Tracey- In this episode, I’m very excited to introduce you to Greg Leith. Let me tell you about Greg. Greg’s life mission statement is to “strengthen great leaders and exponentially accelerate the kingdom.” He is the CEO of Convene Corporation where thousands of Christian CEOs connect around business excellence that is built on a biblical foundation. Before that, Greg was also a senior executive for twenty years with the ServiceMaster company, which is a multi-national $9 billion firm engaged in healthcare and education management, as well as franchising. He’s also a nonprofit leader where he serves as the Vice President of Arrow Leadership and Director of Leadership Development for the Christian Leadership Alliance. Greg, I am so excited to talk to you about the price of leadership.
Greg- Thanks for having me, Tracey. It’s an honor and you know how much I also was a raving fan of your dad’s. This is a treat for me.
Thank you. To our audience, I always like to share how we made this tremendous connection. I am in the Harrisburg area in Pennsylvania. Last November, I was at the Lancaster Prayer Breakfast, where I crossed past with the tremendous gentleman, Bud Handwerk, who then connected with me. Bud chairs one of the local groups here in our area of the Christian Convene. For our audience, those of you who are familiar with other mastermind groups like this stage, this is like that.
We’ll talk about how it’s different, but this is the Christian version of it. I’ve gotten the chance to get connected with the local groups in the area to speak to them, and then I got to meet Greg in person because Bud told me how much you love my father. Not long ago, when you came and did a regional event in the Lancaster Trust, I got to meet Greg in person. Greg, thank you so much for being here again.
It’s great to be with you. One of my stories that I told Bud Handwerk there in the Lancaster area, which by the way, it took me two years to get the audience in Lancaster to stop laughing when I said Lancaster. I remember walking into Lancaster Bible College one day into the library. I’m a raving fan of your dad. I’ve heard him speak many times. He’s giving me the signature Charlie “Tremendous” Jones hug. I walked into the library at Lancaster Bible College and I saw this life-sized portrait of your dad. It was very big. I said to Bud, "What the heck?" He said, "Tracey lives here." I said, "I'd love to meet her." This is great for me.
It is great. That’s where I got my PhD. Many of the audience out there know that. It’s at the Lancaster Bible College. I love that entity and all they do. They taught me all about leadership. Greg, thank you for sharing that. I'm so glad you got hugged multiple times by Charlie. I know you were a true leader and you would have paid the price of leadership if you had not got some of his bear hugs for sure.
I’m also thrilled to meet one of the little children when you were a little bit young girl in some of his stories of the car going back and forth in the snow in the driveway to go to church because “We’re going to go to church.” Of course, he knew you could never make it out of the driveway that snowy day and told you later, apparently, that he was making memories.
Did he ever? He would also tell us, “I always let you guys make your own decisions.” We’re like, “Seriously? Did you really say that?” He’s like, “They have engaged in a little spiritual meddling.” He always had an interesting way of saying different things. Greg, you have decades of leadership experience. One of Charlie’s most prolific speeches is he loved leadership but he was very pragmatic about it.
He said, “If you’re going to be a leader, there’s a price you’re going to have to pay.” The first price that he talked about was loneliness. We’ve all heard that "Heavy is the head that wears the crown and it’s lonely at the top.” Can you unpack what loneliness means for you as a leader? Perhaps, if you have been through a season of loneliness, something that you would share with our audience to help them as they navigate their way through it.
I feel like we could do about three episodes on this subject so I’ll be succinct or I will be here for three days. There are many times when, in my life, I was feeling lonely at the top. I remember Chuck Swindoll, my pastor here in California for quite a while, wrote an article called The Lonely Whine of the Top Dog. It is about moving away from the crowd, as your dad said. I remember a time when I was quite happy in my ServiceMaster corporate job. We were $5 billion or $6 billion at that time. I had started with ServiceMaster when we were $300 million. I was with the corporate side, healthcare management, suits, ties, corporate jets, and the whole nine yards. On the franchise side, these people cleaned carpets and drove yellow vans.
