In the third episode of “Leading and Thriving in the Church,” Prince talks with Rhonda Brandon, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources officer for Duke University Health System.

In her role, Brandon oversees efforts to advance a world-class workforce that positions the health system to meet long-term strategic goals. She is a key driver of initiatives to improve performance measurement, professional development and work culture. She offers trusted counsel to senior staff, advocating on behalf of all employees.

Brandon was most recently the Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for BJC Healthcare in St. Louis, MO. She joined BJC Healthcare in 2006 as Vice President of Human Resources for Missouri Baptist Medical Center and was named Vice President of Operations for BJC’s Shared Services Human Resources team in 2010.

Prior to her service to BJC Healthcare, Brandon served as Vice President of Human Resources for Colonial Pipeline Company and prior to that, as Director of Human Resources and Global Information Technology for Nike. She is a cum laude graduate of Hampton University (BA, mass communications) and American University (MS, organization development.)


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Transcript

Prince Rivers: What does it mean to lead now, especially in the church, especially in this political and social climate? I’m Prince Rivers, and this is Leading and Thriving in the Church, a podcast from Alban at Duke Divinity. Our mission is to help you be the leader God has called you to be. It’s been my privilege to serve as a pastor for more than 20 years, and I absolutely love supporting people who lead congregations. It’s one of my passions. But doing ministry in the post-pandemic era has unearthed new leadership challenges, and it has led us to pay more attention to the need for thriving ministers and congregations. This podcast features conversations with some of the most innovative pastors, leaders, and authors I know. They’re going to help us do church faithfully and effectively, and in a way that is life-giving to those who lead and the people we serve. I’m so glad you’re listening. I can’t wait to introduce you to today’s guest on Leading and Thriving in the Church.

Rhonda Brandon is the Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources officer for Duke University Health System. Among her many responsibilities, she drives the health system’s initiatives to improve work culture. Rhonda is a layperson with deep faith who cares about the church and church leaders. Today we’re going to talk with Rhonda about leadership and organizational culture because every church has a culture, and culture is often what prevents or enables leaders to innovate and move beyond the status quo. Rhonda, welcome to Leading and Thriving in the Church.

Rhonda Brandon: Well, thank you so much for having me, and I am so very honored to be here with you today for this conversation.

PR: That’s great. You know, we can learn so much from reading your bio, but I’d love for you to just tell our guests a little bit about who you are in your own words.

RB: You know, bios are all about one side and one dimension of your life. I like to talk about who I am as a whole person. First off, I am a child of God, and blessed to have two very wonderful parents who have gone on to glory. My father was a postal service worker. My mother was a college professor. And so I’m a daughter. I’m a sister to two older brothers, one is now deceased. I’m a wife to my best friend, that’s Kevin. I’m a mother of three. My son is Miles, who is 29; my daughter is Brianna, she’s 35; and my oldest child is my husband. It’s Kevin. You know, also I’m a mentor to many, and that’s my happy place. I love to mentor others as I was mentored quite a bit throughout my career. And then I happened to be fortunate, and then I am very blessed to have an amazing career in human resources. I’ve done this for the last 40 years, believe it or not, across many different industries as you can see from the bio. I’ve worked at IBM, Nike, and other organizations, and now I’m here at Duke. I’m also an Executive Coach, and I’m an HR consultant. I try to do that in my spare time. So, that’s a little bit about me.

PR: And I’m sure there’s just so much spare time, but I know that you’re good at it.

RB: Thank you.

PR: Well, that’s very helpful. Would you mind also just sharing a little bit about your faith journey? Where did you start out? Where did you grow up? What was that like? Sort of, where do you see yourself now?

RB: Yeah. I was born in Richmond, Virginia, interestingly in what used to be the greatest crime rate per capita in these United States years ago. It was a very tough neighborhood, a tough place to grow up, but my parents instilled in us the need to go to church and to believe in something bigger than ourselves. I accepted Christ at a very early age, but I didn’t know him for myself in a deep way like I do now until my family and I moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where I worked for Colonial Pipeline Company in the late ‘90s and into the 2000s. And I worshipped at a church there. At the time it was called Destiny Metropolitan Worship Church. And I had the opportunity to consult with the leadership at that time at that church. And that experience deepened my faith, and it helped me to learn a lot about not only church operations, but what happens behind the pulpit. I actually did my thesis for my masters, and it was called Behind the Pulpit.

