Jeff Henderson: “People read from point to point not page to page”

This message is one that I have lived for 8 years. As a result, it’s not a theory. I have personally experienced how being FOR others is not only a great growth strategy for work but it’s an even better strategy for your personal life. Once I saw other organizations adopting the FOR strategy and […]

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This message is one that I have lived for 8 years. As a result, it’s not a theory. I have personally experienced how being FOR others is not only a great growth strategy for work but it’s an even better strategy for your personal life. Once I saw other organizations adopting the FOR strategy and heard their questions about how to best implement it, that’s when I realized a book would be a fantastic venue for this message.

As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Henderson.

Jeff is an entrepreneur, marketing strategist and pastor, and author of Know What You’re FOR: A Growth Strategy for Work, an Even Better Strategy for Life. He has worked in marketing for the Atlanta Braves, Chick-fil-A, Inc. and Callaway Gardens, and served as a lead pastor to three locations of North Point Ministries, one of the largest churches in America. Forbes Magazine named Jeff one of 20 speakers you shouldn’t miss.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I have spent a number of years in both the business and non-profit worlds. Over time, I began to realize there were a lot of lessons that both sides could learn, specifically on how to grow an organization. For example, one of the keys to growing any organization is positive, word-of-mouth advertising. A business is no longer what it tells customers it is. A business is what customers tell other customers it is. Knowing this, I began to ask what sparks and maintains positive, word-of-mouth-advertising? Over the past 20 years, I worked for Chick-fil-A and then North Point Ministries. What I realized is that both organizations had memorable vision statements, and were FOR not only their customers but their teams as well. This experience led me to a new business reality: It’s no longer about being the best company IN the world. It’s about being the best company FOR the world.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

During my time leading the sports marketing department at Chick-fil-A, I had an idea to put plush “Eat Mor Chikin” cow toys in the cup holders at the Georgia Dome for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl football game. I didn’t have money in my budget to pay for 72,000 cow toys so I approached the founder of the company, Truett Cathy, and asked him to pay for them. After a great discussion, Truett agreed. Fast forward to the day of the game and the sold-out Georgia Dome. I was so excited about it, and the fans seemed to appreciate the free gift as well. The game featured the University of Virginia and the University of Georgia. Virginia quickly jumped out to a 21–0 lead before the end of the first quarter. Georgia fans were visibly upset and after a bad call by an official, many of the fans started throwing their cows onto the field. My marketing career flashed before my eyes. I just knew I would be fired. However, my boss, David Salyers, walked up to me and said, “There’s a great idea here. The publicity value we are going to get out of this will be enormous. We just need to figure out a different way to get the cows on the field next year.” The following week we all met to figure that out and decided for next year’s game we would put mini-parachutes on the cows and drop them from the ceiling of the Georgia Dome when the two teams ran onto the field. It was such a big hit that this has become a Chick-fil-A tradition. The lesson I learned is that if you have an idea that at first glance fails, keep trying. Your worst day might actually end up becoming one of your best days.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I have several projects that I’m very excited about. Champion Tribes is a rite-of-passage experience for fathers with 12-year-old sons leading them into the teenage years and adulthood. It’s a 12-month, small-group based experience where the curriculum is delivered digitally. Each month, Dads provide a gift that is supplied via Champion Tribes to reinforce the principles being taught. The other project I am excited about is the FOR Company which helps profit and purpose grow together for both companies and non-profits. We do this through a community membership program and live on-site training teaching the principles I’ve written about in “Know What You’re FOR.”

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

Years ago, I read “On Writing” by Stephen King. Mr. King shares his goal of writing 1,000 words a day, six days a week. He said you don’t wait for inspiration. You work for inspiration. I have never forgotten that. I decided to alter his goal bit, after all, I’m no Stephen King. I decided to write 500 words a day for 5 days a week. Some days it would be very hard. Other days the inspiration would arrive. But I learned not to wait for the inspiration. You have to work on it. (Additionally, this helped me know how I was doing in regards to my deadline.)

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

Years ago, I found myself driving Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A to a speaking engagement. I don’t often drive famous billionaires around. The only other time this had happened was, well, never.

I’m not sure what your experience has been driving these folks around, but I found myself driving slower, more cautiously. I could see the headlines in the paper if I somehow caused a wreck or scene. I didn’t want that to be my fifteen minutes of fame.

