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CEO Blog: Mission with Compassion—Lessons in Leadership

January 30, 2023

Andy Hendren portrait photo

   By Andy Hendren
   General Secretary and Chief Executive Officer


If you’ve watched the Apple TV hit comedy series Ted Lasso, you may recognize this quote from its lead character: “Taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse, isn’t it? If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.” Ted’s adage resonates with me as I think about my first year as Wespath’s General Secretary (GS) and CEO. While I’ve been with Wespath in other roles for nearly 20 years, in January 2022 I became the organization’s first new GS in 27 years, following the legacy of Barbara Boigegrain.

A Reflection in Three Acts

I’ve likened my first six months as GS/CEO to a three-Act stage play, with challenges I expected, and others I did not.

Act 1: A New Look. Through the GS lens, everything was new and different. I was building new relationships and evolving existing ones. I had to convince people I’d known for years to view me in a new light. Act 1 was full of “first times”: forging changed relationships with Wespath employees, our Board and Church leaders; and becoming the public face and voice of Wespath to our participants and other stakeholders. As each “first” unfolded, my confidence grew.

Act 2: Slings and Arrows. The continued delay of General Conference turned The United Methodist Church’s (UMC) political spotlight on pensions. As administrator for the UMC’s pension plans, Wespath was caught in the crosscurrents of (often heated) disaffiliation dialogues. Providing clear messaging amidst uncertainty, misinformation and denominational disagreement proved delicate and challenging. But support from remarkably talented staff and our seasoned Board allowed us to be resilient and continue our mission. Again, as each challenge was met, my confidence as a leader grew.

Act 3: Reconnection and Renewal. As COVID restrictions eased, my relationships with customers and key stakeholders deepened with in-person fellowship over meals and casual interactions that rose beyond the confines of Zoom meetings. Connections with and among our employees flourished with more of us back in the office. And, having had time to reflect on the hard decisions made in Act 2 revealed that most were reasonable, gracious and ultimately correct.

The past year has left me with a few more grey hairs. Yet it has also blessed me with an incredibly rewarding ministry, filled with personal and professional growth, and exciting progress for our customers and opportunities for Wespath.

Core Learnings

Two core learnings come to mind as I reflect on my leadership journey in 2022 that I believe may also strike a chord for others.

Lesson 1—Long-Term Mission Matters

My “first year” experience was a real-world lesson in maintaining a long-term perspective and remaining unerringly focused on mission. Wespath’s mission for more than a century has been to care for those who have served the UMC, including its predecessors (Methodist Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Episcopal Church–South, Methodist Protestant Church, and Evangelical United Brethren Church), and some of the UMC’s progeny like the Cuba Methodist Church and Puerto Rico Methodist Church.

The year brought about new opportunities, as Wespath started providing services to the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Global Methodist Church. We learned much about serving a broader Methodist family, which will help sustain our United Methodist ministry.

A true test of leadership is the ability to stay focused on one’s mission and persevere through challenges. Staying focused on our sacred charge to care for our participants and investors motivates Wespath’s employees and Board to adapt in a rapidly changing world. It’s a lesson I believe applies to most successful organizations.

Lesson 2—Self-Care Is Vital

Throughout the year, I remained committed to a self-care routine. John Wesley believed taking care of one’s physical and spiritual health expands one’s capacity for serving God and others. I’ve taken this to heart and grown personally and professionally. Here’s what I found helpful:

  • Physical: I’ve made a point of running at least three times per week, often along Chicago’s riverwalk or lakefront. I protect this time on my calendar (rain or shine, snow or heat, and even when traveling).
  • Mental and Spiritual: I meditate to start the day several times per week (often on my train commute) with a focus on mindfulness and stress reduction. And I meet regularly with a therapist who helps me process events in my personal and professional life. When I’m able, I also attend my local church and Wespath’s weekly chapel, applying the lessons to our mission.
  • Professional: I worked with a coach who has helped me build a framework for self-reflection. I’ve identified ways to mitigate challenges like the quest for perfection, trying to “do it all,” and balancing accountability with empathy. I have also built a network of interfaith and business peers outside Wespath’s walls with whom I check in periodically. We learn from each other by sharing our challenges and successes.

I believe self-care is crucial to maintaining the capacity to lead with compassion and nurture relationships with others. I also encourage Wespath’s employees to engage in their own versions of self-care.

Learning and Leading into the Future

In my April 2022 CEO blog, I wrote that Wespath’s mission of caring for those who have served is a promise; everything we do—and everything we’ve done for over a century—is driven by our mission.

The lessons I’ve learned in my first year as Wespath’s leader—remaining laser-focused on our mission of caring for others, while also taking care of myself—equip me to lead this agency into a future that will challenge us to continue learning, growing and improving for the benefit of our customers. In short, to never get too comfortable with what we’ve done so far—knowing there’s always room to do better.

May you experience grace and peace in this new year of opportunities.