PR: Wow.

RB: So, I’ll go with some of that a little bit later. But what I learned then, and what I know now, is that my success in leadership is inextricably linked to my faith. Throughout my career, even when I didn’t know God as I do now, I believe he has truly designed my path. You know, he gave me literal signs along the way that confirmed his blessings on my career. A couple of times I fussed at God. Well, quite a few times I would fuss at him and say, “God, why do you have me here in this crazy job, in this crazy place?” And I would hear his still, small voice. I will never forget, especially when I was in St. Louis, and he was saying, “Because this is where I have you now, and I need you to do a good work for me.” So, today when I wake up every morning, I thank God for another day and another chance to do that good work he’s blessed me with. I ask for his guidance. I pray for the organization. I pray for the people that are in it because we are here to do his work. I’m here to do his work, and I know that. And it’s through his grace that I have strength, that I have courage and the tenacity to stay in the game, especially in healthcare right now. So, I would say my leadership journey has truly taught me to walk by faith, not by sight.

PR: Yeah, that is a powerful testimony, and I thank you for sharing that story. It really made me think about the intersection between faith and work, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to talk about that a little bit more in this conversation. But I want to also know a little bit about what you do at Duke. I know it’s a huge role. What do you say to people when they say, “What do you do as the Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Duke Health System?”

RB: You know, that’s an interesting question because I just do it, and trying to explain it can be difficult. But I oversee about 150 HR leaders and talent across the health system enterprise, and our work is to attract talent, to hire them, to develop them in their roles, to create an engaging and inspiring culture. That’s what we’re going to talk a bit more about today for our talent, so that they can do their best work. And we need to retain talent and make sure that we provide an environment where people want to come. We also support their transitions into retirement or exits to their next opportunities. So, we cover the wide range of what we call the employment life cycle for our talent. Now, simply put, my day is filled with solving people problems. At a very high level, it can be very strategic, putting strategic plans together. It could be working side by side with our team members to help them solve business problems right where they are. It could include building policies where necessary, how to pay our talent, how to manage through extreme labor shortages. That’s what we’re dealing with now. Thinking through structures and team dynamics, how to develop teams. Handling crises. We have crises that happen from time to time. Workplace violence has taken an uptick in our society these days. So, we worry about that for our employees and keeping a safe place for them. But my favorite work is some work that we’re really involved in now, and that is taking a look at how we build and foster a culture of respect and belonging. We are on that journey now. That’s my favorite part of my job right now.

PR: You know, as you described your work, I actually hear a lot of overlap between what you do and certainly the work of churches and the work of ministry, and we’ll come back to that. But one of the phrases that you’ve brought up a few times, and that I’m very interested in, is this idea of organizational culture. How do you define that concept? What does that mean to you?

RB: Culture is, to me, the “way we do things around here.” You know, it’s the habits. It’s the traditions. It’s the behaviors, the belief systems that are implicitly or explicitly relayed and actually felt. Culture is impacted by leadership styles, how decisions are made. Office politics can define culture. We also, and sometimes we forget, it has to do with the physical environment, the artwork you see, the artifacts, the lighting. For me, culture is the air that an organization breathes. It can be fun. It be engaging. It can be safe, where people have that sense of belonging, or it can be toxic, unfriendly, lack diversity. They’re unhealthy habits, there’s conflict between team members. So, for me, that’s how I define culture, but it’s important to define your culture or it becomes what you’ve allowed it to be. So, that’s important to have core values or common sense of purpose, defined behaviors, because they all act as guideposts to what is expected when you’re in each other’s presence. So, that’s how I think about culture. You’ve got to define it, or it just becomes what you’ve allowed it to be.

