Published July 22, 2019

Leadership is Service—A Conversation With Tom De Vries (Part 1)

Have you ever wondered about the person who leads the Global Leadership Network (GLN)? In this two-part blog series, learn about Tom De Vries, President of the GLN. Learn about his first encounter with the Summit back in the 1990s—his leadership journey over the years, his fears and battles, his passion for leadership and what mentorship has meant to him. (Click here to read part two.)

 

When was your first encounter with the Summit?

The first time I came to the Summit was in 1996—it was their second year. It really was a “wow” experience, especially in the area of leadership, which was a passion of mine. My experience at the church and at the Summit carried over as I went to seminary and then back home to plant a church in southern California, where I grew up. Our vision for our church was really influenced by the idea to reach people who didn’t grow up in the church and who had a lot of spiritual questions.

 

Describe how you became the leader of the Global Leadership Network.

My worlds collided when I connected with the group that was responsible for putting forward people who would be the future president and CEO to follow in Gary Schwammlein’s footsteps.

The role has a connection with my past, certainly with my present and also with my future and passion.

The role has a connection with my past, certainly with my present and also with my future and passion. I really have a heart for the global vision of the Summit, both from the side of growing the Church around the world to being able to raise leaders who serve in significant ways and to minister in business, education and government sectors. When they offered me the opportunity, my wife and I prayed through it, and really believed God was leading us this way.

 

What part of your work excites you the most?

If you raise up someone’s leadership level, it makes a transformative difference in their life and their environment—and this can happen anywhere. It can happen in the life of a mom, school teacher, the president of a country, a business leader and certainly in the life of a pastor or church planter. Often people get a whole new vision of what God wants them to do to live out compassion and justice in the world. If you add leadership to the equation, it raises their level of influence. The Spirit of God works in those grander visions. The Summit equips people with resources, encouragement and inspiration.

To come to work every day and hear a new story of transformation and growth and hear how the Summit has impacted lives is an awesome reason to get up in the morning.

To come to work every day and hear a new story of transformation and growth and hear how the Summit has impacted lives is an awesome reason to get up in the morning. I love to see God at work around the world.

 

At what point did that passion switch on in you, when you said, “Oh, I get it. Leadership changes everything.”?

Often, we think we have to be the authoritative or the chief leader, but it is out of our vulnerability, transparency and servant leadership posture where God does profound things. I discovered this early on as a very young, emerging leader.

Laura and I got married and moved out to Moreno Valley, California where we went to plant our church. I remember when we launched. There were maybe 100 people who were a part of the church at the time. John Maxwell was doing a conference in the town next door, so I brought a dozen people from our church to attend. John talked specifically to pastoral leaders on Friday night of the conference and said, I want you to be open, transparent and vulnerable about how you feel in regard to your leadership. We broke up into our groups, and here I am with our team thinking to myself, Am I really going to be vulnerable? Am I really going to be open? Or am I going to just give an easy answer, so we can move on?

The affirmation they gave me as a young leader sent me on a path to becoming the best leader I possibly could to ultimately live out the call of God on my life…

I decided to share my fears, anxieties and concerns. I looked around the circle and said, I’m 25. I’m really wet behind the ears. I really don’t know anything about leadership. I’m not sure I can be the leader you need me to be for our church. I’m not sure I can take us where we sense God wants us to go. I just need to admit that.

They came back and said, Tom, we believe that God has called you to be the pastor of this church. Because of God’s calling on your life and where you sense we need to go, we will follow. We believe you’re the leader for this time, this place and this opportunity. God has called us together to do something special. We’re behind you, we’re with you, we support you, we’re praying for you and we’re committed to what God wants to do in and through us together.

The affirmation they gave me as a young leader sent me on a path to becoming the best leader I possibly could be to ultimately live out the call of God on my life and with the people I was journeying with. I began to read everything I could, go to as many conferences as I could and work on leadership in a graduate school setting as well.

 

What has been your biggest takeaway from the Summit?

I have made significant decisions as a result of attending the Summit. Once in the late 1990s, I sat in the Summit on that first day pondering a position I had been offered to move from southern California to Michigan to oversee all of the church multiplication and revitalization for our denomination. While I was there, I had a sense of God’s prompting, you really need to do this. That opening to the next chapter of my leadership journey ultimately changed the trajectory of our lives.

The biggest takeaway from the Summit was recognizing leaders never arrive, no matter what level of leadership they end up in.