I thought, “I will never be one of those people,” and then I found out that there was a business in Vancouver, Canada for sale doing $40,000. I said to the guy who wanted to sell it, “$40,000? Is that a day, a week, or a month?” He said, “No. A year.” I went to the people doing what he did in Toronto, Canada, where I was living. I said, “How much do you do?” They said $7 million. I quickly bought the guy’s business in Vancouver but I was driving by myself in my little Audi 5000 from Toronto to Vancouver the entire time thinking, “I spent all the money I had. I don’t know why I’m going out there to clean carpets. This is ridiculous.” On the last day of my drive, I was super tired. I drove through the night. It was about 3:00 in the morning and I found a motel.
I pulled into the parking lot, turned off the car, and slept for two hours until I went to my first meeting with my new business in Vancouver, Canada. The entire drive, I can promise you, I was lonely. As I inherited the business, there was a guy who was mostly drunk. There was a drug addict. There was a broken-down vehicle. I fired everybody and started cleaning the carpet myself. Here I am, cleaning the carpet in the middle of the night at 2:00 in the morning with a Bible College degree and a Business degree, I left corporate with a suit. I said, “What am I doing? This is ridiculous.” I surely was lonely.
This will make you go, “What the heck is that?” but I’m encouraged by the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets the night he was shot. The reason I’m encouraged by that is because what was in his pockets was normal stuff. He had a country boy’s pen knife. He had his spectacles tied together with a piece of twine, a handkerchief, a watch fob, and here’s the best part, eight articles in his pocket on why history would call him a great president. Lonely at the top.
That is fascinating. Have you ever read the poem? I cannot believe I have never heard this. If anybody says, “I can’t believe you have heard this,” I’m going to say, “Why didn’t you tell me earlier about it?” It’s called The Indispensable Man. Have you ever read that poem?
You didn’t know either but it’s very much the same thing and it’s all about the allegory. The parable is when you leave an entity and you think you’ll be missed, “I can’t leave. I’m so good. I’m up here at this paradigm” kind of thing, put your hand in a bucket. Take your hand out of the bucket and look at the bucket. When you go, that’s how much people remember you. It’s not a mean thing but it’s all about listening. It keeps you humble no matter where you go. I love that story that you were up there and here you are in the middle of the night cleaning carpets. That is good for the soul to keep you focused on the peaks and the valleys of leadership. I appreciate you sharing that.
Take your hand out of the bucket, and look at the bucket when you go. That's how much people remember you.
The next thing he said is weariness I’m sure you were weary too. My dad would always tell me, “Tracey, so much of leadership is you’re going to have to be picking up the things that other people should be doing but they’re not doing and it’s tiring. We have this beautiful soul and eternal spirit but we’re still mere mortals.” How do you combat weariness as a leader?
I was encouraged. At one point in time in my career, I was a Youth for Christ board member in the Canadian Youth for Christ for the country. I had the privilege of hearing a talk by Torrey Johnson. He was one of the early Youth for Christ people before Billy Graham and during the Billy Graham era as well. Torrey did a talk one time. He was one of the most powerful preachers. He did this talk where he was basically in the genre of your dad. He was talking about when you’re tired. He said, “When you do work, you get tired and you get so tired sometimes. Sometimes, when I’m so tired, I go back to the hotel room and lie on the bed. I’m too tired to take my clothes off and I fall asleep on the bed and wake up at 2:00 in the morning.”
That is encouraging to me. What God is not for is for us to have three vacation homes and golf after we sell the company for $100 million while we're doing absolutely nothing for the kingdom. We might be excessive in our purchasing habits. There's nothing wrong with great cars but you probably don't need 5 or 6. There's nothing wrong with great houses but you probably don't need 4 or 5. I'd rather be tired of the work of the kingdom, leadership, and helping people than live a life full of leisure so that when I get to heaven, I'm going to get through the reward line fast because God doesn't have much to say.