PR: And you think, obviously, a lot about culture. What would you say are some of the marks of healthy church culture? You’ve been in a few different congregations. What does healthy church culture look like to you?

RB: Well, the church culture is so important because its services, its leaders, its people, its programs are something you’re presenting to people that are coming there for hope. They’re coming there as an invitation to be a part of God’s kingdom. So, healthy church culture, to me, is the spirit of the place. Is it uplifting? Does it feel welcoming? I have been in a number of churches, and to compare and contrast a little bit, healthy church cultures are warm. You know when you’ve come to a place and it just feels warm. It almost melts your heart. You want to be a part of it. You want to get involved. There’s an invitation. There’s smiles on people’s faces when you walk in. They’re not fake smiles. There’s this genuine authenticity that you feel that, wow, I belong here. Right? Toxic church cultures I’ve been a part of as well where there’s a lot of gossip. They’re not the smiles at the door. There’s a coolness. It’s cold. There’s a rigidity about the way things are done here. And people have to remember, in churches or not, culture speaks to your reputation. So, it’s what I heard about your church, what I heard about your organization. It is the difference for people coming back to worship again. So, having a healthy church culture makes the difference in a person even accepting Christ.

PR: Right. Right. And thinking about what people hear about a church, how does it relate to telling the church’s story? Because if you don’t tell it, you don’t know what’s being told about it. Do you see a connection there between how leaders communicate and how they shape communication and what people know about the church’s culture?

RB: You know, there’s a branding that happens, right? You should have a brand about you, what you are known for. And you want to be the author of that story. You do want to communicate to the community, to potential worshippers, to existing worshippers what you stand for, what it’s like to be at Union Baptist. Right? And it is so important though that what you say you are is what is really the experience. Too often we can put up a façade. Come here. We’re great! We’re this; we’re that. And the moment I walk in and it’s sideways.

PR: Right.

RB: You know, just that being incongruent with your story. And so that’s so important.

PR: So, I’m thinking about the pastor who is new to their congregation, and they’re hearing this, thinking about church culture. What do they need to think about in the first 100 days, the first six months about trying to understand the culture, or even trying to influence the culture, if that’s not too soon to think about?

RB: That new pastor can be a secret shopper. Go incognito. Put their hat on. Experience the church or send out a loved one or two to experience it on their behalf. That’s the best way to learn about what really happens there. Right? We actually have done that, doing secret shopping for the applicant experience, the patient experience. And sitting there in that experience to figure out, now, how am I really experiencing this circumstance or this culture? And so it’s taking it in, it’s listening. When I’ve been a new person in an organization, I do a SWOT analysis. What are the strengths of this organization that I absolutely want to hold on and keep? What are the weaknesses about this culture that could be harmful if we’re not careful? The opportunities and things we could do to improve, and then if we don’t, what are the threats that we’re up against? Those are some of the things I would recommend to a new pastor. I do to a new leader. Any time you’re joining something new, stop, listen, do some secret shopping, if not yourself but through others, to understand what do we really have here? And then how can I engage with my team, share what I’ve learned, and make sure that I’m pulling insights from this as well, or collecting insights from them as well to say how do we make this better? How do we influence it to be better?

PR: That’s great advice. Also, thinking about just the myriad of things you know as a human resource officer, and thinking about how pastors would just learn so much if they had an opportunity to kind of sit down with some human resource professionals, what do you think are some of the key things that pastors can learn from the field of human resources that might help us lead congregations more effectively, more efficiently, more faithfully?

RB: Wow, that’s a great question. First of all, you should know that we’re talking about human beings, right? And so, whether you’re talking about your congregation, you’re talking about leaders within your organization. They all come with a story. Everybody comes with a story and no two are alike. I think it’s just so important that we know that people need to feel seen, heard, and valued, and we need to create environments where people can thrive. That’s the soul of my work. That’s what I love to do. What is the environment we’re inviting people into? What are the expectations that we set so that these are the guideposts and the boundaries by which people work? It is so important also, I think not just ministers or pastors, but leaders shy away from giving people feedback when they need to have it – shy away from what may feel like conflict or putting too much structure around something, or putting boundaries, setting expectations when people really like that. Believe it or not, when left to your own devices, if there’s no structure, no rules, no expectations, the culture could perish, if you will.

