Jeff Henderson shares powerful principles for shrinking the risk of your next career move.
- The most important networking question you can ask
- How to turn every “no” into powerful motivational fuel
- The three things that shrink risk
Jeff Henderson is an entrepreneur, speaker, pastor, and business leader. For seventeen years, he has led three of North Point Ministries’ multisite locations in Atlanta, Georgia—Buckhead Church and two Gwinnett Church locations. He has also helped launch North Point Online, which now reaches over 200,000 people. His bestselling book, Know What You’re FOR, launched a movement in nonprofits around the world and has become a focal point for many businesses. As the founder of the FOR Company, Jeff’s aim is to help organizations build a good name where purpose and profit grow together. Jeff was recently named by Forbes Magazine as one of twenty speakers you shouldn’t miss. Prior to working as a pastor, Jeff started his career in marketing with the Atlanta Braves, Callaway Gardens, Lake Lanier Islands, and Chick-fil-A, Inc., where he led the company’s regional and beverage marketing strategies.
- Book: What to Do Next: Taking Your Best Step When Life Is Uncertain
- Tool: Career Risk Assessment
- Tool: The Four Presenter Voices
- Website: JeffHenderson.com
- Book: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
- Book: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You by John Maxwell and Steven Covey
Jeff, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.
Pete, it’s so great to be here. I really appreciate it. Been looking forward to this for quite a while, so thank you.
Oh, I’m excited to be chatting with you and hearing your wisdom and some insights from your book What to Do Next: Taking Your Best Step When Life Is Uncertain. Could you share with us a time you had to figure out what to do next when life was uncertain and had to take a next great step?
I’ve had four of those, actually, over the last 20 years, and part of that, Pete, was just I was intrigued with the next possibility, but every next possibility comes with a certain amount of risk, so I’ll just start with the one that happened, really was the biggest one over the last few years in terms of the first big risk and trying to figure out what to do next, and that was when I was working in marketing for Chick-fil-A, and my wife and I felt called to help start a nonprofit in the Atlanta area. And we went from working at a multibillion-dollar company with career trajectory to taking a massive pay cut and working for a nonprofit.
And so, you have to ask yourself, “How do you eliminate this risk?” And the reality is you don’t eliminate risk. You shrink this risk. But we were so intrigued with the potential of doing this that it kind of ruined where we were. And I don’t like the word ruined but we were so intrigued about it, we said, “If we don’t go do this, if this nonprofit were to work, we will always look back and regret it.” And that was over 20 years ago, and it was just a formative decision.
And over the course of these 20 years, I’ve made some similar decisions and I began to get questions, such as, “Hey, what was the decision-making process? And how did you know that this was the thing that you were supposed to do?” And so, I began to realize that there were some principles and strategies that I used to help make these decisions. And little did I know that, especially over the last couple of years, people have been asking the same question of themselves, “Hey, what should I do next?”
So, when I left Chick-fil-A, that was a big, big deal, especially moving from for-profit to nonprofit. But as I look back over the course of the years, Pete, I’ve been able to really serve business leaders and nonprofit leaders because I’ve lived in both of those worlds. So, that was a big decision for my wife and me, but we certainly don’t regret it.
Okay. Well, could you tell us, what are some of these core principles that helped you figure this stuff out?
The first one is one that I think a lot of times we overlook, and that is the better you finish your current season, the better you begin your next season. And we really need to start talking about finishing well more, I think. Typically, when people think, “Well, I’m going to put in a two-week or three-week notice. What are they going to do? Fire me?”
I think we have to realize that how we finish well honors the people but also honors the work that we’ve done over the time that we’ve been there. And certainly, for some people, next happens to them, right, the company gets downsized, new leader comes in, I get all that. But I think how we finish that current season is really, really important.
That said, one of the principles that Wendy and I really leaned into is understanding that with many advisors, plans succeed, but with few advisors, plans fail. So, we developed a personal advisory board, people that we trust, people that we look up to, that we meet with on a regular basis. And it’s not just about this decision. It’s about parenting, and marriage, and all sorts of decisions.
