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Unleash Your Leadership Superpowers

Bishop Warner Brown

Bishop Warner Brown

Bishop Warner H. Brown is a retired bishop of The United Methodist Church, serving from 2000 to 2016.  He is currently serving as an interim bishop of the Sierra Leone Episcopal Area in the West Africa Central Conference.

From 2014 to 2016, Bishop Brown was the President of the Council of Bishops.

Bishop Brown was born and raised as an only child in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Ida and Warner Brown. At the age of thirteen, while reading the New Testament, he felt a call to serve. He began preaching as a youth and was encouraged to continue doing so. As a young adult, he attended the University of Maryland, (B.A. in Sociology, 1969.) He also graduated from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC with a Master of Divinity degree.

In 1973 Warner was ordained deacon in the Baltimore Annual Conference by Bishop James K. Mathews. Yet his movement west had already begun with a pastoral appointment in the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference as both the pastor of a church and Director of Bethany House Ministries in Pittsburgh, a social service ministry for two housing projects. While serving in western Pennsylvania, he was ordained elder in 1975 by Bishop Roy C. Nichols. In 1979, he answered a national search for an associate conference staff position in the California-Nevada Conference and transferred there. Once in California, it was only six months later that he was asked to serve as Conference Council Director.

From this role of program and administrative oversight for the Conference, Warner was appointed just four years later to the Superintendency of the Golden Gate District, the richly diverse area including San Francisco and several rural and suburban counties along the Pacific Coast. Four years after that, he was given the charge of the Taylor Memorial UMC in Oakland, CA. While serving this significant congregation, the community was then assaulted by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and two years later the holocaust of fires in the Oakland hills. As chairperson of the Oakland Inter-religious Network for responding to this disaster, Warner led the community’s ecumenical disaster response.

Throughout these years, Warner has been active in the social justice ministries and programs of those communities and church connections where he has been appointed. To list but a sampling: Volunteer Police Chaplain, Trustee of the Glide Foundation, vice-chair of the Community Advisory Commission for Alameda County Medical Center, member of the Governing Board of United Way for Kern County, a member of the. Board of Directors for the Bakersfield Homeless Shelter, recipient of the 1996 Outstanding Leadership and Service Award for Emergency Response Ministries, given by UMCOR, and recipient of a 1998 Special Congressional Recognition from Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

Warner’s leadership in the church has included service as a delegate to General Conference twice, member of the General Commission on Religion and Race, a faculty member for New DS/CCD training, Harry Hoosier Member of and twice the host for the National Black Methodists for Church Renewal, chair of the Board of Missions in California-Nevada Annual Conference as well as numerous other conference boards and agencies, adjunct consultant to the Alban Institute, and a Wesley Seminary Distinguished Alumni.

Following a successful eleven-year pastorate in Oakland, Warner was given a new challenge as Senior Pastor of the predominantly white yet multi-ethnic First UMC of Bakersfield, CA. Only two years into this pastorate, he was nominated and endorsed by his conference for the episcopacy: at the Western Jurisdiction Conference Sessions in Casper, Wyoming, and in July of 2000 he was elected to the episcopacy on the 19th ballot and assigned to the Denver Area. He retired in July 2016.

Bishop Brown is married to Minnie Jones Brown; their family includes Catina Marie Harvin, Warner III, and Calvin Brown.

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The Interview Transcript

0:02 – Hugh Ballou Welcome to the Nonprofit Exchange. This is Hugh Ballou, founder and president of SynerVision Leadership Foundation. It’s where we build synergy as leaders around a common vision. We are purposeful leaders. We are driven by impacting people’s lives. Our subtitle in Center Vision Leadership Foundation is Transforming Leaders Transforming Organizations, Transforming Lives. And I have a very special friend today and a very capable leader.

0:36 – Hugh Ballou We’re going to dig deeper into some experience of seven and a half decades of leadership. So Bishop Warner Brown is a new friend, but we resonate in so many areas. And we’re going to talk about what we can talk about today, Bishop Brown, and then talk about yourself. Who are you and what’s your passion for this?