PR: Yeah.

RB: If you’re not careful. But people tend to shy away from giving that feedback or providing the insights that would make those people better, that would make people better. So, I say don’t try to be human resource professionals. That’s not what you are.

PR: Right.

RB: Be a partner with someone like myself or others to helping navigate because it is very different. Church life is very different than a business. It is somewhat of a business, but just general industry, very different. And I would just say partner with, don’t try to be an expert at, because that’s what we’re here for.

PR: That’s great advice.

Pastors, some of them may have to manage staff teams or certainly volunteer teams in almost any size church, and that feedback piece can be very challenging. Any tips for someone who is trying to grow in their capacity to give feedback to someone for whom they may not have employer/employee responsibility, but it’s just someone doing the work of the church?

RB: Couple of thoughts there. Feedback is a gift. The other is: to be clear is to be kind. One of the things I tell my team is, it’s probably a terrible example, but if I’m walking around with toilet paper on my shoe, do not let me TP up this campus.

PR: Someone please tell me.

RB: Someone please tell me. Now, oftentimes, to give feedback you need to ask, “Do you mind, Reverend Rivers, may I give you some feedback on something?” Ask for that permission, and some people will be startled and say no. But I don’t think I’ve ever run into anybody that said no. It may be hard to swallow, but if you’re doing it with love, the feedback that I have to give, especially if it’s tough, I try to do it with love. And that means with gentleness, with kindness. Extending grace with human kindness is one of my mottos. I think that’s just so important. Ask for permission to give it. Be clear, be kind, and be clear about your motive in giving it. Why am I giving this now? Is it for betterment, to help somebody improve, or what? Be just very clear about your motives.

PR: This also sort of helps us think about a facet of leadership and management that nobody enjoys, and that’s releasing someone, terminating someone. But it’s a part of human resources, and certainly it can be a part of church leadership. No pastor that I know really wants to terminate an employee, and all of us would love to always hire the right employee. Can you talk about some of the lessons you’ve learned that might help us think about both when it’s actually time to terminate someone, or what are some of the basics of a good hiring and interview process?

RB: Well, reasons for terminating differ to a person, to a situation. So, one size does not fit all. If it’s performance-based, then there should be that thing called feedback we just talked about along the way so there is less surprise. And if you set the expectation, you set the performance, guidance, and people are not working toward that, they’re not improving, their feedback along the way should give them some hint that this is not going to be a long-term employee. But if there is something that is unethical, that’s of negligence, that’s a different story. The quicker you take action, the better. To allow things to linger that you know aren’t going well from a performance perspective or an action that has been taken that needs to be addressed; people are watching. And when you let those circumstances linger, people lose faith in your leadership. It also opens the field for people to do the same: “Well, nothing’s going to happen to me because they haven’t dealt with Lisa over there.” Right?

Now from a hiring perspective, you want to be very clear about the roles and the responsibilities. What are the skills and capabilities you’re looking for? And don’t miss. Be very clear about what’s the role intended to do, what are the responsibilities, skills, and capabilities, and do my applicants line up with that? Don’t make concessions. Now, everyone’s not going to come in perfectly. You can often train for much of what you need to have happen, and you want to also hire for attitude. But there needs to be some level of apparent competence that would help make that person be successful.

Also, in the hiring process, ask what we call behavior interview questions. And those are open-ended questions, and specifically, ask them, “Tell me about a time when you did this.” Have specific scenarios that are relevant to the job itself, and listen for what you hear, and listen for what you didn’t hear. Probe a bit further. But it’s less costly when you make the right hire. It really is. So, it’s not something that you should rush to do. It is something that you should care for in the right and careful way.

PR: I imagine that you’ve also led a bit of change in your field. Certainly when you’re talking about culture there’s going to be some changes involved. What would you recommend to pastors to help prepare them to be better agents of organizational change?