The leadership journey is a learning journey. The biggest takeaway from the Summit was recognizing leaders never arrive, no matter what level of leadership they end up in. It wasn’t a singular talk that was the biggest takeaway, it was being in an incubator to reflect on the things I was hearing, and how it applied to me. The immensity and the multiplicity of collective learning in teams has had a huge impact on whatever organization or situation I was a part of at the time too. It creates connection and coordination.

Leadership is complex, and sometimes even painful and lonely. I need inspiration and encouragement. I need to be equipped. I need to hear from thought leaders and those who have reflected on leadership academically. I need to hear from those who are leading in other environments and understand what some of the best and newest practices are that I can apply to my situation. The dynamic of leadership is moving and growing. Environment, people and culture continue to change, and as a leader, the Summit is a commitment to my continued growth in dynamic and evolving situations.

 

What is your calling or Grander Vision?

Discovering my calling was a journey. Much of my early growth included reflecting on my life purpose and articulating that to establish a decision grid to help live out that calling. I realized the first person you lead is yourself, and one of the first steps of leading yourself is knowing where you’re going. The best way to know where you’re going is to be open to the Spirit’s leading, identifying why God put you on this earth.

As I opened myself up to the Spirit as a young leader, what I heard God say is, Your life purpose is to be an influencer of influencers for Jesus Christ.

As I opened myself up to the Spirit as a young leader, what I heard God say is, Your life purpose is to be an influencer of influencers for Jesus Christ.

When I made the decision be part of the GLN, it was because it gives me the opportunity to live out my life purpose at the highest level. I know everything I do and every decision I make has a direct impact on helping grow people in their influence and in their leadership.

Right now, our desire at the GLN is to reach 500,000 people annually through the Summit and recognizing that each of those 500,000 people has circles of influence that are multiplied. Over the next few years, what would it look like to reach 1 million? How many are they going to influence? Inspiring and equipping 1 million people with world-class leadership may have direct impact on over 100 million people. It’s profound.

This vision comes out of my life calling and is consistent with what God has asked me to invest my life in for His glory.

 

What have been your fears or battles as you’ve pursued your calling?

[Long pause]. I pause because I have so many. I developed an understanding as a leader where I don’t just say, let’s take that hill and think everybody is going to follow me. The challenge is bringing unity where things have been fractured and un-unified so that we can all go together. Having been in that situation multiple times, it’s always a challenge.

How do you lead contrarians? How do you lead people with different visions? How do you lead different groups with different visions? And how do you all create the momentum and have the stewardship of resources to accomplish something awesome and that you believe God has called you to do?

Often for me, the challenge has been going into situations where there has been great pain and a need for healing.

The struggle is often around agenda harmony, especially if you come new to an existing situation. There are people who may already have a dream for where they see things going. There’s a transition that takes place with who’s going to have the greatest influence around the direction; there’s a need to bring unity around a common goal. Part of the leader’s job is to help bring clarity, then to align the gifts and resources to achieve the vision.

Often for me, the challenge has been going into situations where there has been great pain and a need for healing. Other times the organization needed new direction. Leadership is about saying how do we take the greatest amount of people along with us in the direction we believe God is calling us to go? Sometimes people are going to opt out, and you have to deal with that. There are shepherding qualities involved with trying to get the greatest number of people to come along to make the vision happen.

 

How do you bring unity and momentum around a vision?

A lot of it has to do with buy-in and ownership—it’s empowerment. It’s less “going to the mountain to hear from God” and more inviting the Spirit into a group of people so that they’re hearing from God too.

It’s articulating, defining and bringing words to what people are saying. You become the encourager, clarifier and cheerleader—the one who identifies what’s being said and where it is that God is taking us. It’s inviting people on the journey. People want to go because they believe it’s the journey God has given us. As you begin to gain momentum, create excitement and achieve wins, it’s a celebration.

 

Click here to read part two.

About the Author
Global Leadership Network

Global Leadership Network

globalleadership.org

The Global Leadership Network is a community committed to learning from each other and using our influence to accomplish God’s purposes on earth. No matter where your influence is, when you commit to grow your leadership, everyone around you wins—businesses work for good, communities are transformed and churches thrive! Both global and diverse, our network includes partners in 1,400+ cities and 135+ countries. We are committed to deliver fresh, actionable and inspiring leadership content both at The Global Leadership Summit, and year-round through our digital platforms.

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