Yesterday was my first official day as Executive Director of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. I’m honored to step into this role and hope that my efforts will make a real difference as the De Pree Center serves leaders in a wide variety of venues (marketplace, non-profits, church, education, arts, etc.).

Leadership-Art-MaxThe Max De Pree Center for Leadership was founded in honor of Max De Pree, who, for decades, served on the Board of Trustees at Fuller Seminary. In his professional life, Max was an outstanding leader of his family’s business, the Herman Miller Company, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of top-quality office furniture. In 1987, he shared his wisdom in what has become a bestselling book, Leadership Is an Art. One of his most striking and quoted lines begins a chapter called “What is Leadership?” Max responds:

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader (p. 11).

Don’t you love this quotation?! Such wisdom in so few words. Later on, I want to think with you about what all of this means. How does a leader define reality? In what sense is a leader a servant? Even a debtor? At this time, however, I want to combine a couple of Max’s insights, suggesting that gratitude can be more than the last thing a leader does. It can also be the first thing, and in this sense, it can help a leader define reality.

When a leader says “thank you,” this does more than express gratitude. It also conveys a sense of the reality in which the leader lives. It implies that the leader is not a one-man or one-woman show. It suggests that the leader has been and continues to be reliant upon others. It hints that leadership is a matter of teamwork and relationship. Saying “thank you” shapes reality, not only for the leader, but also for those who follow this leader and for the organization that he or she leads.

Let me illustrate what I mean by a personal example. This is an exciting and fulfilling time for me personally as I begin work at the De Pree Center. For a few hours, I’m getting more attention than I almost ever get, with Fuller Seminary’s announcement of my appointment to the Max De Pree Center and lots of Facebook support via my family and friends. I mentioned that I am honored to join the team at Fuller and to step into leadership of the Center. I’m also encouraged, challenged, energized, and . . . thankful.

More than anything else, I am thankful these days. I would never be the Executive Director of the De Pree Center apart from the efforts of many people who have contributed generously and profoundly to my life. I am the product of the investment in me by my family members, teachers, colleagues, mentors, partners, friends, sponsors, and helpers. I have been richly blessed to live in land of abundant opportunity. I have been shaped by many extraordinary institutions. I have been encouraged, supported, prayed for, admonished, instructed, and loved. All of this and so much more has helped to make me who I am. Without such an investment in me, I would never be where I am today, doing what I am so pleased to do. And so, I am thankful, deeply and widely thankful.

Man's silhouette with hands raised in the sunset.

As the new leader of the Max De Pree Center, I hope my gratitude will help to define the reality of our work. My colleagues and partners in the Center stand on the shoulders of many others. We have been embraced and supported by them. Most of all, we are called, empowered, and loved by God, to whom we owe ultimate gratitude and who defines all of reality. When we are grateful, we acknowledge and live into this reality.

A Personal P.S.

If I were to try to mention by name those for whom I am grateful today, the list would go on and on. But I do want say “thank you” to the H.E. Butt Family Foundation, where I worked for the last seven and a half years. I was blessed to partner with some of the finest people I know in some of the best work I have ever done. I’m especially thankful to the leaders of the Foundation, to Howard and Barbara Dan Butt and to David and Deborah Rogers, for all they have added to my life, including their support of my new position at Fuller.

I want to say “thank you” to President Mark Labberton and Fuller Seminary for inviting me to join the Fuller team. I have felt warmly welcomed by so many at Fuller, including my partners in the De Pree Center, Cathy and Laura, as well as the Center’s board of advisors. The staff at Fuller have been uniformly encouraging and helpful.

Last month, I had the privilege of spending time with Max De Pree. In that meeting, I was able to thank him for how much his writings had influenced my own leadership. I’m grateful for Max’s wisdom, and now, for his support as I step into the Center that bears his name.

Nine years ago, my friend Tod Bolsinger told me I should join the H.E. Butt Family Foundation and become the Executive Director of Laity Lodge. I didn’t believe Tod at first, but in the end he prevailed. Without his wise friendship, I don’t know if I would ever have ended up at the Foundation. Seven months ago, Tod brought up the possibility of my coming to the De Pree Center. In typical fashion, I rejected Tod’s idea immediately. But Tod is persistent. Moreover, he sees things in me that I cannot see. He helps me to be a better person, worker, and leader. So, once again, I owe a major career and location move to Tod. Thank you!

I can’t even imagine where I’d be without my family. During this whole process of clarifying how I’m to live out my call in this season of life, my wife and children, my mom, my siblings and their families have been extremely supportive. I am blessed beyond understanding to have such amazing relatives and partners. To Linda, Nathan, Kara, and all the others, thank you!

Finally, I want to thank the Lord, who has given me every good thing, including both life and new life. In his grace, God has called me in Christ to be his beloved child, his faithful disciple, and his active servant. I owe everything to the Lord, who deserves all the gratitude I can muster and so much more.

My dear friend, brother, and mentor, Howard E. Butt Jr., modeled for me what we ought to do when overwhelmed by God’s goodness. In addition to praying with gratitude, Howard would often sing the Doxology. He’d sing it alone. He’d invite me to join him when we were meeting together, just the two of us. He’d lead groups large and small in this classic celebration of praise and gratitude. I can think of no more fitting way to end this post than with the Doxology:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above, ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

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10 Responses to Gratitude that Defines Reality

  1. Michelle Raitt says:

    What a lovely post Mark! You always say the best and nicest and most encouraging things. Thanks. May Hod richly bless your work as he has up until now. Happy Easter! Love Michelle and Emmett

  2. Mark D. Roberts says:

    Thanks, Michelle, for your kind and encouraging comment!

  3. Steve Norris says:

    Well done! So excited for this new chapter on the Journey!

  4. John Campbell says:

    Mark, I look forward to following your writings and teachings in this new path God has chosen for you. Real leadership, as opposed to management, is so rare today. It is as they say, a “target rich environment”. May you and your family have a blessed Easter back in Southern California.

    John Campbell

    John Campbell

    • Mark D. Roberts says:

      Thanks, John. At some point not too far down the road, I’d love to talk with you about your leadership experiences. I have much to learn from you.

      May you and your family have a blessed Easter!

  5. Marsha Young says:

    … clarifying how I’m to live out my call in this season of my life …

    Mark, This one phrase is reason enough to follow your blog. As a retired executive, I am keenly interested in “what’s next”. I’ll be checking in and have signed up for the daily devotional. Thank you.

  6. Dolly Lee says:

    Mark,
    Congratulations…funny, but I start Fuller Seminary in the fall on a part-time basis on one of its regional campuses…Thankful I met you and Linda at Laity Lodge a few years ago. Excited to see you’re now at Fuller.