RB: Well, that’s a whole other major in college, right? You don’t have to be an expert at it either. There are a couple of authors I would recommend that have some change material that has stood the test of time. One is John Kotter. He’s done a lot of work in the space of change, so reading John’s work, listening to his podcasts and all would be important. And then the other that I really like is William Bridges. William Bridges really talks about the emotional journey around change. When you’re moving someone’s cheese – I think that’s Ken Blanchard…

PR: Right.

RB: …you have just disrupted what they’re used to. You have tacked on, stood on, stepped on, stomped on their emotions. Something that they have been wedded to, if you will. And so with every change, especially organizational change, people go what I call around a change loop very differently and to a person. For example, I love change. I’m going, “Change, yeah!” … I have to be reminded by my team, even though I studied culture and change, that everybody doesn’t accept it at the same time, and we have to be compassionate and care for. Doesn’t mean we don’t change and we don’t drive toward it. We have to care for those that we’re trying to influence to change. It’s a process. It’s a human process. It’s not just a thing you do, or you can do it that way but you’re going to lose humans along the way. You’re going to lose the hearts and minds along the way. When you’re changing something, you’ve got to go for the hearts. You’ve got to care for the hearts and the minds.

PR: That’s great. I appreciate those resources. It made me think about the fact that all of us, as leaders, we have to keep ourselves in touch with other people who may be able to help us along the way: whether that’s a podcast or a live person that we know. And I’m wondering about your background. Have you had mentors? What’s your take on mentoring and mentorship, and maybe what do pastors need to be thinking about that?

RB: That, to your comment: quick comment about bringing together resources to help you. I’m not a minister, so I come to you for help. Right?

PR: Yes.

RB: So, make sure that you’re not out there trying to be superheroes. Get the support you need from those that have those skills and capabilities to be helpful.

Mentoring. It’s my happy place. Love to mentor. I mentor many. When I was young, in my career, I sought mentoring. I was at the IBM Corporation when I joined as a newbie in my field, and there was this young lady there that was just amazing. Everybody loved her. And I went to ask her, could she be my mentor? So excited about that. And she said, “No, I don’t do that.”

PR: Wow.

RB: Imagine my horror. But, if you know me, like we have a relationship, you can’t tell me no too easily. So, what I learned to do was to shadow her. I followed her in meetings. I learned how it was that she showed up so professionally, what was important to her and to people that made her shine in her work. And so what I’m taking the long way of saying is mentoring doesn’t have to be the one-on-one conversations once a month with somebody. You can be mentored from afar. Find role models. Find people that you admire, and watch them work, watch how they show up, how they present themselves, and adapt things that would be helpful to you. Don’t become those people, but adapt and adjust your ways or your presentation styles or anything you can think of that would just make you a better professional. That shadowing or that role model observation is a way to be mentored. And then, of course, the best way is to have someone in your corner that you can talk with, that you can say, “I don’t know what just happened here. Can you help me? I just got some feedback I didn’t appreciate. Help me unpack this. Help me to get better and more perspective about this circumstance.” Mentoring is so critical, and I’ve had it throughout my career.

PR: Mentoring, yeah, it’s been helpful to me as well.

I think about the challenges that pastors have had, and congregations in general, and all of us have had in the past few years with the multiple pandemics that we’ve seen in our country and in the world. So much has been written about employees burning out, clergy burning out. I actually wrote my dissertation a couple of years ago on clergy burnout. And I think you may have some personal lessons about burnout. Is there maybe a story you can share with our audience today?

RB: Yes. I know what burnout is up closely and personally. I used to work with Nike Corporation many months ago, one of my favorite places to work. And Nike was about Just Do It. We literally wore spandex and we ran around the campus. Just Do It. It was 24/7 because it was all about the swoosh. Right? The culture was abuzz. That was the culture of Nike.