And, yet, when you get to a decision like this, about what to do next, making a career change, you want as much possible great wisdom that you can possibly get. So, over two years ago when we made this current season, when I left being a pastor of a church, to now serving businesses and nonprofits in a much broader scope, they were the ones that said, “Hey, you guys are going to be empty-nesters in about 18 months. What are you going to do in that season?”
And that was a great question because I’d not really thought about that, and they helped walk us through the decision-making process about how to figure this out. So, who you listen to is a preview of the future you. And then, also, and we’ll talk about this a little bit down the road if you want, but I really do believe in side hustles, experimenting with some things, trying to figure some things out that may or may not work, but you’re going to learn some things, and it might lead you to the next opportunity.
And then the principle that we’ve all heard is who you know is often more important than what you know. Who you know is often more important than what you know. In your personal network, in building, in enhancing and leveraging your personal network is so important. In fact, Pete, when I talk to people and they call me, and they said, “Jeff, I just lost my job, the company got downsized. What’s the first thing that I should do? Should I update my resume?” That’s an important thing, but, no. “Should I update my information on LinkedIn?” That’s important but, no, that’s not the first thing that you should do.
The first thing you should do is look at your phone, look at your contact list, and make a list of the top ten people that you’re going to call immediately that you can meet with to see if they can help you, because I do believe, Pete, that we are about four or five people away from that next opportunity. So, those are a few strategies, and we can talk about more or go more in depth with those. But the overarching principle is when it comes to what to do next, finding it when you’re uncertain, so often I will hear back from people, going, “I just don’t know what to do and I’m a little stuck.”
And the principles that we talk about is don’t let what you don’t know rob you of what you can do. There are some things that you can do. Focus in on that. And when you do that, you’ll be surprised how much that action can propel you forward.
Okay. Well, that’s a nice set of principles there. So, could you share with us, when it comes to some of these relationship pieces, the advisors and the people that you know, any pro tips associated with really developing those relationships well so that they could be of service when necessary?
Let’s talk about building your personal network. I think asking people, contacting them, and saying, “Hey, can I sit down with you for 30 minutes? I want to ask you about your story, I want to ask you about your career, and then I have a question for you.” I think a lot of people are happy to talk about themselves, talk about their career. And I would say, “Hey, how did you get where you are? Tell me your career trajectory. Tell me your career story.”
And then, as you hear that, at the end of…and then, obviously, asking great questions as they tell you, “Hey, I went here, I went there, and how did all that work,” but at the end of the meeting, ultimately, where you’re wanting to lead them to is this question, and that question is, “Who do you know that I need to know? And will you contact them on my behalf?” And not every time someone will say yes but, more often than not, they will say yes. And I believe that person knows someone that can help you.
And then another pro tip would be either show up with a gift, maybe it’s a book that you could give them, a gift card, write a follow-up thank you note, but that is so important because you’re trying to leverage their network, and you’re also trying to add value to them which is why you want to bring a gift.
So, that question, “Who do you know that I need to know? And will you contact them on my behalf?” that’s so helpful. It’s gold, actually, in terms of building your network. And, again, they may say, “No, I don’t know anybody right now.” That’s fine. Every salesperson would tell you, “You got to get through some no’s to get through some yeses.”
But I think what you’ll discover is, more often than not, people will say, “Oh, absolutely. You know, I’m just talking to this guy the other day.” Or, even if they say, “No, there’s no one that I can think of.” “That’s okay. Well, when you do, or if you do, don’t forget, this is how to get in touch with me.”
Now, here’s the other pro tip, Pete, if you can do this while you don’t necessarily need to do this, that’s even better. Building your personal network while you might not actually need it because you don’t need a job right now, you got a job, you’re fine, but I’m telling you, it’s kind of like health insurance or life insurance. This is work insurance. If you have a well-built personal network, it will always come to be beneficial for you in the future.
Okay. Very good. And if we have any emotional resistance, reluctance, jitters, like, “Oh, I don’t know if I could do that, Jeff. It feels sort of sales-y or pushy or, I don’t know.” Any perspective on that?
You’re listening to fear. You’re listening to doubt and insecurity. And I totally understand this, by the way. In fact, my kids, they’re 23 and 21, and they’ll say, “Dad, we don’t want you to contact this person on my behalf.” And I totally understand that. They want to earn their own way, and I get that. But, at the same time, I’ll say, “Hey, guys, this is how the real world works, and leveraging the people you know, and I know you might not want your dad to call, but there are other people that you can contact that can help you find that next opportunity.”