0:56 – Warner Brown Hi, Hugh, and hi, David. Delighted to be with you today. Well, I’m Warner Brown, just a little kid that grew up in Baltimore, a place that is not often thought of as a place for leadership. But beginning where I was, I began to respond to the call on my life to make a difference in the world. And I’ve been doing that in various ways through ministry and other things. But in the process, I discovered leadership is a gift that all of us are given, that gives us the power to recognize what’s valuable to us, the gifts we have, and how we can make a difference in the world.

1:44 – Warner Brown Whether that is working with your kid’s school or running a multi-million dollar business or everything in between, we all have gifts for leadership. We recognize some of them, but often we don’t recognize how many gifts we have, how to use them, or how we overcome the blind spots that will cause us to miss some important things. So, That’s a little bit about who I am. I’m a kid that felt I was called to do something and I’ve been leading since I was a little kid.

2:25 – Warner Brown As a teenager working with Some other kids, we began in an entrepreneurial way to organize programs that would serve the teenagers that we were growing up with. And in a time when our country was often divided, kids weren’t expected to do anything. We were the first group of black kids that went downtown to Baltimore, organized at a major hotel, a big event, and pulled it off and became the hit of our town at a major hotel sponsoring an event for teenagers.

3:04 – Warner Brown And at that day, you could get big-name stars who came by the radio stations to come and be a part of your programs. And so we had big-name celebrities. We had a great program. And that inspired me to know that if you show up as your best self, You can align with other people and together there is almost nothing you can’t pull off because you have the capacity to lead. Since discovering that, I built a career in ministry and it’s my desire to give back.

3:42 – Warner Brown I have gotten to where I am because people who were leaders took time to mentor me, to coach me, And through learning from them, I’ve been able to build effective teams. And effective teams have helped me realize it’s not about me, but working together with people and aligning our gifts. There’s nothing we can’t do well. Hope that gives you a little insight to me, Hugh.

4:09 – Hugh Ballou Wow, that’s profound. So you chose a title for this. Tell us what that is and why you chose that title.

4:16 – Warner Brown Well, I chose the title, Unleash Your Leadership Superpowers.

4:24 – Warner Brown Many people undersell their ability to lead. When we go into a new leadership position, it’s natural for us to be afraid, fear we’re going to fail. Fear that people are going to look at us and say, oh, this clown is a fraud. He doesn’t know everything. He says he knows he can’t do what he says he can do.

4:49 – Warner Brown And we undersell ourselves, but to discover we have gifts. It’s important we dig down to know what our gifts are. Have the accountability to ourselves to develop our gifts and to recognize also what are gifts that you can evolve. They may not be your strongest gift, but you have some talents and can evolve those gifts to respond to what is needed for your situation. All of us have that in us, but often we haven’t dug deep to discover it and found the courage to use it.

5:30 – Warner Brown That is the superpower that we have. In working with leaders, I’ve discovered they’re basically about 12 character strengths that draw us and give us the ability to lead in almost any situation. Most of us recognize that two or three or four of those are natural strengths and we use them all the time. In fact, sometimes we overuse them.

5:57 – Warner Brown But when we discover that all of those strengths are available to us, and if not to us, to people that are on our team, and if we recognize that this person or that person is good at this, and draw on them to help rather than seeing them as a threat to us being the big person on the top of the leadership pile, we become stronger in our ability to lead.

6:26 – Hugh Ballou Whoa, we talked about terms a little bit. David’s chomping the bit with a couple of questions, but before he does that. In my experience, I’ve been doing this coaching training strategy work for 35 years. I served larger churches and people would hire me to come to work with their boards because they thought I was an expert. I had this big job. So part of it, I studied leadership, I studied coaching, I studied facilitation.

6:51 – Hugh Ballou But where you really learn is out there in the field. Because if you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn. So I ought to be a profound expert because I haven’t made any mistakes. But not everybody can do that. Not everybody has that opportunity. So we’ve used the word leadership like everybody has the same definition. How do you define leadership?

7:14 – Warner Brown I define leadership as understanding and taking responsibility for the vision that you have in your heart, the passion that is within you to make a difference in the world, the facts on the ground that you see around you that are shaping the world, and the action that you hope will make a difference. Leadership is aligning all four of those directions and having the courage to put them into action.

7:46 – Warner Brown When you do that, you’re giving leadership.

7:50 – Hugh Ballou David, I think.