And I had a new leader from PepsiCo that came in as a new CIO for the organization, and he drank coffee all day long. So, he was constantly up. My kids were little at the time, so after work I’d go home, get their dinner straight, and put them to bed, and then I’d start working again. And as long as I sent emails, he’d answer. As long I sent emails, he’d answer into the wee times of night. And I didn’t learn my lesson to cut that off, set that boundary, right? That went on for so long, and I’ve learned over time that I’m an introvert. I am a high introvert on the scale. My work is I have to extrovert a lot. So my energy is constantly compromised when I’m extroverting. But I had extroverted so much.

I had depleted my tank so far that one morning, while at Nike, when I woke up for work, I couldn’t get out of the bed, and I didn’t know why. My body literally would not move, so I asked my husband to take the kids to school: “You go ahead to work, but I can’t move. I’ll be okay.” I mustered my way to the living room, and sat down on our couch. And where my husband left me that day, he found me when he got back. I was still sitting on the couch, and I was staring at the wall.

Well, this went on for four days. Four days that I sat and I looked at this wall in silence. Now, after a while, I was able to replenish, recharge my battery. I was totally out. And what I learned was I had cheated myself of recharging to a point that I was incapable of functioning. Now I’m sure there are medical people out there, doctors who would diagnose me as something that had happened right there. But my body shut down. And what I learned after that experience is I had literally hit a wall, that I had no energy, I had no more to give. And if I didn’t start caring for myself, my husband could not replenish my energy. My kids could not replenish my energy. I had to care for my own self, and to this day I do.

When I know I have put it all on the floor, left it all on the court, I need to go home, and I need to sit in silence. I need to recharge, and that is so important for you to know where your energy comes from. If you’re an extrovert, and you’re sitting in silence too much, you’ve got to go extrovert with somebody. What I learned more than anything, you have to care for yourself. Nobody is going to do that for you. And it was a very scary place to be, but I’m glad those lessons have been learned, and I’ve changed some habits because of it.

PR: Do you think that being a woman put additional pressures on you to maybe think about so many others before yourself, and maybe what counsel might you give to some women clergy who are listening to this about taking care of themselves while also trying to provide significant organizational leadership?

RB: Great question. There’s many layers to leadership, and especially when you’re a woman. There is this propensity to take care of others more than you take of yourself, to give, give, give. Right? And to work harder, especially as an African-American woman. The tendency is to work even harder to be seen, to be heard, to be valued. And so that’s a strain. That is definitely a stress that is added pressure to anyone, especially women. So, I would say yes, that had probably something to do with it. I needed to prove myself every day. My boss was new. Right? And so, yeah, that was the added pressure that just did not serve me well. And so I’ve learned how to balance that and keep myself, keep perspective. Keep perspective has been very helpful to me as a woman and as a leader in doing the very best I can in the corner in which I stand. That’s one of my mottos.

PR: That’s such an important lesson to learn, and hopefully many will take that away from this interview. I also just press into that just a little bit because you’re a layperson, and you see pastors from the pew. I know, as clergy, this probably relates to men and women. Sometimes we feel guilty about taking time away from church. This is the Lord’s work. We’ve been called to it. We should, you know, just continue to do it. What would you, as a committed layperson, want a minister to know who feels like the church just needs them to be there, they can’t take that time away?

RB: First I’d say you are a human being first, then you are a minister. You have needs and are doing God’s work, which is an ultimate calling for sure. But I would advise you and other ministers to take care of yourselves and be there for your families. It’s too easy not to. You have to establish boundaries because, if you don’t, you will be like Rhonda Brandon on that couch staring at a wall, and you won’t be capable of serving others in a healthy way.

And I would say it’s unfair for the church to believe that the minister just needs to be there. I would want to make sure that there are a network of resources, in and outside of a church, to provide support to your worshippers, and communicate that often, not just when you’re getting ready to go on vacation: “Here’s people you can call,” you know. I would have a bit of a drumbeat, pamphlet, you name it. When all else fails, if Prince Rivers is not at church, here’s some other resources for you.

