Spring 2007

Who Do You Trust?

With integrity in short supply, how can we choose trustworthy leaders?

By Holly Pivec

Who do you trust, and why do you trust them?

Most of us think we have reliable “trust detectors” — the built-in ability to sense trustworthy people. Yet, so often we are wrong. Visible examples of this fact surround us.

When Ted Haggard — a megachurch pastor and president of the National Association of Evangelicals — was first accused of illicit behavior, many of his church members responded with shock, saying, “No way he did that. I’ll never believe it.” Even Dr. James Dobson, a professional psychologist with years of experience, didn’t believe it. Yet, less than a week later, Haggard admitted he was a “deceiver and a liar.”

In the business world, Enron C.E.O. Kenneth Lay lied to employees and investors and told them to continue to buy the company’s stock, knowing the company was about to report a $1.2 billon loss.

In these cases, following the wrong people led to emotional and financial devastation. Not to mention lost public trust. Ninety-five percent of respondents to a 2005 “Fast Track Leadership Survey,” conducted by Fast Company magazine, said integrity is key to effective business leadership — yet they believe most CEOs don’t have it.

So, how do we identify trustworthy people? This question is especially important for Biola University right now as it seeks to hire a president to replace Clyde Cook, who will retire in June and who has led Biola with integrity for the past 25 years.

The new president will wield great power — managing a $125 million budget, guarding Biola’s doctrinal commitments and 100-year Christian legacy, and overseeing the education of more than 5,700 students. He or she will also have final say in hiring professors to teach those students. Cook took these responsibilities seriously, always referring in his speeches to the students as “sacred trusts” that had been committed to him.

Throughout the presidential search, the Presidential Search Team, made up of members of the Board of Trustees, are evaluating many candidates, including people they don’t personally know. All these people are qualified on paper. But how will the Trustees know if a candidate is a person of integrity, a person who can be trusted with the present — and future — of Biola?

For that matter, how can anyone determine if a job applicant, or other type of leader, is worthy of trust?

Track Record

For answers, we could start by asking how People Management International — the firm Biola chose to lead its presidential search — goes about this. But, first, we should back up a step and ask how Biola chose People Management. Of all the consulting firms, why did the Trustees think this one was up for the job?

Stan Jantz (M.A. ’05) — the chair of the Presidential Search Team — said People Management’s track record gave the Trustees confidence in the firm’s process. Besides finding executives for Pillsbury Company, British Petroleum, IBM and other corporations, People Management has led 15 presidential searches for Christian colleges and universities and is now leading four more, including Biola’s. All but one has ended well. (One university president had an integrity lapse a year after he was hired, and People Management helped replace him.) It’s an added bonus that all 19 of the firm’s partners are Christians, giving them extra insight into the type of person Biola wants.

But how does People Management evaluate integrity? Meet Robert Stevenson and Dr. Tommy Thomas, the two People Management consultants working with Biola. Stevenson told Biola Connections that getting at a candidate’s character can be tricky.

“A lot of people look pretty wonderful on the outside,” he said, which is why he defines integrity as being “the same person in a hotel room on a five or 10-day trip as you are in a church pew” (an apt example given that presidents travel a lot).

In other words, integrity is what someone does when no one’s looking. It’s the opposite of pretense, which Jesus was critical of, calling the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” — beautiful on the outside, but dirty within. The word “integrity,” itself, comes from the Latin integer, which means “whole.”

“A person with integrity is whole, not divided, not one thing on the outside but another on the inside, or one thing to one person, but entirely different to someone else,” said Dr. David Horner, who teaches classes on ethics at Biola.

When looking for integrity in candidates, People Management looks closely at their track records.

That’s the best place to start because “past performance is the best indicator of future performance,” according to Dr. Henry Cloud (Ph.D., ’87) — a nationally syndicated radio host and clinical psychologist who graduated from Biola’s Rosemead School of Psychology.

Cloud should know something about hiring leaders. He’s served as a consultant for Fortune 500 Companies and non-profits that were hiring executives. In his new book Integrity (HarperCollins), Cloud says all people have a track record — which he calls a “wake” (like a boat wake) — that they leave behind them as they move through life, including the places they’ve worked. Their wakes include not just their job performance, but also their relationships — how they treated the people they worked with.

Cloud tells organizations to look at both when hiring. After all, he said, everyone probably knows someone — they may have even worked with a person — who was smart and talented, but was destructive to the organization because he or she couldn’t get along with anybody.