You hit the nail on the head. There’s good weariness and bad weariness, just like loneliness. There’s the good loneliness like when Christ goes off on his own, and then there’s the bad loneliness. The weariness, it is very interesting that you talked about Torrey finishing the race strong. It means you don’t let off the paddle. Dad did not like it when he would ask people, “What are you doing?” They’re like, “We’re retired.” I’m like, “Don’t say that.” He’s like, “We don’t ever retire in the kingdom. What if John would have retired on the isle of Patmos?” We finished strong and beware. There are times when I’m so tired but there’s a good weariness that you know that you’re exhausted but in such a good way. I love Youth for Christ. I was in that as a youngster.
Frankly, there are people who are tired of doing nothing. The redefinition of those people’s “tiredness” is they are actually bored with the lack of accomplishment in their lives. Those are some people that I don’t want to get behind in the rewards line in heaven because they’re going to be getting a lot of rewards from God. We often forget that there are rewards in heaven. Everybody thinks it’s weird and everybody comes and pushes back against it and says, “God wouldn’t set up a reward plan.”
It’s like you didn’t set up a reward plan for your kids when you said, “If you do these chores, you get five stars” or whatever. God says we are going to be rewarded for the things we accomplished on Earth and if we get that, then we will be ready to receive these rewards from God. I don’t want to be the guy who God says, “Next. Leave. You didn’t do much. Go to your mansion and see you later.”
I love it. I call that stacking crowns and you said accelerate the kingdom. We’re building it up and doing it now versus later. Have you ever read Erwin Lutzer’s One Minute After You Die?
I read that probably at least every other month. He talks about that and what we’re doing here. It’s the parable of the talents. What are we going to be doing in heaven? I’m like, “I don’t want to be unemployed in heaven.” I want to have discussions with you about how incredible things are. What we’re doing here is we’re honing our chops or spirit. We’re just in a different form that we’re going to be doing that. I love that you brought that out. That’s why he says, “Don’t grow weary.” We say, “I said the prayer. I’m done. I will just sit back and wait until the end.”
To bounce off one of your dad’s eternal life insurance policy pamphlets. You don’t want to say, “I got a fire insurance policy against hell and I have nothing to do until I get to heaven.” That’s ridiculous.
The next thing he talked about was abandonment. Again, there's good abandonment and bad abandonment. We hear the fear of abandonment. If you’re in pet rescue like me, that’s a bad thing. What my father talked about was that abandonment was like a hyper-focus. I can remember one time I went into the basement, where his office was, as a teenager. He was at the height of his career and I remember him sitting there with this look on his face. I was like, “What’s up, Dad?” He said, “Tracey, I do more in a day to contribute to my failure than I do my success.”
I’m like, “What are you talking about?” He’s like, “You need to learn the Law of Abandonment, which is pruning. Stop thinking and doing what you like and want to think about in favor of what you ought and need to be about.” It captures all those thoughts. The devil loves busyness and working our fingers to the bone, but not all work is the purest form of our work. Can you talk about, with all your transitions, things, and all the different requirements on you, how you deal with abandonment and stay tightly focused on the best and highest use of god’s calling for you?
I have a son named Carson. He’s an Anglican priest up in Wenatchee, Washington. He wrote an article one time that I loved where he basically said, “You’re trying to get the first thing on your list done that is important and you decide to go check the news. You read the news about the latest politics and then you see an ad for better dog food. You click on that and then you’re working on looking at this dog food and you see something for dog little outfits. You click on that and then the next thing you see is an article about the Caribbean vacation. You’re talking about the Caribbean vacation and you look at your watch and half an hour has gone by. You’re now looking at what new carpet colors are hot in the world.”
You went from here to here but you never got the first thing done. I remember right here in my office, I have a big whiteboard thing and it’s full of sticky notes. It’s all about our May 2024 conference, which is about ten months away. I was thinking, "There are a lot of fun things I could do today, but I need to do that work on the conference, but it’s ten months away.” I started doing some other stuff that was fun and then I realized I had to go sit in the chair in front of the whiteboard and figure out who are my final speakers for May 2024. Part of it took me to go and sit in that chair. There’s that insurance salesman who wasn’t your dad who said, “The difference between successful people and non-successful people is successful people have learned to do the things that unsuccessful people are not willing to do.”