7:54 – David Dunworth That is profound, sir. Thank you for that. And that leads me to a question. That I’d like to pose to you and basically what you’ve said. Is that there are leaders in corporations there are leaders in the clergy and there are leaders in community development and the nonprofit world who are servants and leaders and transformative leaders. How does, in your mind, it benefit that corporation leader to lean in and support communities knowing that it’s more than just about the profit and loss statement?

8:39 – David Dunworth It’s about impact. What would you do? What would you say to that corporation leader as to why it’s important for them to see that all four of those elements that you just described? Could you do that?

8:54 – Warner Brown Surely I’ve been blessed to work with and serve on boards of directors with corporate leaders and work with them in various ways and the employees that that work for them. And 1 of the things I’ve consistently found. More important than whatever title person is able to hang on their door, and even at least just as important as the paycheck that allows them to pay the bills and feed their family, is the sense that they are doing something that is worth their time, that is worth their investment of themselves, and they can see a difference being made, and they’re doing something that matters.

9:42 – Warner Brown And so that shows up when people come and volunteer their time, whether it’s feeding the hungry or rescuing refugees that have gotten themselves stranded in the desert, or whether it’s intervening in places where people are hurting in all kinds of ways. Disaster response is one of those big ways that people make the connection with other human beings and see beyond whatever stereotypes they have in their head and discover there is a person created by the creator of the universe that has value and worth.

10:24 – Warner Brown And there is a connection you can make with that person. And in the process, both of you can come out better people.

10:34 – Hugh Ballou Whoa, win-win. How about that scenario?

10:38 – Warner Brown And when leaders see that among their team, it empowers their team members, and their direct reports to discover in themselves the compassion they may have been silencing because they thought it was important to be a quote, boss, and look tough. And they discover that their human side is even more important a superpower than whatever they think they know. Because the secret we all have to learn is people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

11:17 – Hugh Ballou Amen.

11:20 – Hugh Ballou We’re approaching 400. I think we’re 395 episodes, and we’ve never had one like this, David. So this is really rich. If you’re watching this on a video, this is The Nonprofit Exchange. As you see, you can find us at The nonprofit and it’s a podcast anywhere you get podcasts. But if you go to that link, you’ll find the video and the transcript. So, all of those nuggets that you heard, you can go find them and learn them and implement them because we take notes at events.

11:57 – Hugh Ballou Bishop Brown, but we don’t really take it to the next step. So, there’s some blind spots we have that cause us some… Well, we actually as leaders sometimes set up problems because of our blind spots. So, talk about blind spots in a minute, and you talked about working together. So, the big word for that is something… Another word I don’t think people understand is Collaboration so blind spots and that’s 2 different questions, but they’re related.

12:28 – Hugh Ballou I think.

12:30 – Warner Brown Well, 1 of the ways I found helpful to think about this, and this comes out of some of the work I’ve done. Studying and working with people who are experts in mind science and some of the learnings that have come out of that, and I’ve discovered these new learnings work very well for people of faith. They align the strengths that have been discovered, whether in business or the education world. With what we’re discovering in the nonprofit world, in the church world, to come together to put our strengths forward.

13:03 – Warner Brown So one of the things that comes out of that is that each of us has our preferred thinking and feeling styles. And they line up that sort of predispose us to have some strengths in particular areas. So, for example, if I’m somebody who’s passionate about people and really driven by inspiring ideas in the spiritual side of things, That drives my ability to be very compassionate to people and to build trust.

13:38 – Warner Brown It also builds in me a resilience that I can stand tall in difficult situations, and that’s a strength. The flip side of that, though, is paying attention to the data, and the facts on the ground, paying attention to what is necessary for systems and organization and those kinds of things to drive things to success. That’s not necessarily my strength. And for some people with that entrepreneurial gene who knows how to take inspiring ideas and put them into action, that’s their strength.

14:16 – Warner Brown But the person that’s on the other side of that who cares about, well, have you filled in the paperwork the government requires? And have you paid attention to what the people really want, not just your great idea? What happens with the blind spots is, well, the entrepreneur paying attention to the paperwork and the government regulations and what people really want may be their blind spot. And having somebody who brings that other side of thing that can come alongside and be an ally and help us show up as our best self, as opposed of seeing that person that keeps asking uncomfortable questions as a threat.

