Leadership is About Humility–A Conversation With Tom De Vries (Part 2)
Have you ever wondered about the person who leads the Global Leadership Network (GLN)? This is part two of our two-part blog series to learn about Tom De Vries, President of the GLN. (Click here to view part one)
What’s the most surprising thing God has taught you on your journey?
There are two surprises.
One is that God can use anybody. We can choose to discount people because they may not fit a particular mold we have of a leader, but the reality is, if you believe in people, give them an opportunity. Set them up for success, and they often can do far beyond what you think they could ever do.
Leadership is giving them the freedom to exercise what they believe is the direction to go and having the maturity to allow them to go beyond what you were able to do
And a corollary to the fact that God can use anybody, is recognizing people aren’t going to do things the same way you do them. As you coach and mentor young leaders, you need wisdom and maturity to allow them to figure things out on their own. They need to fail as part of their learning experience. Leadership is giving them the freedom to exercise what they believe is the direction to go and having the maturity to allow them to go beyond what you were able to do.
This happened early on when we hired our first youth pastor. I had been a youth pastor when I was in seminary. I had also led a fairly significant college group, and before that, I had been a high school pastor. So, when I hired our youth pastor, I remember this point of decision, Am I going to let John do what John can do, or am I going to expect John to do what I did?
I was very cognizant to say, Let’s let him do what he’s gifted and called to do. And what he did far exceeded what I had done. It was an early leadership lesson for me around extending freedom to fail or succeed.
It sounds like there’s a theme along your journey of empowerment. Early in your leadership, was that something you had shown to you?
My dad died my senior year of college. When that happened, I looked to other people for wisdom, input, growth opportunities and safety to ask questions. I’ve had mentors and coaches my entire life. It is a priority of mine to make space to sit down with leaders and influencers who’ve gone before me.
Leaders ultimately give their leadership away.
I’ve had people in my life who were very selfless and cared for my growth; they invested in me as a young leader and sponsored me into positions where I could grow and have a certain degree of leadership effectiveness. Their willingness to have an hour or two hour-long conversation on a monthly basis was empowering. There was one guy I would drive three or four hours for each way just to have lunch with him. I would return to see him each month because I knew I needed to grow, and he was helping me.
Leaders ultimately give their leadership away. They are willing to sit down and let other succeed. That’s the corollary too–as you empower people around you, the amazing thing is that it reflects on you and your leadership in ways that you would never expect.
What’s the one story that sticks with you and inspires you to continue when you feel like quitting?
The higher you go in leadership, the larger the problems you’re going to face; the larger the problems, the greater the complexity and resistance.
There was a time when I was ready to quit. I came to those monthly accountability meetings with my friends and partners, and every month, I had nothing good to say. But they kept praying for me and encouraging me. In the midst of that I was able to push through, and God used it for my own growth.
There are going to be times of significant pain and push-back, when you’re questioning what you’re supposed to do.
If you move into a role because you think it’s the next rung on the ladder, or the next notch in your career, that’s not compelling enough to be able to help you navigate during the difficult times. There are going to be times of significant pain and push-back, when you’re questioning what you’re supposed to do.
During each transition, I’ve gone away for a day or two to spend significant amounts of time in prayer, biblical reflection and journaling. In the end, whether my decision was to say yes or no, I was fairly confident and had a sense of God’s leading.
For me, because I have an anchor point through those quiet times of discernment, I know that when I’m in the position I’m in, it’s not by accident. I’m not here because of a whim or a decision that I just made. Being anchored by a sense of God’s leading allows me to weather those inevitable storms. Those anchor points and journeying with a group of fellow leaders who hold me accountable in the midst of that is significant.
How has God spoken to you during those transition times?
I remember when God led me to John 15, and I understood the significance of the vine and the branches. In that passage, Jesus says, apart from me you can do nothing. I realized the importance of being plugged in as a branch and the significance of the fruit we bear. I go back to John 15 again and again; I’ve read through it, journaled through it and prayed through it during seasons of transition. It’s a definite anchor point for me.
If you had never pursued your calling, what would the world be missing?
For me this is the place of humility. In 2 Corinthians, God uses cracked pots—vessels of honor and dishonor—there are ways, even in our weakness when God is able to use us.
In 2 Corinthians, God uses cracked pots—vessels of honor and dishonor—there are ways, even in our weakness, when God is able to use us.
Looking back over my life, I’m humbled by the times I’ve been able to speak into someone’s life and see transformation. Sometimes that change was significant, even eternal. Having the opportunity to lead someone into a relationship with Christ again and again has been powerful. I’ve also walked with men who failed in their marriage but wanted to find help and make it right. I’ve been able to walk with them into a place of restoration. It’s incredibly powerful.
Starting a non-profit to provide backpacks to kids was awesome to be a part of. Through a woman who had a passion, vision and commitment to lead, now there are over 5,000 kids getting food every week and 100 churches partnering with about 150 schools. I look back and get to say I was a part of that. What’s happening is significant.
It’s incredible to see a church continue to do transformative ministry today because we were a part of it when we had no idea what was going to happen. But God knew.
Recently I was in Singapore with our Asian country leaders for the Summit. We heard them talk about what the Summit means to them, especially in light of what just occurred in Sri Lanka. (NOTE: On Easter 2019, three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka were targeted in a series of terrorist suicide bombings.)
In this community, we are able to be engaged in their healing and grieving. I also had a chance to be with our 70 Summit leaders in India. Each one of them came up to talk about how the Summit is making a difference in their village or their city of multimillions. They’re so grateful for our willingness to partner with them and journey with them and provide them with resources that allow transformation to happen.
It’s incredibly humbling to realize it’s not what we’re doing, it’s what God is doing through us. I’m open to wherever that is going to take us. I’m excited to see it multiply again and again.
Let’s end on a fun note. What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
Growing up in southern California, I became a rabid Los Angeles Dodgers fan! It’s something I loved as a kid and still do to this day. I loved playing baseball as a kid, in high school and college, and still have a huge affinity for the Dodgers.