It’s kind of like this, Pete, one time I was sick, had a cold, and I kept complaining to Wendy that I’m just not feeling better, and she said, “You know what you ought to do? Here’s a radical idea. You might consider going to the doctor.” And I’m like, “No, no, no, I don’t want to go to the doctor.” And she said, “Okay. Well, but here’s this, if you’re not going to go to the doctor, you forfeit the right to complain about being sick, right?”
So, what I tell people when they say, “Oh, Jeff, I don’t want to contact somebody. That’s just a little pushy, a littles sales-y,” I get that. I get that. If you don’t want to do that, you forfeit the right to also complain that you don’t like your job, you don’t like where you are, you’re not sure what to do, “I don’t know how to figure out what to do next.” Okay, if you’re not going to push yourself and push past the fear of this, then you get to stay stuck where you are but you don’t get to complain about it anymore. You’re going to have to push forward. You’re going to have to take action.
But here’s what I’ve discovered about taking action. Even if they say no, the fact that you took action, it’s going to plant a seed that you may never know what comes out of that. But even if someone says no, who knows when they may see or meet somebody that has a job opening, and they remember your email, or your text, or your question, or your phone call. All of that is so, so important, so you got to push through the fear and listen to whether this is real or is this an excuse. And we’ve got to stop being victims and we have to stop listening to our excuses.
I like that notion that even if they say no, you’ve gained something. And I think you gain something even internally emotionally. This reminds me of my younger days, asking for dates.
Even if she says no, there is an internal victory associated with having summoned the courage to do so, and, in that way, I am a winner even if I have lost the date that I was seeking.
Absolutely. You feel better about yourself because you stood up, you did something hard, and that gives you a little step of extra courage, whether you get a yes or no, it’s just so important. I’ll give you a quick example along those lines. When I served in the nonprofit world, I had to raise money, and I would sit down with people over coffee and I would cast the vision of, “This is what we’re trying to do and this is our vision of how we’re going to help people.”
And then I would ask them this question, “Will you help me?” and then I would be quiet, and I would just let the silence fill the coffee shop. And you have to do that, Pete. You have to let that awkwardness of the silence kind of fill the space. And then they would say one of three things, they would say, “Yes,” “No,” or, “I’ll think about it or pray about it,” which is also no. So, two of the three are no, but my responsibility was to make the ask. It was their responsibility to provide an answer.
And what I discovered in helping myself to be a better fundraiser is I decided I’m no longer going to answer for people. That’s actually rude for me to rob them of the opportunity to provide an answer. What I’m going to do is I’m going to make the request. And if I do that, whether I got a no or not, I just felt a little stronger that day because I was doing my job trying to raise money.
Well, the same thing is true if you’re trying to build your career or trying to figure out what to do next. You’re going to feel stronger even if you do get a no. Yes, we would like a yes. Absolutely. But even if you get a no from someone that you’re trying to build your network, it’s still going to make you a little bit stronger.
All right. Thank you. You’ve also got a cool concept called the career risk calculator. How does this work?
Many people, Pete, as I mentioned earlier, say, “Hey, I want to make this move but I’ve got to eliminate risk. It cannot be risky.” And I tell them, “Wow, you must live in a different world that I live in because you don’t eliminate risk. But what you can do is you can shrink it.” And so, when it comes to making a career decision or a life decision about what to do next, it doesn’t have to be a leap across the Grand Canyon but it can be reduced to maybe a leap over a mud puddle. You might get wet and muddy and fall and get wet, and no one likes to do that, but you’re not plunging thousands of feet below.
So, what we wanted to do is to help people think through that, so we created, as we called it, the career risk calculator. What we’re trying to do is ask questions to see what kind of level of risk someone is at. So, from 25 questions, and, ultimately, you get a red light, a yellow light, or a green light. The red light is not a pass or fail. It doesn’t mean you failed. The red light simply says, as a red light says when we’re driving around, “Whoa, stop. Before you take another step, you need to think through a few things.”
