Name: Tim Kurth
Title: Executive Director
Organisation: The Shepherd Fund
Tim Kurth consults with ministries across the U.S. in areas of donor relations, board governance, and capital fundraising. He's passionate about leading short-term mission teams to developing countries for the purpose of building relationships and dissolving mental, emotional, and cultural barriers to celebrate the connectedness of all humanity. Through The Shepherd Fund he supports orphan care in Kenya and facilitates cooperative projects between Kenyans and Americans. He has served ministries in the U.S. and globally for nearly forty-five years. More importantly, he has two fabulous children who have married amazing spouses and blessed him with three amazing grandchildren.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
We’ve gone through the interviews and asked the best of the best to come back and answer 7 MORE Questions on Leadership.
I hope Tim's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. As a leader, how do you build trust with employees, customers and other stakeholders?
I'd put transparency at the top of the list. It's become an overused word that is often dismissed as trite. However, true transparency, that is, admitting when you've messed up, sharing truly meaningful information, and never putting up obstacles to people getting the truth, engenders trust. When I work with clients, I'll tell them where I've struggled. I sometimes overshare so they realize I'm not hiding anything.
I think my generation (boomer) grew up with leaders who were taught to keep things "close to the vest" and keep everyone on a "need to know" basis. That attitude built stratified organizations where distrust, rumor, and fear grew like weeds in a garden. Pastors were taught in seminary to never share personal struggles with their "flock" because that would somehow damage their ecclesial authority.
Far too many ministry leaders have fallen because of this unwise counsel. Share your humanity and let God be the hero of every story.
2. What do 'VISION' and 'MISSION' mean to you? And what does it actually look like to use them in real-world business?
In just the past couple of years I've immersed myself in the world of Policy Governance and have come to believe the 10 principles articulated by John Carver encapsulate vision and mission better than anything I've seen in my career.
I still hark back to The Power of Vision by George Barna published over thirty years ago, but Carver's model is simple and elegant. He captures it in what he calls Ends policies that are meant to answer these simple questions: Why do you exist? For what audience? At what relative cost or benefit? Answer these three questions and you'll have your vision and mission.
Why do you exist in this world? How is the world different because your ministry or organization exists? Can you answer that question? And answer it as if your ministry is doing everything you intend it to do right now...even if you're just a startup. For what audience doesn't mean others can't also benefit but it gives you a laser like focus on who primarily benefits from your organization being in the world.
Seeing that they benefit fully in all the ways you're meant to benefit them is your mission. Call it whatever you like, but if you lack a compelling reason to exist and a primary audience for your product or services, all the vision and mission statements in all the binders and over all the doorways won't make a bit of difference or lead to success.
3. How can a leader empower the people they're leading?
Trust them. Hire people who are fit for the job and trust them to do it. Differences in approach and style are never sufficient reason to intervene. A leader should only intervene if there's an existential threat to the organization or obvious, sustained failure to perform. Otherwise, let the people you lead express their intrinsic passion for the work. Forty years ago I presented all day workshops on building and maintaining volunteer ministries.
The same principles apply for employees. Welcome them to the team, see that they take ownership (talk about our work, our team, our accomplishments), and nurture them to leadership. There's not sufficient room here to go through all the details, but a great leader infuses people with a fervent love for the work by seeing they embrace it as their own. In a recent conversation with a friend who's in a job transition we got on the topic of vacation.
I think everyone in an organization should be granted unlimited vacation time. A leader should focus on performance metrics not time metrics. Bring on people with the skills to accomplish what you need done, give them the tools and resources to do it, and let them go for it. Sometimes that work can be done in twenty-five hours a week and sometimes it might take sixty. When the work is done, it's done.
If I have a gifted person who can get all the things done I've asked them to do and take ten weeks off a year, that's awesome. In the U.S. people are still expected to put in forty hours a week and take three weeks of vacation. It's insanity because it puts the focus on time spent when everyone knows much of that time is wasted and makes no difference on organizational impact. That's just one example of how we prioritize the wrong things.
4. Who are some of the coaches or mentors in your life who have had a positive influence on your leadership? Can you please tell a meaningful story about one of them?
I've been blessed with several men in my life who have modeled leadership. Joel taught me about customer service. Max taught me how to delegate with trust. Bill taught me humility. When it came to imparting a sense of ownership none was better than Wes Visser. Wes was the Camp Director where I served as a counselor while in college. You could tell Wes loved the camp and had made great personal sacrifices to see it succeed. But he never spoke of it as his camp.
