decisions he's making. And then I think my favorite thing from his interview was when he was talking about anything worth pursuing is going to be difficult and that we didn't sign up for easy, we signed up for worthwhile. Like, I want to just paste that on my wall. I didn't sign up for easy, I signed up for a worthwhile cause because that's when you're like, ok, it's worth it for me to keep going because it is in pursuit of this bigger me, this thing I want to be about rather than just wanting to say it's hard, ok, I just want to quit.

Keith: I know. And Sara, you and I both know this. We've made a career out of this. We've paid the price of a Ph.D. dissertation, doctoral coursework, all that kind of stuff in this. And we're standing on the shoulders of some great people here. But the deal is that continuing growing as a grown-up is tough work. It's not easy. And the fact that it is not easy is why I think so many people wind up saying, ok, it's hard enough and I've walked the journey far enough. They find themselves stuck and yet this nagging worthwhileness, this pull to be more is still present for all of us. Yeah, and then what are you going to do with that tension right? You're going to have to find some way to numb it, sweep it under the rug or forget about it. And we've made a career out of trying to move people off of that place and say this can actually be energizing. And you can hear it in Jeff's voice even when he talks about it, even as you can feel a little bit of the anxiety of what he's about to jump into next, right?

Sara: Yeah, yeah. I mean, when he talks at the end about this importance of fighting for your emotional health. Right. And he is somebody that both of us look at and acknowledge as it just comes more naturally to you. Like, you just know you're going to push through, as you said. But even him saying it's a fight like I have to get up and choose this, I have to lean in, it's not easy for me. And you think about the elite athletes. We talk about the parallels between developmental growth and developmental fitness with physical fitness. Right. It's the people that are running the Iron Man's - it's still hard for them, it still hurts their body, it still is a challenge. And when he says at the end, it just warmed my heart. He said when it comes to growth, we don't naturally trend towards health. At the end of the day, I don't choose a bowl of broccoli over a bowl of ice cream. I want the ice cream, but we have to make those hard choices. And that really is kind of a funny picture of the bigger me and smaller me values, right? Bigger me - I want to be a person who wants to eat broccoli. Smaller me - I want to eat the ice cream because it's comfort food. And we have to just decide where the broccoli people. Right. We're going to be the ones to lean into the challenge and do the hard work in honor of the thing that we recognize is worth it.

Keith: Oh, I love it. That was one of my favorite parts of the interview as well. My other favorite part of the interview was the clarity with which he understood walking with a limp. And then he started, like limping with both legs, because not only is it an external limp, it's an internal limp right? And, you know, I think for most of us, it takes such courage to actually name that stuff. But he also tied this to the authenticity and vulnerability in the way people perceive this as a strength. Again, just thing after thing after thing through this interview just kept adding up to a growing person.

Sara: Yeah, I think, again, there's so many quotes that the last one I think I'll share on the heels of that one is where he said early on, weakness does not disqualify me from leadership, it draws people to my leadership. And I think that we've talked about this in some other places that this that vulnerability so many times people think makes them seem weak. But him being able to say this is hard for me, like I'm struggling with this too, you know, drawing on my wise counsel. And at the end, when he talks about how many people have thanked him for his authenticity and how that has made him a leader that people wanted to follow, I just think how beautiful that is.

Keith: Yeah, it really is. And, you know, I think as we kind of wrap up this segment. You know, there are times that I see someone listen to someone, watch someone like Jeff. And I even catch myself getting into this place where it's like I'm just not built like that, I guess that's not my destiny in some way, right, to have that kind of influence, to make that kind of difference. And it would just be easier to kind of settle. But settling is not growing. And I think the thing that I want to just emphasize for our listeners is that, know, again, these are skills that all of us can learn they are, but they're not exactly second nature for most of us to put our finger on. And so I know you brought up the Growth Gap Tool kind of at the front end of this thing, but we have designed this tool again, there's no charge on this. Just go download it and read the PDF and work through it. Because what this tool does is enable people to really name for themselves, maybe coming from an entirely new place, what really matters to them, the difference that they want to make. And it doesn't need to be to start an organization that tens of thousands of people follow. Right. It doesn't need to be that. It could be wanting to have a different kind of influence with your children. It could be wanting to have a different kind of influence with the 12 people you lead in your organization that you care about them. But this will give you an opportunity to name this thing with a greater level of clarity to figure out what your limps are. Right. Because once we can name them, sharing those with people is just a step of courage. But a lot of us don't even know how to name them. And then when we can figure out what are the tendencies we have that tend to hold us in place. When we start naming these three vital components to growth, there are ways to take steps to lean in and grow. And it was just such a pleasure for me, it was such a privilege for me to get to hear Jeff kind of share his story and hear and see all of those pieces in the interview.

Sara: So let me just say one other thing. For the people that do want to start on this journey themselves, the people like you and I who are not just naturally built like Jeff and the other leaders we've had on this podcast, we have just launched our first online class and we would love for you guys to come. It is specifically focused on how you can lean into the challenges in your life and use those to accelerate your growth. So it's taking the Growth Gap Tool and it's taking a bunch of our other core curriculum, things that we've been doing with leaders for years, putting them in little bite sized bits online. We would love to offer that to you guys. And because we're just getting this rolling in conjunction with this podcast, we are offering a discount code for the listeners of our podcast that if you sign up by the end of the year, it is going to be 50 %off if you use code - Podcast50. So for those of you who want to really just start listening in, accelerating your growth, not letting the challenges that are facing us right now, the difficulties, whatever they are, get you stuck. We would love to invite you to participate in that. Reach out to us if you have any questions. We'd love to talk to you about it.

And with that, we will wrap up today's episode. Check out Jeff. We will put the links to his new company, to his website - buy his book, we've both read it and it is so great. I mean, just really inspiring.

We will see you next week or for the next episode of Growing as Grown -Ups.
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