I had to go sit in my chair, look at the whiteboard, and figure out what had to be done. I could go home and say to my wife, Shelly, “All the speakers for the conference are done.” I felt great like Torrey Johnson said, “You feel great.” Here’s the deal. God is the creator. God, Jesus, and the holy spirit worked to create Earth. They gave Adam and Eve work in the garden. They said work is going to look different until Jesus comes again. When we go to heaven, we’re going to work in heaven. It’s work, not leisure or there would be no men and women created, no Earth created, and no work in heaven. Some people think we’re going to sit in heaven with white robes, harps, and clouds. That’s not the deal. We are going to work in heaven and work now is a test. Work is a good thing so let’s get to work.
That abandonment and the quote that you talked about were habits. It’s Albert E.N. Gray’s The New Common Denominator of Success. Probably, at least half of our audience out there haven’t read that. If you haven’t gotten what Greg was talking about, it is habits. You’re sitting there and saying, “Turn it off. This is what I’m going to do.” It reminds me, Greg. You got to drive an Amish buggy when he was in Lancaster. Correct, Greg?
For those of you who have been up in Amish country here in South Central Pennsylvania, the horses are on there. Sometimes they have those blinders on so they’re not distracted. That’s what you need to do with yourself. You need to saddle up, get your lobe behind you, put them little blinders on, and get to walk. Every time I think about those horses, I’m like, “God, may I have the focus in the singularity of those Amish horses.”
Loneliness, weariness, and abandonment. The last topic he said is vision. I know growing up, I’m listening to the great people. I thought, “They have something going on. They have this visionary gene.” My dad is like, “Tracey, vision is seeing what needs to be done and then doing it. If all you are is talking about the future but not putting a plan of action, that’s not vision. That’s daydreaming.” Can you talk to us about how you continue to hone your leadership vision, maybe even for what’s next for Convene?
COVID was something that helped us to hone our vision, which is oddly juxtaposed with the COVID situation where we couldn’t get together. What we do is we get together. We don’t manufacture things. We don’t invent or necessarily just write things. We get men and women who are CEOs in a room to work together on their business and do it on a biblical platform. All of a sudden, we couldn’t get together. Thanks to our amazing team. In about 48 hours, we reinvented the organization, and all the groups from coast to coast, 70-plus groups, were getting together on this crazy thing we never heard of before called Zoom.
We became a Zoom room organization in 48 hours. That was a vision from our field leaders and our headquarters leaders. We basically said, “How can we reinvent the original vision?” The original vision as you indicated was, “Let’s create a faith-based version of Vistage,” which is a take-off from these mastermind groups of earlier days that said, “The power of many minds around a table is greater than the power of one.” That was a reinvention of our vision and it was a very exciting time. Now, the virtual Convene groups are emerging as a very significant piece of our business. That’s exciting.
Thank you for sharing that, Greg. We covered loneliness, weariness, abandonment, and vision. Anything else all things leadership that we have not hit on with the price of leadership context that you would like to share with our audience?
Something that I learned in my ServiceMaster days in twenty years was that you need to value people and not see people as a unit of production but as a person to be loved, valued, and appreciated. In those days, that seemed very faith-esque. It's like "That's what you Jesus people do. You love people, pat them on the back, and say I love you." The studies have now concluded that when you love people, they perform at a higher level and the organization is more profitable.
You need to value people. Don’t look at a person as a unit of production but as someone to be loved, valued, and appreciated.
That was a Harvard study called The Service Profit Chain. The Service Profit Chain said exactly what I said, “When you value and appreciate and love people and take care of them, you will end up having them do a better job for you and there will be more profits.” The Service Profit Chain is a big deal and we try to teach that throughout our Convene network.
I love hearing that. That’s so important. In more and more leadership stuff that I’m teaching, they say the L word, which is love. Before, it was like, “Of course, she would say that.” It’s the heart and the love of the leader for the people. I know Ken Blanchard would always tell me, “Tracey, look at every person as an oyster. There’s a pearl in there somewhere. Remember that. Even though they may be slimy and stinky outside, get them to open up and find that pearl in there.” I love that you said don’t treat them as a unit of production. That’s beautiful. Greg, talk to us about Convene. I love for our audience to hear more about it because everybody I talk to, I tell about it. Bud and I are going to a lunch and I’d love to share if somebody is interested in it. What does that look like for them?
