These are bittersweet days at LifeWay. For seven of the eight years I’ve been here, I’ve worked closely with Eric Geiger, the vice president of the Resources division. Eric will soon be leaving LifeWay to return to local church ministry.
When I look over my life and leadership and consider the people who have had the greatest influence on me, Eric Geiger’s name is near the top of the list. Under his leadership, I’ve been given the opportunity to work on major initiatives and launches—The Gospel Project, the Christian Standard Bible—as well as oversee the work of various teams of editors, salespeople, and marketers.
What follows is a brief list of seven things I’ve learned from working closely with Eric. I will carry these with me in leadership for the rest of my life.
1. No one cares about “the what” before they understand “the why.”
We didn’t have to read Simon Sinek’s Start with Why to understand this principle; we only had to start with Geiger. Whenever we presented curriculum, books, or events, Eric cautioned us not to focus so much on the products, features, or details that we lost the heart of why the project existed in the first place. Eric trained us to set up “the why” at the beginning of every presentation, to go for the heart. He also encouraged us to imagine the world or the church without the why behind a particular project. He made us consider our “burning platform”—what made the project essential and needed.
2. Focused urgency is indispensable for getting stuff done.
Early on in Geiger’s tenure at LifeWay, we read and discussed John Kotter’s A Sense of Urgency. Eric would admit there were times when we slipped into urgency that was chaotic and unfocused. But intensity and urgency, when channeled in the right way, can aid productivity and efficiency in a way that nothing else can. Focused urgency can stir up creative embers in the mind and keep the fires of innovation going.
3. Great leaders always bite off more than they can chew.
If you’re comfortable as a leader, you’re not growing. To be developed, we must be stretched; we must learn from others, and welcome more responsibility as we master tasks over time. The seasons in which I was given more responsibility than I thought I could handle were the seasons of greatest growth. Biting off more than I could chew forced me to prioritize what was essential and freed me to grow in my leadership to meet new challenges.
4. To create a culture, you have to celebrate your values.
Some believe an organization’s stated values are unimportant because they rarely line up with the actual values. But under Eric’s leadership, I learned good leaders lift up values in an aspirational manner and keep them constantly before the team. Eric developed a sense of community around our aspirations, lifting up particular people when they exemplified our values and celebrating their contribution. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” he would often say, quoting Peter Drucker.
5. Rhythms of accountability determine what the team gets done.
By implementing the four disciplines of execution, Eric led our team in a way that had us setting goals, developing measures (both lead and lag), and then meeting to review our progress. Meetings were for making decisions together and for vision-sharing, not for mere updates. The “cadence of accountability” sets high-achieving teams apart from others. We “own” certain projects and will see tasks through to completion.
6. Be decisive, own your mistakes, correct quickly, and celebrate wins.
Fear of failure paralyzes the leader. Eric built into our team the expectation we would fail. We came to understand that unless certain projects were failing, we weren’t trying our hand at enough things. Learning comes from failure, not just success. Once this gets into your heart and mind, then you can—with wisdom and collaboration and input from others—go all out. You make decisions, recognize when you’ve made bad ones, fix things as fast as possible, and celebrate wins together as a team.
7. Love the Bride of Christ.
One of our core values at LifeWay was “Make it easy for her,” meaning we would make things as easy as possible for the bride of Christ. Our mission is to serve the church in her mission of making disciples. That mission affected our thought process and decision-making. Eric would say, “LifeWay one day will not exist. But the church—she’s forever.” I can’t count the conversations we had about local church ministry, our longing to be back in pastoral work, or the opportunities to serve in our local churches. It was always evident Eric loved and cherished God’s people. And that’s why it wasn’t a complete shock to anyone Eric would leave LifeWay to return to pastoral ministry. He gave his all at LifeWay, but even here, he was giving his all for her.
While I am sad to see Eric’s time at LifeWay come to an end, I am happy to see LifeWay as an organization in better shape than when he arrived. We have stronger team members, stronger strategy, and a clearer vision.
I will always cherish the investment Eric made by aiding in my development, and I consider the time I’ve spent on the team he assembled to be a gift from God.