Hands at ten and two. Eyes on the road.

I can’t remember where we were going or even how I got the keys to a white Ford with the cow spots on it. But here we were. The only cow-spotted car driving down the road as others passed us by with a wave or a smile.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this car ride would follow me for years. I’ve talked about it from time to time. In looking back, I’m glad I drove slower. It allowed more time just to talk.

What surprised me about our conversation wasn’t that Truett asked questions; it was the kind of questions he asked me. Remember, he’s the boss. I work for him. Surely, we’re going to talk about the business. Sales. Chicken. But no. We talked about . . . me. And not the surface level, “How are you doing?” with a quick transition to “let’s talk about the business.” He was actually interested in me. He wanted to know how Wendy and the kids were doing. He asked about my mom and dad. We talked about parenting, about being a great husband. We talked about things of permanence. I drove slower.

My car ride with Truett Cathy was one such moment. The questions he asked and his willingness to listen planted a seed in me. I realized that Truett was FOR me. He was more interested in what he could do FOR me than he was in what I could do FOR him.

Eventually, it dawned on me. This was the counterintuitive process he used to grow the business. Here’s how:

Truett was more interested in the business growing people than he was in people growing the business. And that’s exactly how his business grew.

When you are FOR the people in and around your business, the people in and around your business become FOR you. This may sound altruistic, but I believe it is the way of the future for businesses and organizations going forward.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

In a hyper-critical, cynical world often known for what it’s against, let’s be a group of people known for what we’re FOR.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

I’m a rookie author so I don’t have as much great advice as others would have. One of the biggest challenges was not the writing but deciding on things like the book cover. It came down to two options and it seemed like half of my friends like Option 1 and the other half liked Option 2. So, I would please 50% of my friends and disappoint the other 50%. I decided to trust my own intuition and made the best decision I could. I feel like that helped me make the best decision for the book cover — at least that’s what 50% of my friends say.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

My book is non-fiction but I draw inspiration from my favorite novelist, the late Pat Conroy. His style of writing is so rich that it challenges me to rise to a different level. I’ll never get there but reading his work gives me a mountain to climb.

How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?

This message is one that I have lived for 8 years. As a result, it’s not a theory. I have personally experienced how being FOR others is not only a great growth strategy for work but it’s an even better strategy for your personal life. Once I saw other organizations adopting the FOR strategy and heard their questions about how to best implement it, that’s when I realized a book would be a fantastic venue for this message.

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?

Don’t make people want something.

Make something people want.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Write what you think people need to hear, not what you think people want to hear. My friend Mark Batterson is a best-selling author. He told me that when he writes he is thinking of the person who needs to hear this message. He is writing with that person in mind. I’ve always loved that idea.

2. Edit to Amplify. My friend Nancy Duarte is an excellent communications coach. She made the brilliant observation one time that usually the movie which wins Best Picture also wins Best Editing. In other words, it’s not just about writing. It’s also about the editing. What you decide to cut out is just as important as what you decide to keep in.

3. People read from point to point not page to page. Lysa Terkheurst is another best-selling author/friend. When I was crafting the content of the book, I went to meet with Lysa. She told me this brilliant point about pulling out highlights and allowing them to bring people along through the book. I loved that point and it greatly shaped my writing.

4. Don’t believe the pre-sell hype. In today’s publishing world, there are a lot of books that create a lot of pre-sell hype but quickly fade away. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think most authors would want their work to have a longer runway. Knowing this, be sure to develop a plan that allows your book staying power by staying on message. A great example of this is a book tour. While this certainly requires time and money, it is also a way to keep the message on your calendar. Another piece of advice I heard from a mentor is “Books sell speeches and speeches sell books.”

5. Don’t talk about writing a book. Write. Years ago, I heard an interview with comedian Jerry Seinfeld. He told the story of seeing a convention for comedians where they would have different training sessions and best practices with lawyers and agents. Jerry said if it were up to him he would have gotten on stage and sent everyone home with this piece of advice: “Go home and work. Write one joke a day for the rest of your life. You can’t escape the work.”

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I would love for your readers to follow me. Send me a comment when you do and I’ll follow back: @jeffhenderson on Twitter. @jefferyhenderson on Instagram. @JeffHenderson on Facebook.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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