A yellow light says, “Okay, you’re making some progress but here are a few other things to think through.” And a green light doesn’t necessarily mean, “You have to now move.” It means you’ve done the hard work, here’s a couple of other things that you might consider. And this is just a free resource that we provide at my website JeffHenderson.com.
But once you get that light, once you get that information, we give you a few other things to think through. And part of this is designed for another action statement that I learned from John Maxwell. Early on in this new season of mine, what I’m doing now for two years, my first month, it’s brand new, I’m trying to go out and speak, and it’s COVID and all this kind of stuff, and it’s kind of crazy, but I was at a conference where John Maxwell was speaking, and John said this, and I’ll never forget this, Pete. He said, “I never had a clear vision. I just kept moving forward.”
And that just totally floored me in the best of ways because, I thought, “Wait. Here’s John Maxwell, he’s sold literally millions of books, he’s this leadership guru. You look at somebody like that and think this guy has it all going on. I understand a mere mortal like me, I don’t have a clear vision, but he didn’t have a clear vision? So, I just got to keep moving forward? Well, what are those one or two next steps that I can take?”
And a lot of times, it’s not this gigantic leap. It’s just a small step, picking up the phone and contacting someone, or doing a side hustle, or sending an email, or trying to get my finances together, or getting wise people and say, “Hey, what would you do if you were me?” And so, the career risk assessment basically gives you some small steps to take so that you can keep moving forward. And as you keep moving forward, you’re going to shrink the risk. You can’t eliminate it but you can shrink it. And so, that’s what that career risk calculator is all about.
Okay, that’s cool. Well, can you tell us some of the best ways we can shrink it?
So, first of all, really get to understand two of three things, two of these things that you have control over and one that you really don’t. So, what I mean by that is a lot of times folks will come up to me, Pete, and say, “Hey, I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know what to do.” So, what do you do when you don’t know what to do?
Well, when you don’t know what to do, there are three things to pay attention to. The first one is your gifting. Do you know your strengths? Do you know what you are good at? Because what to do next is usually going to come down that pathway. For example, you’re not going to see me launch a country music career. There’s no musical background in my history. So, I mean, maybe for some people do that but that’s not a gift of mine. So, gifting is really, really important.
The second thing is calling. What breaks your heart? Or, what are you passionate about? And if there’s nothing that you’re passionate about, okay, that’s all right. Well, let’s go out there and let’s try some things. But there’s understanding your gifting and understanding your calling. And then the third thing that is a little bit of the most frustrating thing for folks because they don’t have the most control over this, and that’s timing.
But when you understand your gifting and you understand your calling, what happens is the timing eventually shows up. And it’s kind of a Venn diagram, you have three circles. The first circle is gifting, the second circle is calling, and the third circle is timing. When those three connect right in the middle of that, is how you figure out what to do next.
And a calling often asks the question, “Somebody should do something about that. Who will do something about that? Somebody should start a company that serves customers this way. Somebody should start a nonprofit that does this.” So, that’s kind of a calling. Gifting says, “Somebody should do something about that, and I wonder if that person is me.” That starts talking about gifting.
And when I decided, eventually, to leave Chick-fil-A, I knew that the gifting and the calling were there, it took me a little bit longer to figure out the timing of it. And, generally speaking, it usually takes a little bit longer than we think. That’s why trying to figure out what to do next, it’s something that all of us should be on a journey of because I’m not trying to convince people to quit and leave their job today. I‘m trying to convince people to keep growing to bring the best next version of them to their organizations and to the people in their lives.
And if you continue to do that, even if you stay in the same organization that you’re currently in, you’re going to get better at serving them. And when you get better at serving them, you’re going to get bigger and better opportunities, and that’s what I’ve seen throughout my career. So, I think understanding gifting, calling, and timing, that will help you, especially if you say, “I just don’t know what to do.”
Okay. Well, Jeff, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?
Well, I think it’s important to understand that there’s a certain level of emotional awareness that comes into with understand what to do next. Understanding that, especially if a lot of transitions are tricky. As for me, I didn’t leave organizations that I didn’t like. I left organizations that I dearly loved. I left people that I dearly loved, so there’s a lot of emotions that’s associated with all of that. So, I think it’s helpful to process that out, especially if you’ve been downsized in a company, obviously, there’s emotion there.
