Was it chance or Providence?

Posted on November 14, 2016 in: Articles

Unexpected meeting in Atlanta almost a decade ago results in almost 400 in Dubuque Archdiocese learning how to Lead Like Jesus

By Dan Rohner

Director, Leadership Development & Pastoral Planning

Archdiocese of Dubuque

My Leading Like Jesus journey began in June, 2007 when I attended the International Conference of the American Society for Training and Development (now known as the Association for Talent Development) in Atlanta.

After picking up my conference program, I settled into my hotel room to plan how I would spend the next four days. A specific event caught my attention: “Leading Like Jesus,” presented by Ken Blanchard and Robert Pike. The title of the session, as well as the presenters, piqued my interest.

To my surprise

My curiosity rose when I saw the session was scheduled for 7 a.m., an hour before each day’s regular programming began. I woke up early and walked to the session venue. I was surprised to find that the session was being held in a large auditorium and, to my amazement, the place was packed! It was gratifying to see several hundred people at this secular conference come out early to learn about Jesus.

During that presentation, Blanchard and Pike explained the reason for the early hour. The organizers would not allow a session discussing Jesus to be a part of the regular conference program. So they scheduled the session during the time reserved for “vendor presentations.” Blanchard and Pike then, using scripture references as evidence, explained that Jesus was the greatest leadership role model of all time. It all made perfect sense to me.

Concept goes dormant

Upon returning to my job at a medium sized manufacturer in the Chicago area, I reported to my training team the insight I had gained in the Leading Like Jesus session. They listened politely but no one shared my enthusiasm for spreading the message. And, as often happens, without support, the concept went dormant for nearly two years.

During that time, I left the manufacturer to become the Director of Leadership Development & Pastoral Planning for the Archdiocese of Dubuque. In the fall of 2009, a flyer landed on my desk announcing a new program entitled the “Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus.” My curiosity was, once again, immediately piqued.

A Catholic version

Reading the flyer, I learned that this Catholic vision was based on Blanchard’s original version but had an emphasis on Catholic teaching and tradition. The flyer was promoting an Encounter and Facilitator Training in Northbrook, IL, nearly in my back yard! I jumped at the opportunity and in November, found myself as part of the charter group being trained to facilitate this new Encounter. The training was delivered jointly by author Owen Phelps and master facilitator Dick Kunnert.

Being responsible for leadership development in the archdiocese, I found the concepts presented to be inspiring and applicable to any relationship -- in a work setting, in the parish, at home, or between friends. I was excited to bring the Encounter back to Dubuque.

As luck would have it -- or perhaps it was Divine providence -- Dick is a native of Dubuque and has a particular interest in spreading the Leading Like Jesus message in his home area. He offered to help me establish the program in the archdiocese. We began by offering an Encounter in September, 2010 at the archdiocesan-owned retreat house in Cedar Falls.

Back to the beginning

In another seemingly Divinely-inspired coincidence, this was the very same place where Owen and Dick were first exposed to the original Leading Like Jesus Encounter, led by Phil Hodges, Ken Blanchard’s co-founder of the movement.

Our first Encounter was delivered to 21 enthusiastic participants -- including priests, religious sisters and laity. After the Encounter, a participating couple wrote an article for the archdiocesan paper. In it they expressed their hope that this inaugural event would be the first of many opportunities for others to participate.

Almost 400 participate

Since that first Encounter, nearly 400 participants throughout the archdiocese have experienced the Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus. It has been delivered primarily in parish settings, large and small, to pastors, parish staff and parishioners.

Knowing that with the busyness of life, it is easy to fall back into old habits and forget these leadership lessons, we developed 3-hour “refresher” sessions. Annually we invite participants to gather to review the main points of the Encounter and to more deeply study key concepts that can’t be fully explored in a day-long event.

The refresher for 2016 – 2017 is based on Owen’s study guide that links the concepts of the Encounter with Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. In addition, in 2016 – 2017, we are expanding opportunities for others to experience the Encounter.

First, we are scheduling Encounters in flexible formats -- including breaking the Encounter into two evening sessions as well as offering it on Saturdays.

Nine new Facilitators

Second, I was thrilled to watch Owen and Dick deliver certification training to nine new Facilitators in September at the retreat house where it all began for them so many years ago. These new Facilitators are equipped and authorized to host Encounters in their own parishes and beyond -- significantly increasing opportunities for more people to join in.

Nearly 10 years ago in Atlanta, I couldn’t dream that the mission of Leading Like Jesus would be what it is today in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. It truly is Spirit-led and I am blessed to be a part of it.


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