Let me come out interestingly from some of the four things that we talked about. We did some surveys that are very empirical and we discovered that people were lonely in leadership. We discovered that people didn’t have a good track to run on how to integrate their faith into their business. We discovered that people were concerned about profitability, faith, and all those kinds of things. At this stage, we looked at other models and the bible. We looked at this whole notion of Jesus and the 12 disciples for 3 years where he was in a peer-to-peer networking group. We said, “How could we create something that champions business performance, profit, people, and excellence, and how do we do that all by laying it on a biblical platform?”
About 28 years ago, we were at Saddleback Church with a pastor named Brian Thatcher and an elder named Rick Green. Tick was in Vistage and Brian was with the Navigators, and they put the peanut butter in the chocolate together and created BBL Forum, Beyond the Bottom Line, turning the Sunday stuff into Monday stuff for better lives and business. That was how we began. Rick Warren, if you’re tuned in, it started at Saddleback Church. It did because Brian and Rick were going to Saddleback Church. Back in the day, Saddleback was not this giant mega church. It was an organization meeting in high school gyms. We’re very grateful for the fanning the flames of Convene that Rick Warren did, and the great blessing that occurred by us being able to build on some of the relationships at Saddleback.
We are basically about business performance and eternal perspective. We’re about people helping each other to run a great business. I’ll never forget there were four objectives that ServiceMaster when I was there. One was to honor God in all we do, help people develop, pursue excellence, and grow profitably. We would often, at times, not be as close to being on budget as we wanted to be. Our president Bill Pollard would remind us, “We’re not the Salvation Army. We’re not the Billy Graham organization. We’re a business. We need to be profitable because if you’re not profitable, you don’t have a business to honor God.”
Frankly, if you’re a nonprofit, it doesn’t mean you can’t have excess revenue over expenses. You still need to be cash-positive and income, meaning you need to be more than expenses or you don't get to do the mission that you're doing. It's profitable, honors God, pursues excellence, and loves people. According to Harvard's Service Profit Chain, it'll all work together.
How do people find out about the Convene Groups?
Our website is ConveneNow.com. Click on it and get out there. Don’t keep leading alone. That’s not how God designed you. He designed you to work in a community and when you bring an idea, problem, or difficult situation to the group, it happens all the time that you come up with a better solution than banging your head against the wall by yourself in a locked room.
I love that and I love you tied it back to the price of leadership because leadership is a shared endeavor. You have your followers, but leaders have to pour into one another like Jesus with the disciples. For the leaders tuning in out there, who pours into you? I’m not talking about your spouse. You need to get with peers so they can pour into you. I was a Vistage member earlier and when I first got back, I knew enough to know that I could be the smartest person.
This is where we are never meant to do this alone. There are so many benefits and advantages to it. Thank you, Greg, for stepping in, sharing about leadership, and all the work you’re doing with Convene. I know so many people who are involved with it. I met so many business owners and to see the impact you have on them is profound.
It's a pleasure that we get to do it and fan the flames of the vision of our founders to honor the biblical values of community and advance the kingdom of God. It's not very fun to say I'm building a business for myself to make a lot of money so I can scroll it away and die with millions of dollars in the bank. That is not a life worth living.
To build a business for yourself to make a lot of money so you can scroll it away and die with millions of dollars in the bank is not a life worth living.
That’s what happened in the Parable of Talents. That didn’t end too well. He got cast out and called lazy and wicked. I love you’re bringing that perspective. Greg, I thank you so much. To our audience, we wouldn’t have a show without you. We thank you so much for tuning in and for paying the price of leadership. If you like what you’ve heard, please be sure and hit the subscribe button. If you do give us the honor of a review, we would be so thankful, and share this with some other leaders who need to hear some of the wisdom, insights, and experience that Greg has shared. You keep on paying the price of leadership. Greg, thank you so much. I’m thrilled we connected. I look forward to many more tremendous connections in the future.
You’re welcome. To our audience out there, you have a tremendous rest of your day. Bye-bye.