CEO Interview – Tami Heim

Interview with Tami Heim, President/CEO, of Christian Leadership Alliance

Tami, you have had an interesting leadership journey, from for profit to non-profit and from secular to non-secular. Please help us understand how you developed your leadership style?
My leadership style is a blend of DNA, over 35 years of professional experiences, and the wisdom of value-based leaders who profoundly influenced my thinking, heart, and habits.

The nod goes to my parents for recognizing and supporting my god-given strengths. They chose to see the best of themselves in me. My mother and father demonstrated a tireless work ethic, strength in crisis, and ownership for the outcomes in their lives. They modeled these behaviors, consistently reinforced them, and expected me to live them out in my own life.

My professional path was marked with great mentors and people willing to invest their time, talent and resources in me. I’ve been honored to work for passionate people who also believed in my potential. Most of them could see a possibility in me that I never could on my own.

I’m grateful for all the strong leaders I’ve served. When I review my leadership journey, I see the lifelong development action plan God ordered for me. Whether in secular or Christian organizations – each experience was a required season of learning and preparation for the one that was to follow.

Please define your leadership style and give us a few examples of it in action.
There are many assessment tools designed to give us a language for our leadership talents and styles. After years of being professionally assessed, my core themes include descriptors like action oriented, intuitive, decisive, responsible, inspirational, and supportive.

Many that know me well have called me a Velvet Brick. I sincerely value and care about those I lead, therefore I can easily speak the truth in love. I believe honesty and candor are direct routes to the greatness waiting to be released in people. I take great delight in seeing those around me grow in wisdom and influence. When I provide feedback, it’s because I want it to help people become their best possible selves.

I communicate vision and direction with heartfelt compassion and enthusiasm. I know the power that comes when others see and share a commitment to the same goals and the strategies designed to achieve them.

My life has been punctuated with great change. Every industry I’ve served has experienced radical disruption. I know how hard change can be. I know the difference it makes when it’s readily embraced or fiercely fought. I chose early in my career to be a positive catalyst for change and have spent most of my life in positions required to lead it.

As a leader I accept that things may not always work out exactly as I had planned – but they do work out. My trust in God gives me strength and confidence that all things work together for a greater good.

Does your leadership approach work equally well in all settings or do you have to vary it by the culture and type of organization?
I became a student of situational leadership early in my career. (Thanks to the wise and wonderful Ken Blanchard.) I’ve always assumed full responsibility for the people and organizations I’ve been called to lead. I adjust to meet them where they are. Culture can be a strong force and it must be understood and respected. It clearly points to where people are and what has shaped thinking and tradition over time. Without full knowledge of an organization’s culture it is very hard to reinforce it or effectively change it.

What do you see as the key similarities among great leaders?
It’s what rests at the heart of a leader that makes him or her a great one. All leaders are driven by a set of core values and beliefs. Degrees of greatness correlate directly to a leader’s ability to articulate value, passion, and vision in a way that engages others. Great leaders know where they are, where they are called to go, and who needs to go with them.

What are some of the challenges that are most likely to derail great leaders?
There are two great enemies that work hard to take out any leader. They are fear and pride. All cracks in character have their origin in one of these two. When left unchecked in the heart – fear and pride derails and ultimately destroys a leader, damages those who the leader leads, and adversely impacts the overall performance of the organization.

What are some of your goals for the future of the Christian Leadership Alliance?
Our plans and future initiatives are centered by the following objectives:

To provide biblically based leadership resources that inspire excellence, advance gospel impact, and bring glory to God.
To leverage technology and increase worldwide accessibility to Christ-centered mentoring and leadership development tools.
To be a 21st century communication bridge which transfers godly wisdom and knowledge from one generation to the next.
To strengthen the alliance and effectiveness of Christian leaders in the world today.
What are some of your personal goals as a leader?
To faithfully complete what God has called me to do.
To reflect the character of Christ so He can be seen by others through me.
To inspire excellence in those I serve and lead.
To make a transformational difference in the lives of others
What was the toughest leadership challenge you have faced?
I believe the greatest leadership challenges are always connected to some aspect of change. Change requires people to let go of what they know and learn how to embrace what they do not.

That’s a truth, as I mentioned before, that has governed every personal and professional situation I’ve encountered. Change carries with it confusion and fear. Change is seldom easy. It doesn’t matter if an organization is growing or declining – change happens and it comes wrapped in fear, anxiety, and grieving.

I faced enormous change in the downsizing and consolidation of the department store industry. I met change head on during the .com boom when Amazon became the poster child for e-commerce while I was running the largest book superstore in the country. I encountered change again when the development of digital content rocked the publishing world and the barriers to entry for any would-be author evaporated by way of social media networks and print on demand access for all.

As the population in the world continues to grow, new technology advances, and information becomes more accessible, change will be with us and so will be the need for great leaders to make sense of all of it.

What advice would you give future leaders?
Know yourself and whom you serve.
Put first things first – always.
Keep your heart open especially when you don’t want to.
Know the only thing that limits you is your own thinking – as a person thinks – so he or she is.
Take initiative to make a difference every day.
Own the difference only you can make.
Remember only YOU can choose your attitude.

Tami Heim is the president and CEO of the Christian Leadership Alliance, headquartered in San Clemente, CA. Her professional career includes executive leadership experience in the technology, marketing, publishing and retail industries. She has served as a partner in The A Group – Brand Development, executive vice president and chief publishing officer for Thomas Nelson Publishers, and as the president of Borders, Inc. She is the co-author of @stickyJesus: how to live out your faith online (Abingdon Press 2012.) Tami and husband, Dale, delight in their daughter, Zoë, son-in-law, Matt and grandson Eastyn. As members of Long Hollow Baptist Church, Tami and Dale are compelled by love to frequently go and serve 138 orphans living in Jeremie, Haiti.

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