Digging Deeper

One of the most revealing parts of People Management’s process is the reference checks, according to Stevenson. These aren’t the typical pick-up-a-phone-and-chat-for-two-minutes reference checks. They go deeper.

People Management requires each candidate to list five to 10 people as references, whom People Management conducts hour-long phone interviews with. But this is only after extensive interviews with the candidates — about their faith, abilities and past experiences. In a case like Biola’s, where doctrinal issues are crucial, the candidates aren’t just asked what they believe, but also how those beliefs have been practiced in their lives — “because many people can write a beautiful essay about some particular theological idea,” according to Stevenson. “The hard part is living it out,” he said.

References are then asked the same questions. People Management wants to make sure the candidates’ statements about themselves match the references’ statements about them — and that all the references’ statements match each other’s.

“The whole idea is consistency of information,” Stevenson said.

The candidates’ pastors — a mandatory reference — are also asked for examples of the candidates’ spiritual maturity and faith practice. If a pastor doesn’t know a candidate well, “that’s a huge red flag,” according to Stevenson.

People Management then asks the references for the names of others who can serve as “secondary” references. They want to talk with people who’ve worked with the candidates or supervised them, but whose names weren’t supplied by the candidates.

“Secondary references are a major way to check integrity,” Stevenson said.

And it helps that the Christian higher education network — from where Biola’s president will most likely come — is very active, he added. “This makes it easier to learn candidates’ reputations and histories,” he said.

People Management also looks at candidates’ personal relationships. They require spouses to take part in two of the final interviews.

“Meeting the spouse with the candidate will show a lot about the relationship between the two. That’s very important,” Stevenson said.

In all, People Management conducts an average of about six interviews with the final candidate. That’s critical, Cloud said, because one or two isn’t enough.

“During a job search, it’s like everybody’s on a date. They’re trying to look good,” he said.

Assessing Motivations

Ego often drives people to seek positions of power — even in Christian ministry.

Fast Company’s survey showed that Americans believe being selfless is important to leadership, though they see most leaders as selfishly motivated.

Fred Smith, Sr., the author of Leading With Integrity (Bethany House Publishers, 1999) who has been mentoring leaders for over 65 years, said Christian leaders need to ask themselves if they’re making decisions based on their egos or their sense of responsibility.

In his book, Smith said, “Ego-driven people satisfy their ego from the cause, while responsibility-motivated people sacrifice their ego to the cause. Ego-drivenness lacks Christian integrity.”

Cloud agrees, saying, “Ultimately, self-centeredness is what you want to protect your organization from.”

In a letter to his church in Colorado Springs, Colo., Haggard admitted that “pride” kept him from seeking help for his sexual struggles and led to his fall.

“When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me. As a result, I did things that were contrary to everything I believe,” he said.

But Cook, whom many Biolans uphold as a model of integrity, has openly admitted times when he’s blown it. Several years ago, for example, Cook confessed that he lied to a judge during jury duty for a lengthy murder trial in Santa Ana Superior Court.

The judged warned the jurors not to read anything about the case. But, a day before the trial went to jury, Cook was flipping through the newspaper and came across an article about it. Cook quickly turned the page, but then his curiosity got the best of him. He read the article thinking nobody would find out.

To his surprise, the next day the judge called the jurors, one by one, into his chambers and asked them if they had read the article. Cook — who was taken off guard and afraid to tell the truth — said, “No sir.” After he went home, however, he felt guilty and couldn’t sleep. Here he was, the president of a Christian university, and he had perjured himself. Yet, the consequences were less important to Cook than being a person of integrity. So, the next morning, he made a humbling trip back to the courthouse to tell the judge the truth.

“Every step felt like I was hauling lead. Would I be put in jail? Would I be fined?” Cook thought. He had to make a confession before the judge, attorneys, defendant and courtroom reporter.

“I told the judge I was a Christian, and I just had to confess my lying. I said my job depends on my relationship to God and my integrity, and that is why I am here telling you what I did,” Cook said.

In the end, Cook wasn’t removed from the case and, in fact, went on to be chosen as the jury foreman.

Instead of trying to hide the incident, Cook did the opposite. He wrote an article about the lessons he learned for his church’s newsletter — revealing his mistake to thousands of his fellow churchgoers.

People Management looks for specific examples of integrity in candidates, like this example from Cook, according to Stevenson.

