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Shaping How We Lead By Who We Are

Wednesday, September 01, 2010   (0 Comments)
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Bob Fryling, Publisher, InterVarsity Press

E-Link, September 2010


Bob Fryling

Bob Fryling is Publisher of InterVarsity Press and has recently written a book called The Leadership Ellipse: Shaping How We Lead by Who We Are. Bob will be a speaker at the ECPA CEO Symposium, providing insights and devotional practices for building our spiritual lives in the context of our organizational leadership. Here is an excerpt from Bob's book:

In her book, The Creature's Choir, Carmen Bernos DeGasztold wrote a delightful collection of poems putting prayers in the mouths of animals and birds. My favorite of these poems is "The Peacock," in which this regal bird is debating its own identity. It is proud of its external beauty and presence but it is humbled by its "discordant cry" and "meager heart." The peacock ends its lament with the request "Lord, let a day come, a heavenly day, when my inner and outer selves will be reconciled in perfect harmony."

I believe that the yearning of this prayer is consciously or unconsciously at the core of every Christian leader who seeks to lead others with greater spiritual integrity. But it also highlights the dissonance between our inner and outer worlds. As leaders this discord often is experienced in the clash between our external leadership responsibilities and our internal spiritual lives.

Unfortunately, much of my experience has been that these two worlds of public organizational success principles and private spiritual disciplines don't readily intersect or necessarily inform each other. As a leader I have sometimes felt forced or have chosen to live in a dichotomized world that segmented my internal spiritual life from my external life of leadership.

Even trying to evaluate these two worlds seems to create irreconcilable differences. Much of my external world is measured by my accomplishments according to planned objectives and goals and bottom line accountabilities. In contrast, I tend to evaluate my internal world by a sense of spiritual peace - which often is more a factor of sufficient rest than that of being closer to God.

In fact the very practice of measurement, which is a foundational principle of organizational life, seems suspect in the realm of spirituality. The spiritual virtue of "letting go" seems like leadership suicide. Because of this, I have often felt like the proverbial person who had his head in the oven and his feet in the freezer but on the average felt okay!

I necessarily asked myself, "Is the world of success so different from the world of the soul that I just have to live with this split personality and hope that God is okay with this kind of "average" life? I alternatively have struggled with the opposite temptations to just retreat from organizational leadership because it was too hard or conversely, to reject the interior life because it seemed so irrelevant.

Christian leaders today need to embrace and embody both our internal relationship with God and our external relationship with others. We cannot successfully separate or isolate our interior life from our exterior life. Both are part of who we truly are. The more there is harmony and integrity between who we are in the deepest recesses of our being and in the most visible expressions of our lives, the more we will be authentic to both ourselves and others.

The Bible eloquently describes and illustrates that we are all in the midst of a spiritual battle – the battle between "the flesh and the spirit", the battle between our compulsions to sin and our commitments to God. It is a struggle and we have this struggle both internally and externally. We wrestle with what we think and what we say, in what we feel and how we act.

So we may communicate authenticity by being vulnerable in what we say, but we may be using our vulnerability for soliciting the affections of others. Or we may develop our piety in solitude but then control others for our own purposes through our aura of spirituality. The temptation for self-promotion is never far from anyone in leadership.

Authentic Christian leadership means that we are living with a harmony of our inner and outer lives and it is through the practice of spiritual disciplines that God so often composes and directs this harmony in our lives.


Bob Fryling began his time with InterVarsity as a chapter president at Drexel University where he earned his bachelor's degree in metallurgical engineering. He worked at Ford Motor Co. in research and development and later earned his master's degree in Inter-cultural Studies at Wheaton Graduate School.


His career track at InterVarsity includes Campus Staff Member, Area Director, Regional Director, Director of Human Resources, Director of Strategic Planning and for fourteen years National Director of Campus Ministries. Bob has taught and written in the areas of leadership, spiritual formation and Christian engagement with contemporary culture. His most recent book is The Leadership Ellipse:Shaping How We Lead by Who We Are. (2010)

Bob was appointed Publisher of InterVarsity Press (Westmont, Illinois) and Senior Vice President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in 1997. Since that time IVP has been awarded the top ranking category for Best Christian Places to Work for four consecutive times and was also declared to be in the Top 10 of all book publishing companies to work for by Book Business in 2009.


Bob and his wife Alice have two married daughters and four grandchildren. Alice has authored eight books, conducts workshops in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram and has a full ministry as a trained spiritual director. Bob and Alice live in Woodridge, Il.


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