Empower people to make different decisions because you have to take care of yourself. You have to take care of your family. It’s too easy, and I’ve lived that as well where I was a leader woman, hear me roar, and I’m going to work, work, work, work, work. “Work, work, work” were my top three values when I was coming up. I was a workaholic, and it’s too easy as ministers to especially be workaholics in the name of the Lord. And, as a layperson and as a leader, all I did was work, and I ignored my children. I missed some of my daughter’s firsts. I missed all of her proms. I missed some very special moments in her life that I am feeling like I am still making up. I missed some firsts for my son, baseball games, basketball games. Now Kevin put his career down, and he raised the kids, but I was absent a lot, and that’s not fair to them. And then you have to make up for that later. You have to make up for that later.

So, please, please, please, whatever you do, think about what you need to value. My values, like I said, were work, work, work. I had an executive coach that taught me, or made me think about, well, what are your aspirational values? If you could do it differently, what would they be? And I changed them to faith, family, and fulfillment. Changed my life because that’s the backbone that if I’m out of sync and I’m not pouring into my faith, if I’m not paying attention to my family, and I’m not fulfilled, I feel it. Long answer to your question, but you’re human first and then you are a minister.

PR: I just have to ask: As a pastor, I’m listening to you talk with such clarity about your work and your faith and how you’ve managed to find more fulfillment, I think, in both with proper perspective. How can churches be a better resource to members who are trying to live a life of professional fulfillment and a life of spiritual fulfillment as well? Do we do a good enough job with helping our congregations to do that?

RB: I think so. You know, I believe you already do a great job in providing the practical lessons you do from the pulpit or from your platforms so that people can integrate their spiritual lives with their professional lives, with the personal lives. I think ministers do that work through your message and your word. It is up to us to receive it. Right? So, again, from the ministry perspective, you can’t solve that for me. Rhonda Brandon had to wake up one morning and say, “Get your act together. Lean on your faith. Believe in what you’re being ministered,” if you will. Pick up the Bible. One of the habits and behaviors I needed to adjust, based on the teachings that I had learned for over 40 years that I’ve been saved, longer than that, because you can teach, teach, teach. You can extend tools, tools, tools. But if I’m not going to pick them up and integrate them into my life, that is my fault.

PR: As we bring the interview to a close, let me just ask you to reflect on any advice that someone gave you early on in your profession, in your leadership, and maybe how that still informs the way you lead today or who you are today?

RB: Well, in my profession of human resources, context matters. I was told very early on, context matters. See, most people come to me with their hair on fire, so I can’t light mine up. I have to make sure that I ask good questions, stay curious, because the issue I’m being presented with has multiple sides. So, making sure you know more of the story is so important. I take very little at face value, even with my kids, even with friends and family. There’s more to the story. And so being curious and staying in it, leaning in, and learning is so important. Keeping an open mind. When you have a closed mind or don’t remain curious, you’re not going to grow. You’re not going to learn. You’re not going to want to see what’s around that corner.

The other advice I’ve gotten is to pace yourself, especially as a new leader. And I give that advice also. Pace yourself. The place that you’re now working or you’ve come to be a part of was that place long before you. And those issues were there long before you. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Give yourself some time to assess, do that SWOT analysis, and be thoughtful and careful, ask plenty of questions and listen to make sure you have that context again because context matters.

PR: That’s great advice, and I hope our listeners will take that to heart because context does matter. I have come to you with my hair on fire, and I have seen you unflappable, so I know that this is true, and I appreciate you so much.

Rhonda Brandon, thank you so much for being on this episode of Leading and Thriving in the Church. It was so good to talk with you today.

RB: You as well. I learned a lot in the process, so thank you for having me.

PR: Thank you for listening to this episode of Leading and Thriving in the Church. This podcast is produced by Emily Lund and recorded in the Bryan Center Studios on the campus of Duke University. I’m your host, Prince Rivers. If you want more great leadership content, be sure to check out our website alban.org, where you can sign up for the Alban Weekly newsletter, and make sure you subscribe to this podcast on your preferred podcast platform so we can keep you informed as we release new episodes. Until next time, keep leading.


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