Since it’s hard to know applicants’ inner motivations — whether they’re driven by ego or a desire to serve — Cloud advises hiring committees to also look at how they’ve spent their time and what causes they’ve given themselves to.

“Did they serve when there weren’t selfish benefits in it for them?” Cloud said.

Cook recalls a time when he and Provost Gary Miller were conducting a final interview with a potential professor. The applicant had glowing credentials, but they didn’t hire him because they sensed he was more concerned about his own career advancement than Biola’s students. They were tipped off by the fact that the applicant — who had worked at another Christian university — had never spent time with students outside the classroom.

Committees also should ask applicants if they’ve ever made hard decisions, based on their values, that cost them personally, according to Cloud. This shows if someone will put an organization’s values and mission above his or her own interests, Cloud said.

Selfish motivations are grounds for compromising integrity, yet leaders are often unaware of them, according to Dr. Steve Cappa (M.A. ’90, Psy.D. ’94), another Rosemead graduate and the clinical director of Marble Retreat — a counseling center for clergy in Marble, Colo. Many of the church leaders Cappa has counseled have had an integrity lapse of some sort. Looking back, they see that false motivations were at work in them.

“There’s a great capacity for self-deception in all people. It’s an extension of our fallenness,” Cappa said. “When everyone is staring at you, the leader, you’re vulnerable to feeling god-like, powerful. That’s when you start eating the forbidden fruit.”

In contrast, healthy leaders have a good dose of humility, according to Cappa. “They have a sense of the magnitude and seduction of power,” he said.

Mick Boersma (M.Div. ’74), for example, served as an associate pastor for four years and as a senior pastor for 11. Boersma now teaches in Biola’s seminary, Talbot School of Theology, and co-directs Talbot Support Ministries to assist about 900 alumni pastors and 450 pastors-in-training. He told Biola Connections that, as a pastor, there were times when he was in the pulpit — all eyes on him — and he became acutely aware of his influence. He believes the Holy Spirit brought this to mind so he wouldn’t abuse it.

“Some pastors can certainly be tempted to be in ministry to build their own little kingdom,” Boersma said.

Yet, false motivations in leaders aren’t always sinister. Dr. Judy Ten Elshof, the director of Biola’s Intentional Character Development Program, told Biola Connections that Christian leaders — like all people — need and want acceptance. And they sometimes enter leadership thinking they’ll find it there.

“It can give a false sense of being loved,” she said.

But they don’t see how their neediness controls them, according to Ten Elshof. And this blindness, she said, puts them at risk for failure. The Intentional Character Development Program seeks to address this by requiring all Talbot students to take part in “exercises designed to open
their hearts to see the blind spots, including taking tests, receiving mentoring, and spending time alone with God for prayer and the Holy Spirit's transforming work,” according to Ten Elshof.

Finally, to get at candidates’ motivations, Cloud also tells hiring committees to listen closely during interviews. See how much time applicants spend trying to sell themselves versus how much time they spend trying to understand the organization, its values and goals. Unselfish people will want what’s best for the organization — even if that means admitting they’re not the person for the job, Cloud said.

Knowing Their Weaknesses

Another challenge People Management will have is assessing candidates’ weaknesses.

Leaders who can be trusted know both their strengths and weaknesses, according to Cloud. So, during interviews, he asks candidates to share theirs.

“You’re looking at somebody’s self-awareness, how involved they’ve been with personal growth and development,” Cloud said. “You are also able to feel out what their humility is, and defensiveness and narcissism.”

Cloud remembers a time when he asked a candidate about his weaknesses.

“The candidate looked at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’ It’s like he had never even thought about it,” Cloud said.

Finally, the candidate came up with a weakness, which, Cloud said, was really a strength he tried to disguise as a weakness. His “weakness” was that he achieved so much that other people couldn’t keep up with him, Cloud said.

Cloud went on record as voting no for the man, who was still chosen as president. In a couple of years, “he had an absolute train wreck,” Cloud said, adding that it’s an organization’s “biggest nightmare” to have employees who don’t know their weaknesses.

But Cloud remembers another time when a candidate was very open. He willingly revealed that he had little hands-on experience fundraising — that he didn’t even like to fundraise, Cloud said. This was no small admission since fundraising is an important part of most presidents’ roles.

“You got a great feeling of the guy’s trustworthiness and what he’d be like when there are other forks in the road,” Cloud said. The man — who was strong in casting a vision and creating an organizational culture — was still hired, and he built a team of people who could raise money. Knowing his weakness let him work around it.

