‘CEO coach’ gives students leadership game plan
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Colangelo College of Business students at Grand Canyon University keep getting a gift that won’t stop giving: interesting speakers from the community who share lessons they’ve learned through years of experience.
It doesn’t even stop giving during the summer session.
Tuesday night, master’s students were treated to a Dean’s Speaker Series talk on “Leadership Sins” by Dr. Brent Garrison, former president of Arizona Christian University and now a CEO coach in his role as vice president of education for The CEO Forum in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Garrison’s faith-based message was must-hear information for students looking to become effective managers. He wrote “Leadership by the Book: Lessons from Every Book of the Bible,” and contributed to “The Inspired Leader: 101 Biblical Reflections for Becoming a Person of Influence,” and his insights into dealing with CEOs on a daily basis were fascinating.
“The CEO life is a lonely life,” he said. “I can’t count all the times a CEO has told me, ‘Thank you for taking the time to come see me. I need someone to talk to about this.’”
Character counts most
The No. 1 issue CEOs battle, Garrison said, is time management, and one of his pieces of advice to students was to invite someone into their life who will tell them to work less. One CEO he worked with left his job and started his own company with the proviso that he would work 40-hour weeks.
And the No. 1 trait a good leader must have, in Garrison’s opinion, is character, as he demonstrated to students when he asked them to name some leadership sins they have witnessed and designate them as character, skill or intellect issues. Overwhelmingly, the answers went straight to character.
It’s a bonus if a CEO has an inviting personality, but “character is demonstrated through your personality,” Garrison said.
Garrison got his gregarious personality from his father while growing up in Gary, Ind., 20 miles outside Chicago. It’s not surprising to hear that his dad was a salesman — seems only natural — but it’s what his dad sold that gives the story even more flavor.
“Dad was a Wonder Bread salesman — you know, ‘Helps build strong bodies 12 ways,’” he said. “I remember going with Dad on his routes. Dad was such an outgoing, caring guy, and I kind of wanted to be that way, that you really care for people. I think that’s a wonderful thing. People are valuable.”
Garrison took those lessons with him to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, where he was vice president for 11 years. A big sports fan, he got to stand on the sidelines at Chicago Bears games because he did Bible studies for the team’s head coach, Dave Wannstedt.
He came to Arizona in 1995 to take over at Arizona Christian, a job he held for 15 years before moving on to CEO Forum. “I knew nothing of the business world although as a university president you’re essentially a CEO,” he said. “I knew enough to be dangerous.”
Garrison had the students take note of two lists, from Jack Welch’s “Six Deadly Sins of Leadership” (such as fixating on results at the expense of values) and Cameron Morrissey’s “The 7 Deadly Sins of Leadership” (a business-oriented version of the dangers of gluttony, pride, greed, lust, sloth, envy and wrath).
He then hammered home an important point: We’re all capable of committing those sins. We should take our cue from Jesus Christ — “One of the great leaders of all time,” Garrison said — and practice servant leadership, one of GCU’s cornerstones.
“Being a servant and being a leader — you put those two characteristics together and I’ll follow you to the ends of the earth,” Garrison said.
He’ll be back
Dr. Randy Gibb, the CCOB dean, said he learned of Garrison from Pastor Tim Griffin, GCU’s dean of students. Garrison was so good, Gibb said, “he earned two invites back” to speak to master’s students on Wednesday and Thursday nights as well.
“We’ve brought in a lot of entrepreneurs. We’ve brought in marketing and business people. But his perspective of leadership and the way he integrates faith into his message was certainly unique to any of the speakers that we’ve had,” Gibb said.
Garrison’s final piece of advice for students was to remember the verse from John 15:5 — “I am the vine, you are the branches” — and realize that they can’t lead effectively if they aren’t engaging their employees in positive ways. He said good habits are important for a good leader, and those habits should begin first thing in the morning.
“Start your day in quietness,” he said. “We also encourage journaling.”
Garrison gets away from it all by traveling (he and Margaret have visited 40 countries), reading and going on motorcycle trips (he loves tooling around the wilds of Arizona). He also loves to play golf, although when asked how often he plays, his response was, “If you went golfing with me, you’d think, ‘Not enough.’”
You can see why CEOs rely on him, and Tuesday night he gave students a glimpse into what might be ahead for them. It’s the bread and butter of what the Dean’s Speaker Series aims to do.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.