14:59 – Warner Brown And rather than fighting back and trying to silence them, listen to what they have to say, because they might be right. And together, you can have a much stronger organization. Most of us, with our human egos, don’t do that naturally. And it’s a learned skill. And I’ve discovered coaching can help us learn that skill. I had to discover it. When I became a bishop and moved into higher leadership, my first natural reaction is, oh, they recognize how smart I am.

15:46 – Warner Brown They’ve given me authority. I had to learn to get myself out of the way. It’s not about me. If I want to show up as a jerk, I can make it about me. But if I want to make a difference, I’ve got to make it about the people we serve and the people who are going to help me pull it off. Because when they discover I’m somebody that they can trust, who cares about them, who will listen with compassion, and who will be sensitive to their problems, they are more willing and ready to work with me.

16:29 – Warner Brown And when they do, they are gonna make sure I don’t fail. So if I’ve ever succeeded in anything, it’s not because I’m so great or so smart. It’s because the people around me have lifted me up so I didn’t fail. And the spiritual power that I believe in, I’m a man of faith, you know, the spiritual power I believe in has set a foundation that we can all thrive in that environment.

17:01 – Hugh Ballou That is, in fact, our superpower, isn’t it? Yes, it is. That’s it. So, David, he used the word multiple times that I think is a real deficit. He used the word listening. What do you think of that?

17:14 – David Dunworth Well, you know, that’s so true. I have been listening and a couple of things resonate with me in my own shortcomings over the course of my career in that, and you mentioned, you took the words out of my mouth, I was going to phrase something about when our egos are in charge, that’s when we fail. And we think, oh, we’re so, as you said, when you first became a bishop, oh, they recognized how smart I am.

17:41 – David Dunworth Well, what they probably recognized is your humility and the ability to work through others.

17:49 – David Dunworth And listening, like you said, and Hugh, he’s used that word a few times too, is listening to what people have to say and listen to that voice also that is guiding you, that oftentimes that ego that we carry around with us prevents us from hearing. So, Hugh, you hit it right on the head. That word listening is profound. And another word that came out in our discussion that I wanted to draw a point to is the word love.

18:26 – David Dunworth And we love each other and we love the work that we’re doing. And there’s an author named Steve Farber who wrote a book It’s called Love in business. Love is just damn good business. Having love in the business will make the ego stay in check and build others up so that they can build you up too. So I appreciate this. This is a profound episode today, Hugh. Thank you so much. And thank you, Bishop, for everything that you’ve shared so far, but we still have time.

19:09 – David Dunworth What other nuggets can we share? Hugh, have you got something? I see you’re formulating it.

19:15 – Hugh Ballou I want to set up the next thing. So leaders are influencers, and you know I spent a career in church music ministry, and you got a little white stick, you hire a union orchestra, you got a couple hundred singers there. You got a white stick. You can’t make them do anything, but you can influence them. So I think there are some misconceptions. So yeah, we serve each other in our leadership style that we embrace is transformational leadership.

19:42 – Hugh Ballou It’s in the same section as servant leadership. But the transformational leader is the cheerleader because people need the inspiration, but you hit it so strongly. It’s about the vision. So understanding the vision and leading the vision. So what’s behind this insecurity? As people of faith, we know that it’s in God’s strength that we perform. So how do people deal with our insecurities? Because you said that your team makes sure you don’t fail, but as a reciprocity, because you’re making sure that they don’t fail.

20:17 – Hugh Ballou Am I phrasing that right? Very much so. Very much so.

20:22 – Warner Brown One of the keys to this is really consciously working on yourself.

20:32 – Warner Brown Leading requires you to lead yourself first and develop in yourself what is required for you to show up as your best.

20:49 – Warner Brown unless you’re able to be honest with yourself. And in that honesty and say, yeah, I screwed that up. I don’t know how to do this. And all of those kinds of ways of being honest. And then instead of trying to hide that by saying, I won’t let them know because they’ll think I’m a fraud. No, you’re not a fraud, you’re human. And the key is for you, vulnerabilities and all. To honestly show the people you’re working with you care about their success.

21:25 – Warner Brown You’re gonna throw yourself in with them and work together to accomplish the goals that are important to all of you. And in the process, you’ll do the stuff that matters. That’s at the key. And where the ego comes in is the fear. We remember all the times we failed at something, the flash of the little kids at school teasing us because we did something dumb and they wouldn’t let us forget it. The ghosts of those memories sometimes haunt us.