From the moment I was hired Wes showed his trust and expectation that I was to be a leader. His administrative assistant called me while I was still at school before my first summer as a counselor and told me I'd be teaching the entire summer staff about ropes and knots. I told her I didn't know anything about tying knots. She said, Wes wanted me to call you now so you'd have time to learn. It was his way of giving me a big responsibility and ownership of something meaningful before I even showed up on camp property.
During staff training Wes took the time to give all of us our staff shirts for the summer. As he handed them out he told us that he had hired every summer counselor that had ever served at that camp. It was a privilege to receive a staff shirt and we were to guard them closely. He said he knew every person who ever got a shirt and if he ever saw someone wearing a staff shirt who hadn't served on staff, he would personally remove that shirt from them.
Pretty harsh for 2023 but I can tell you that in 1977 those words communicated that I was part of something special. I was someone special. I spent four summers at that camp and have returned many times through the years. Forty-six years on, I will still tell you with tears in my eyes that Walcamp in Kingston, Illinois is My Camp!
5. Leadership is often more about what you DON'T do. How do you maintain focus in your role?
This is admittedly a weak spot for me. I started my career as a Christian school teacher in an environment where you were expected to do a little of everything and then a little more. It wasn't a healthy start and it took me many years to get to a point where I stopped seeing myself as responsible for doing everything. I think where God broke me of the need to be the doer not the leader was when I joined a ministry deploying 25,000 volunteers across the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, and Belize for home repair and community service mission trips.
As part of the leadership team we recruited and trained one hundred college students and hundreds of additional volunteers each year. When I first joined the team I was stressed and anxious a lot. It suddenly dawned on me that I was psychologically and emotionally seeing myself doing every role in all seventy cities over the entire summer. It took time and intentional work through some counseling to release that sense of personal responsibility.
I learned to discern what areas fell exclusively to me and could be covered by no one else. To this day, when I find myself overwhelmed or when I'm coaching a client who is overwhelmed, I ask, "What are those things only I can do and couldn't be covered by anyone else?" Frankly, that is a small but important list. As I look to the final years of my career, I'm focusing on writing training guides and taking even those few things only I can do out of my head and onto paper so I can begin equipping future leaders to start where I leave off. That process is truly bringing focus to what my role is and needs to be within the organization.
6. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Everyone plans differently. How do you plan for the week, month and years ahead in your role?
In my coaching, I use a five key goals structure. Together with my clients we set five key quarterly goals. These aren't the only things they will accomplish in a quarter, but they are the five things that must be accomplished to move the organization forward. We then take these five quarterly goals to inform five key goals every week. One of the weekly goals is always a stretch goal. That's not a typical stretch goal as some might consider it. My stretch goal is related to discovering something that is crucial to the client's success but is difficult for them to do emotionally. I then work to find a remove impediments to their success.
Now, in all transparency (see #1 above) I don't personally use the five key goal structure because my work isn't as neatly broken into quarters and weeks like the donor relation work I coach. For me, having a compelling goal is the start. I'm currently working to grow my team of consultants. I want more consultants working so I have to plan to train them and I have to secure agreements for them to fulfill once they're trained.
Working back from the reality I want to exist in ten months, I have broken the work into steps that must happen within a certain time frame. This time frame flows backwards from the future until it arrives at today. At the beginning of each week or whenever it feels the fabric of the plan is beginning to unravel, it helps me to handwrite notes to myself about the work I'm doing to accomplish the goal. I reset myself around what needs to be done next so as not to be overwhelmed by the scope of the entire project.
7. What advice would you give to a young leader who is struggling to delegate effectively?
Get over yourself. Perhaps a little cheeky, but nonetheless true. I find struggling to delegate in my own life is usually driven by an overinflated sense of my own importance. Thinking I'm the only one who can do this is a recipe for keeping any organization small, relatively ineffective, and constantly dealing with turnover. Further, gain a sense of your own mortality. That's much harder for a young leader. Having now reached age sixty-five, my mortality awareness is exponentially higher than it was even five years ago.
Certainly fifteen years ago I would've been hard pressed to imagine a time when I wasn't in charge of whatever it was I thought I was in charge of. Go back to #5 and start by defining those things that can be done by absolutely no one but you. Be ruthlessly honest and have at least one trusted adviser who can check your work! Then revisit the list and trim it by a third because there are still things you could delegate. Finally, once a month or so, spend thirty minutes walking around a cemetery.
Look at the particularly impressive headstones and monuments. As you walk through row upon row, remind yourself that all these people have one thing in common...they aren't in charge of anything anymore and the world keeps spinning around. I hope that doesn't sound cruel or hopeless. I mean just the opposite. Failing to delegate just makes you and everyone else miserable. Life is far too short to waste it on misery. Share the joy of success with everyone you can. Invest that satisfaction you feel in being part of something bigger than yourself into the lives of others.