Lessons in Leadership with Jill Savage

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I have been influenced and inspired by Jill Savage since 1995 when I attended my first Hearts At Home conference. Also, I had the pleasure of meeting Jill when I was a speaker at Hearts At Home. When Jill agreed to meet with me to discuss her experiences as the CEO of HAH, I was ecstatic! Jill recently transitioned out of the CEO position to focus on her speaking and writing. Sitting in her lovely farmhouse drinking ice tea (Jill) and ice water (Tena), we chatted about her twenty-four years as the CEO of Hearts at Home. I found most of these thought-provoking questions at
1. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life? Growing up, I had several people such as my mom, Sunday school teachers, youth choir leaders and youth leaders. My dad was a principal and a superintendent in Indianapolis. When I was a teenager, the receptionist went on vacation, and my dad had me do her job. I developed leadership skills as I ran the switchboard. Currently, Bill Hybels is the most influential leader for me. I started going to his Global Leadership Summit and have attended almost every year for the past twenty years. GLS fills me up as a leader. A secondary influencer currently is author, Patrick M. Lencioni. I have learned so much from these two books: The Advantage Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business and Death by Meeting. (Note from Tena: I ordered the audio version of these two books from my library to check them out and listen to on my way to and from work! Both contained excellent information for those in leadership positions!)
2. What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization? Staying on your knees. Prayer is the foundation. Prior to starting Hearts at Home, I was part of a Moms in Touch (Moms In Prayer) group in which we prayed for our children. This practice of praying became an integral part of the Hearts at Home planning. HAH began by my asking like-minded moms to pray. I told them that we were not going to plan, and we were not going to brainstorm. We prayed for months and watched as God opened doors. Prayer is the cornerstone of HAH.

3. How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization? Brainstorming. When we brainstormed, we told the team that there were no stupid ideas. One idea might be the stepping stone for the actual idea we would use. For example, one year someone suggested that I zip line onto the stage. Although this idea was outlandish, it did lead to some great ideas for our superhero theme for moms. GLS also often helped get the wheels turning. We attended events together to encourage creative thinking.
4. Where do the great ideas come from in your organization? Brainstorming. Social media also generates great ideas by our thinking maybe we could do something similar with a different angle.
5. Which is most important to your organization—mission, core values or vision? All three are equal. All three are needed. Our mission changed naturally as the number of attendees increased. When HAH began, our target audience was mainly stay-at-home moms. By the mid-2000, we were at 50/50. Half of the moms were working outside the home and half working in the home. We rebranded from mainly reaching out to stay-at-home moms to reaching out to any mom. When we realized most women were attending for other topics such as parenting and marriage tips and not just for the stay-at-home support, we officially made the switch.
6. How do you or other leaders in your organization communicate the “core values”? The “core values” were printed up and framed. Core values were talked about with decision making. They served as a lens. Core values were taught in meetings.
7. Do you set aside specific times to cast vision to your employees and other leaders? In the early years of HAH, we did a fall kick-off and a spring kick-off for volunteer and paid staff. More recently we have used monthly employee meetings.
8. What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess? Possessing perseverance and a thick skin. As a public entity, people make known what they think about what we are doing. Sometimes, we need to consider the criticism given as it may be valid. Oftentimes, we must let things roll off our backs. I have told my team many times when dealing with a very critical person to dig for the roots not just the symptoms of what she is saying. Then, we can solve the real issue.
9. What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today? It is the same as moms: Using social media to compare our insides to others’ outsides. Social media is one of the best things to learn and benefit from the wisdom of others. However, it is too easy to compare. We often feel better than others or less than others. Neither view is healthy.

10. What is one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others? I see leaders trying to do it using their own wisdom, knowledge, and strength. This goes back to prayer. We are human doings and forget to be human beings. As leaders, we naturally think, “I’ll do it.” We must resist the doing and focus on the being. God is far more interested in whom you are becoming rather than what you are doing (Tena-LOVE THIS!).
11. What is the one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers? A lack of margins in their day to day activities. Lacking white space. They push it until they have reach their limitations and are done. Then, they leave other people hanging because they cannot keep their commitments. In the eyes of others, the leaders have become unreliable. I am reminded of the life of Christ. He went to bed and not everyone was healed. We need to understand our limitations. Needs will never stop, but we can train people to respect our margins. I saw this a lot while working with pastors and their wives who were involved with church planting. The wives of the pastors would regularly tell me that they never saw their husbands. (While chatting, both Jill and I recognized that emergencies do occur, and we need to be flexible for them in a church setting, but it’s still healthy for pastors to have boundaries).
12. What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader? ECFA-Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability is one.
“Founded in 1979, ECFA provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with established standards for financial accountability, transparency, fundraising, and board governance. The Christ-centered ministries accredited by ECFA include churches, denominations, educational institutions, rescue missions, camps, and many other types of tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations. Collectively, these organizations represent over $26 billion in annual revenue” (
Also, subscribe to the email list for Best Christian Workplaces at for great content.
13. What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time? Resist the “Savior Complex.” You can’t save people. Your job is to bring them to the Savior. Recognize your limits.
14. What do you like to ask other leaders when you get the chance? How do they refuel their tank? I learned from Bill Hybels about a silent retreat. He said it took until the 3rd day to get rid of the chatter in his mind. This inspired me. I took a five day silent retreat in Florida. I had not been quiet for that long. While I was there, I also fasted for three days from my car so I had to walk wherever I needed to go.
15. How do handle doubt when it plagues your mind? When doubt enters my mind, I ask myself, “Am I lacking peace or entertaining fear?” Usually that helps me know how to proceed.
16. When insecurities pop up, how do you counter them? Fear would pop up when big decisions needed to be made. I would remind myself and others that we may not know the next step. For example, my background was in teaching music and not having a business degree. It is okay to feel insecure if we are secure in Christ.
17. What ways have worked for you do deal with worries? I have to remind myself that God equips the called, and He doesn’t always call the equipped. This is why we must always be on our knees. Scripture memory is also a way to combat worry. I’ve come to understand that worry is the worship of circumstances.
18. How do you deal with feeling overwhelmed when it occurs? We must learn to say no. For example, I receive five to six emails a week asking me to endorse books. While my heart wants to say yes, I don’t have the time to read the books in order to endorse them so I often have to say no to these types of requests.
19. Do you schedule time off to avoid exhaustion? If yes, what does your scheduled time off look like? I am reserving Fridays for myself. I am calling them “Fun Fridays.” On these days, I am having lunch with friends, going grocery shopping, painting a bedroom or whatever creative project I would like to tackle. I am learning more and more to take time for myself.
20. Do you have a friend of group of friends to help you when you feel discouraged? How do they help? Absolutely! I have a dear longtime friend who is a truth teller. She also has a lot of wisdom and compassion. I also have several other honest and open friends that I intentionally spend time with.
21. What advice would you give your younger self if you could? To learn to be more compassionate. I have a strong side that can come across as a harsh. I have been on a learning curve as I dealt with my marriage crisis, my battle with breast cancer, and my son who has a mental illness. Through these experiences, I have become much more balanced with both my strength and compassion. It’s made me a better wife, mother, and leader.
22. Do you have a special word or verse you are focusing on in 2017? Philippians 4:13 is my life verse. It has carried me through everyday challenges and the really hard stuff as well.
Jill, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experiences with us. I wish you a blessed 2017 as you focus on speaking and writing. If you would like more information about Jill’s speaking availability or Hearts at Home, here are the links:

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