People Management has created an assessment tool, called SIMA, that’s designed to pinpoint candidates’ strengths — and, by contrast, their weaknesses. The assessment takes 12 hours, and candidates are asked about the times in their careers and outside when they’ve been the most productive and fulfilled. SIMA then reveals the common factors that contributed to their successes. For example, were they working as a team or independently? Were they motivated by deadlines or head-to-head competition? The assessment has proven so helpful that Christian author Max Lucado, who is one of the firm’s clients, has written a book so more people can benefit from its principles, called Cure for the Common Life (W Publishing Group, 2006).

“SIMA gives a very clear understanding about what motivates people and what their gifts and talents are,” Stevenson said.

This will help Biola’s Trustees, who’ve created the president’s job description, know if a candidate is a good fit — weaknesses and all.

All employees, not just presidential candidates, should know their weaknesses, according to Mike Patterson (M.A. ’00), a graduate of Biola’s master of arts in organizational leadership program. Patterson has hired about 200 sales representatives as a former regional sales manager for TAP Pharmaceutical, a leading U.S. pharmaceutical company. He’s now the company’s national manager of management development. In Patterson’s profession, sales representatives have relatively little oversight. So, their integrity was crucial to Patterson. A question he asked applicants was, “Tell me about a major mistake you made in your professional life.”

He was looking not only for honesty, but also for maturity.

“I believe you learn a lot from how people deal with their mistakes when they happen,” Patterson said, like, “Do they address them head-on or ignore them?”

Follow-Up

People Management’s Stevenson says that once a leader is chosen, there must be follow up — frequent, formal evaluations to make sure his or her integrity stays intact. This is best done by the board, he said.

“A strong board recognizes that there is an evil force in the world. Satan knows that if he can take out the leader with some sort of lapse, then it will takes years for the organization to get over it,” Stevenson said.

Cloud said he knows of a megachurch that has a six-person committee whose sole mission is the growth, care and development of the senior pastor. They mentor him, find resources and training to support him, and they report directly to the board of elders.

“So there won’t be any surprises,” Cloud said.

When people work with a leader, they may think they know him or her well, making a formal evaluation unnecessary. But that’s not true, according to Stevenson.

In the aftermath of the Haggard scandal, New Life Church’s overseers began a formal evaluation of all the church staff, resulting in the resignation of another pastor — Christopher Beard, the director of a leadership-training program for young adults. Beard was found guilty of “poor judgment in several decisions” and sexual misconduct, according to a press release on the church’s Web site. These lapses were revealed only after a formal evaluation process was put into place, which includes an invitation for church members to e-mail the overseers if they have firsthand knowledge of a misdeed.

Cappa said follow up with leaders must also include accountability and mentoring.

“Having at least one person outside of one’s marriage to walk through life and freely share one’s struggles and uncertainties with is most crucial,” he said.

Cloud agrees, saying, “The best way to grow in our integrity is to really be under the X-ray machine with a handful of people who know all areas of our lives — and who have the experience, wisdom and permission to speak into our lives — that we submit to.”

That goes for everyday people, not just high-up leaders, according to Cloud. He suggests that every person have the equivalent of his or her own personal board of directors — people we submit our lives and missions to.

Of course, no plan is foolproof. Boersma said he knows of one fallen pastor who was part of three different accountability groups. After his affair came out, the shamed pastor told Boersma, “I just decided to hide it from all of them.”

But, for leaders who are committed to the process, their integrity can be not only maintained, but also strengthened, according to Dr. Scott Rae, who also teaches classes on ethics at Biola and has provided ethics consulting for corporations. And Christians, he said, have the benefit of having Jesus as the “perfect model of virtue.”

Biola’s Next President

There’s another vital step for ensuring that Biola’s Trustees — or any organization that is hiring — make the right choice, according to Cappa.

“As Christians, we shouldn’t underestimate the value and power of prayer for all parties involved and the potential for the Holy Spirit to quicken and illuminate the people involved in the decision-making process,” he said.

Stevenson agrees, saying, “Prayer is critically important.”

By the end of Biola’s search process — after all the interviews, reference checks and seeking God’s will — the Trustees will be in a good place to choose a trustworthy leader for Biola’s next president, according to Stevenson.

“If all these elements are pointing in the same direction, if they’re all describing the same person — that’s as close as you can come to discerning a person’s integrity,” Stevenson said.

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