I have known Dr. Senske since the late 1990’s through our mutual affiliation with the national network of Lutheran Social Service agencies. I remember enlisting his support to be a keynote speaker at one of the many leadership conferences that was held by Lutheran Services in America. Kurt is a dynamic speaker and an inspiring leader known as much for his acute business acumen as he is for his authorship and speaking gigs. I have personally enjoyed reading his book “Executive Values” which was on the mandatory reading list for Christian Execs in several faith-based organizations. Kurt is an inspiring and down-to-earth leader who I am pleased to introduce and profile as an “Entrepreneur in Action!”
1. Career influences
Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset: The Psychology of Success has had a great impact on my entrepreneurial pursuits. She urges us to think of our intellect as a muscle, that can be continually developed. If we come from this perspective of a “growth mindset” we will be more likely to push ourselves, willing to take on additional risk, and embrace criticism and failure because we believe it ultimately will make us a better person. We are also able to perceive hard work as a path to mastery, and look forward to being evaluated by our peers.
2. Biggest career success
I found significance by leaving several successive successful professional pursuits for lower paying, sometimes less prestigious positions in an effort to develop a unique skill set that would allow me to ultimately discover and fulfill my calling. My sanity was on occasion questioned as I transitioned from practicing as an attorney to becoming involved in politics to moving into academia to ultimately leading a large social services organization. By following my heart as opposed to conventional wisdom I found that becoming significant was more impactful than being successful.
3. Recent lessons learned
My organization recently got caught in the middle a political cross fire that was beyond our control which ultimately cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars coupled with negative publicity. Despite the undeserved initial backlash we as an organization remained calm, kept focused on the long term big picture, communicated often to our stakeholders and redoubled our efforts on continuing to be the highest quality provider of services in the state, despite reports to the contrary. We made decisions based on where we wanted to be a decade from now instead of reacting to the shifting political storms which quickly vanished. The end result was that our accusers quickly lost credibility and our organizational reputation correspondingly became enhanced.
4. What inspires and motivates
Rule # 1 – For those intent on creating long term organizational success – Follow the Golden Rule. A Harvard Business School alumnus recently commented to me that his time at Harvard was “a very expensive lesson in learning that following the golden rule is what makes organizations successful over the long term.”
Rule # 2 – Place as much priority on achieving your family goals as you do your professional goals. The research demonstrates that those who do tend to be more productive, more well rounded, more creative, healthier, and overall, more successful.
5. Share a leadership story
To continue to be effective as a CEO, my role and skill sets must continually evolve as I adapt to the changing external environment as well as to the changing make up of my team members. As different skill sets and passions get added and subtracted to the mix my role must necessarily change. At times I called upon to be a coach, facilitator, strategic planner, operator, politician, disciplinarian, motivator, rain maker, cheerleader, therapist and, on occasion, it is even best if I simply just get out of the way. Changing times and changing team members will also dictate what is and isn’t possible organizationally. Leadership is creating opportunity for others to bring success to the organization.
6. Your Top Two
My management style is to find really talented Type A “athletes” who possess uncommon integrity and a passion for serving others. We then work hard at understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each other, eliminate both the vertical and horizontal hierarchies and silos of our leadership team and develop complete trust that creates efficiencies and reduces the size of our respective egos. This process allows us to relentlessly focus on defining and successfully implementing programs in areas where we have a unique competitive advantage and can do better than any of our competitors.
7. About Kurt
I am passionate about living a life of significance. You can find indications of this through my work at Lutheran Social Services of the South (www.lsss.org); via my writing – The Calling: Live a Life of Significance and Executive Values: Live a Life of Significance (www.kurtsenske.com), and through my family – wife Laurie and Sydney, as collectively we strive to add value to our small corner of the world. For those who have an interest in wine, you may want to follow me on Twitter (KurtSenske) and might be intrigued by my soon to be released book, The Vineyard and the Cross: A Framework for Living.
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