So, we’ve talked a lot of technical skills and all that today, but I would pay attention to what’s happening internally inside of you because that grief of leaving and the emotions of leaving, it’s a real thing. So, just pay attention not only to the external applications, like, build your network, and sign us and career risk calculator, but also pay attention internally to what’s happening to you because that’s really, really important because the best gift that you can give the organizations and the people you serve is the best emotionally healthy version of you.
All right. Thank you. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
A favorite quote for me is, “There’s not a limit to what a person can do when he or she doesn’t care who gets the credit.” Now, I think humility is a gamechanger but the reality, too, is we can’t say, “Hey, guess what, Pete? One of the best things about me is my humility. I’m so humble.” At that point, I’ve already forfeited. So, humility isn’t something that I think about. Humility is something that I practice. But I love that quote that there’s not a limit to what we can do if we don’t care who gets the credit.
All right. And could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?
So, for me, I love the research that talks about the fact that if I assume the best for someone, it’s a marriage study and they looked at healthy marriages, and then if there was something that happened, the husband or wife or the partner would say, “You know what, I’m going to assume the best about that,” instead of the fundamental attribution error, which would say, “I’m going to assume the worst about that.” And even if they were wrong, the fact that they assume the best about that particular situation was so helpful and healthy.
All right. And could you share a favorite book?
I would just tell you, from a history standpoint, Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, it’s about Abraham Lincoln and how he hired many of his presidential rivals to be on his cabinet, and how that ultimately led him to abolishing slavery with their help. It was the movie, that book was actually adapted into a movie, Lincoln that Steven Spielberg produced. And I would say a leadership book would be The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?
So, for me, goodness, technology is just rampant, but I created a tool for communicators. I believe leadership comes with a microphone. And it’s called “The Four Presenter Voices,” and it helps me understand what my voice is and how to leverage my voice. So, when I’m preparing for a talk, I go back to that, and go, “Okay, I have this particular voice. Here’s how I need to prepare, and here’s how I need to make sure that the weakness of this particular voice allows me to avoid the weakness of that voice, and to leverage the strength of that voice so that I can communicate the best that I can,” because, again, leadership comes with a microphone.
All right. And could you share a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?
I really do believe I’m trying to get better. I really do believe the better we finish the night, the better we begin the day. A way to say it is, “A great day begins the night before.” And so, I try to write down three things: one, “What went well today?”; two, “What could I do tomorrow that will move me forward?”; and, number three, “Who could I encourage tomorrow?” And a great day begins the night before. So, I’m trying to be more consistent about doing that, and shutting off technology, reading, and getting really set because the day doesn’t begin when I wake up. Great days begin the night before.
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?
There’s a question that I’ve asked over the years for leaders, and the question is for them, or the challenge rather is for them to ask their teams, “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?” That’s going to give them information that everyone else has but the leader, and it’s going to be challenging. They’re going to get some encouraging information, they’re going to get some surprising information about themselves, and they’re going to get some information that will hurt their feelings.
But this is one of the most healthy and emotional awareness questions, I think, that you can ask, and it’s going to help you get to be a better leader. But I challenge people and say you don’t have to do this and you don’t have to ask that question. You just have to know that if you don’t, and if you don’t have the courage to ask that question, you’re going to be the only one that doesn’t know the answer to it, “So, what’s it like to be on the other side of me?”
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
JeffHenderson.com. You’ll see the free assessment that we talked about earlier. Actually, the voices assessment is on there as well, it’s just free. And then you can follow me from there on social media.
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?
So, I think in terms of being awesome at your job, the challenge that we need to be mindful of is, ultimately, there’s a wake in our leadership. And I think we need to look back and go, “Is the wake of that leadership, are we making the people in the organizations better?” My first business mentor challenged me with this, he said, “When you leave here, I want you to leave things better than when you found them.”
So, one of the ways that we can be awesome at our job is to know that we will not always be at this job. We’re all one day closer to leaving wherever we are. But when we leave, there is a wake that follows that, so leave things, leave the organization, leave the job, and leave the people better than when you found them.
All right. Jeff, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish much luck and joy in each of the things you do next.
Thank you so, so much, Pete. I’m honored to be here.