22:01 – Warner Brown And yes, it’s scary, but leaders find the courage to do the right thing anyway.

22:11 – Hugh Ballou So we’re coming to the near of this. Amazing. We can listen to you all day, but unfortunately, we have a time slot. So we have emerging leaders who are listening to us. We have potential leaders. Nobody believed in me when I was nothing but potential. And we have seasoned leaders. So when do you get to the point where you don’t study leadership, and you got it, and you just go with it?

22:41 – Warner Brown Well, I think the key elements of that is, first of all, two principles I learned from seeing my senior mentors. My grandmother told me, as I was a young kid and becoming an adult and having a leadership responsibility, she says, boy, remember, you can’t make grown folk mine.

23:11 – Warner Brown You have to win their commitment. And the other thing that went hand in hand to that in the first church, I was a pastor and fresh out of graduate school and put in this place where I’m supposed to lead this church with people that I didn’t know and to organize community projects to serve this community of 5,000 residents with service projects. My mentor said the most important thing you can do is love the people.

23:48 – Warner Brown Love the people. And the second most important thing you can do is decide who you believe you can trust, and then trust them with your fears, your concerns, what you want to learn about this community, and let them partner with you. Well, you can embody that in your core, and that speaks louder than your fears. Your character will guide you in leadership.

24:23 – Hugh Ballou That means paying attention. So, I’m going to give you a chance to do the last word and give people a closing thought or challenge. But before that, you’ve mentioned several times having a mentor, having a coach. And I think let’s add to that having high quality, high functioning people around you. So, we sort of behave like the people we hang around. So, how are those factors important and especially the mentor part of the coach part?

24:55 – Warner Brown That’s key for taking the blinders off of your eyes. I experienced that. Having that person I can trust to listen with my interest at heart and to tell me the truth. To answer my questions without me needing to feel self-conscious, to allow me to think through what are the ways to get what I think is important, and what are the ways I can do a better job at enlisting the help of others, and have an experienced voice to walk that walk with me.

25:31 – Warner Brown That’s the role a coach played for me and caused me to make a commitment to being a coach and mentor for others in my, fourth-quarter career. So that moved me into the role of being an executive leadership coach.

25:50 – Hugh Ballou Wow. So you’re pulling from some knowledge of many years. And we, as senior leaders in terms of years who’ve been active a long time, bring unique value propositions, unique skills, and unique perspectives to the workforce. That is so, so key. Before you do your closing thought, I want to tell people this is, we’re in the middle of May 2024. You might be listening to this in a future year. So, Bishop Brown doesn’t have his website up yet, but he will.

26:22 – Hugh Ballou He’s transitioning from being a bishop in retirement. He went back to work because they needed his skills, but he’s transitioning to be a support for leaders everywhere. So when you come back on the page for the podcast or the page on our website for the podcast, we will have his website when it’s ready. We want you to also realize that we have a private community for nonprofit leaders and clergy and faith leaders and community organizations.

26:50 – Hugh Ballou It’s called, where you connect with like-minded people and share the challenges and share the joys, and share wisdom with one another. We miss that as we’re working in the trenches. We miss that camaraderie of like-minded people. This has been a wonderful session and remind you on the, you can find the transcript for today’s episode of the Nonprofit Exchange.

27:20 – Hugh Ballou So, Bishop Brown, what do you want to leave people with today?

27:23 – Warner Brown I would want to say the most impactful way you can influence the world with your aspirations and your dreams is to lead yourself to show up as your best self, flaws and all, and do that. And then engage other people, listening to them and offering to partner with them. Together, if you align your Thoughts and your aspirations to actually respond to the opportunities that avail themselves to you, and then develop leaders everywhere you can.

28:04 – Warner Brown You will be a part of making the difference in the world.

28:11 – Warner Brown If I can help, if Hugh can help, We are people who would love to come alongside and be that voice in your ear to help you discover that for yourself.

28:26 – Hugh Ballou That’s your call to action. That’s our call to action. Bishop Warner Brown, thank you so much for being our guest today on the Nonprofit Exchange.

28:35 – Unidentified Speaker Thank you both. Be blessed. God bless you.

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