Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

There is Always a But…

Written by: on February 21, 2024

Thirty years ago, I was promoted to be the CEO of a seafood distribution company based out of Reno, Nevada. It was a big promotion and one I was ready to take on. There was a corporate umbrella over it, which owned 3 other branches over two states. There was one man who owned the corporation.

There was a window in my new office that overlooked the warehouse and production facility, which, aside from 5 people in the office, was where most of the employees were. He had me stand up, and he pointed to all the people running around and told me that every decision I made would affect those people and that I alone would be responsible for getting food on their table every night. That made me swallow hard. But then he had me sit down, looked me in the eye, and said, “Whatever decision you make, I will back you 100%. If I don’t like your decision, I will never correct you in front of your employees, but I will pull you aside and tell you what I would have done differently. And he did – several times, but I learned from them.

The beauty of his last statement was that it immediately took the fear out of making decisions. I had to go with what I felt was right at that time, and I did well. Sales took off, and new customers came in. We hired several more people to keep up with the demand. That statement gave me freedom.

Friedman writes, “A leader needs the capacity not only to accept the solitariness that comes with the territory, but also to come to love it.”[1] That responsibility of putting dinner on everyone’s table was real, but because I had the freedom to make decisions without fear, it was easy to love what I was doing. But I believe one of the reasons that I loved it is that I was able to take that same sense of “fearless decision making” and pass it on to the truck drivers, warehouse workers, my admin assistant, and salespeople to just make a decision and do what you think is the right thing. Friedman talks of “emotional systems”: “The term emotional system refers to any group of people who have developed interdependencies to the point where the resulting system through which they are connected (administratively, physically, or emotionally) has evolved its own principles of organization.”[2] We all depended on each other and had a general feeling that from the drivers all the way up to my position, we were all in it together.

This company was the “new kid in town” that had only been open a few years. The competition had all been there for decades. Friedman talks of adaptation, and that was a daily occurrence. How do we react to the other company offering Saturday deliveries, or do we want to get into a price war on $35.00 a lb. lobster tails? The book states, “Primitive organisms remain primitive; they do not evolve because of the narrowness of their capacity to adapt to changes in their environment.”[3] We didn’t have that luxury. We either needed to figure out how to meet and beat the competition or fold up shop and move back to L.A.

I am sharing all of this with you for two reasons. First, I think that the adaptations, fear, and responsibilities that I went through parallel a lot of what the book discusses.  I was proud of what I had accomplished over those two years. I would like to think that my leadership decisions were on par with the good practices of this book. We built a good, strong company as a team and a family.

BUT… (you know this was coming), there was a dark side to this.  What I didn’t know was that the owner was “cooking the books” in one of the other offices, and one day, he called me and asked me to do the same thing (there is a lot more to this that I won’t get into in this space). Anyway, every bone in my body told me to say no. My mind was racing with red flags, but I was not strong enough.   Friedman writes: “The capacity to take responsibility for one’s own being and destiny requires integrity, which in this context means not only honesty but being “put together well.”[4] I knew who I was and wanted to be, but I felt like he was my boss and needed to obey; I guess I wasn’t put together that well then. I was a baby Christian during this period. Long story short, I got the blame and took the fall for him. I will not blame him. I knew better and should have never let that start; I got arrested and took a long fall. I have told others many times – that period of my life was the very best thing that could have happened to me. For 3 years, I was able to study the Word of God, and it has made me into the man I am today. Integrity is everything in leadership. I am grateful for the lesson I was given.

[1] Edwin H. Friedman. A Failure of Nerve (New York: Church Publishing, 2017), 41-42

[2] Ibid., 269

[3]  Ibid., 202

[4] Ibid., 117


About the Author


Chris Blackman

8 responses to “There is Always a But…”

  1. Jeff Styer says:

    Wow, thanks for your openness. God’s love, grace and faithfulness is so amazing. He is able to take some fairly poor decisions we make and still allow us to grow and know Him better. I guess in the end the owner didn’t back you 100%, allowing you to take the fall. I fear that happens more times than I realize. I think it happens at the collegiate sports level. I believe that coaches will often take the fall when the blame actually belongs to someone else, typically higher up. I think you showed great leadership in that you accepted your responsibility in the scheme, did your time and allowed it to make you an even better person. Knowing what you know about leadership and the corporate world, what advice would you give to someone just starting out? I know, sounds like something Eve Poole would ask.

    • mm Chris Blackman says:

      Thank you Jeff. It was an interesting time, but if I look at it in a different way, I think getting to know the guys I was in with and who they were when they were sober (most were incarcerated because of drugs, alcohol, and decisions made while on them) my stint was the beginning of God’s steering me to a doctorate degree. Everyone there had the same hopes and dreams that I did. Though I was blessed by having a good support system, most didn’t.
      As far as your question – it’s a simple answer. You only have one name, and you need to do everything you can to protect it with honesty and integrity and always do the next right thing.
      Thank you for your response. (and yes, collegiate coaches do the same thing, sadly).

  2. mm Jennifer Eckert says:

    I wish I could high-five you right now, Chris. I am proud of you for sharing your story, but even more, for the self-assessment that has taken place since then. You are being shaped into the person God made you to be.

    As you face different challenges today, how do you maintain courage as a Christian man with integrity in a world that is increasingly losing its religion (says REM)?

    • mm Chris Blackman says:

      Thanks Jennifer, I will high five you in DC! I am very open about my past. I tend to shock people when I am, but it was such a life-changing God event, and I am humbled to share my story.
      Like I just wrote to Jeff, Nancy and I have a saying that we use a lot, and it is “When you don’t know what to do, just do the next right thing.” I am diligent about quiet time in scripture and journaling every morning. It is what grounds me. We both are militant in keeping our Sabbath rest every week. It is what gets us both through the week, and rarely do we interrupt it. Those two things are the best answer I can give you. Thanks for your reply!

  3. mm Shela Sullivan says:

    Hi Chris, thank you for the courage to share your story. It is a testament to the multifaceted nature of leadership, encompassing both triumphs and challenges. Your experience underscores the importance of integrity and the weight of responsibility that leaders bear for their decisions, not only for themselves but for those they lead. Your journey of growth, despite the hardships, is truly inspiring.
    Having experienced such challenging times, do you empathize with those who have fallen into such traps, or do you think they should have known better?

    • mm Chris Blackman says:

      Thank you Shela. Yes there is a lot of pressure on leaders to live in integrity. Sadly, I think a high percentage of them don’t. But that’s a whole different story.
      For others that have fallen into that trap, I truly empathize with them. Past family traumas, substance abuse, anger issues, and other factors are why they are where they are. It is not their fault. But they also need to take responsibility for it and make a decision to change their lives. I can’t tell you how many guys I lived with that were counting down the days to get out and, within 24 to 48 hours, were back in because they got caught with drugs or whatever. As I told Jeff, I had a good support system which is important. Most didn’t, and guys would tell me that they had nowhere to go once they got out, and getting a job right out of prison is next to impossible, so they knew they could go to the dope man, and get some drugs to sell, so they could eat and find a place to stay. That is the sad reality, and we all knew they would return within 6 months and do it again. It is a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped.
      Thank you for your response!

  4. Elysse Burns says:

    Chris, this is truly a redemption story. Thank you for sharing it. Important question: Did you get into price wars over those $35.00 a lb. lobster tails? You might enjoy seeing the fishing industry here in Mauritania.

    What are some ways your self-awareness grew during your incarceration? Do they impact your current leadership? Were there any insecurities you had to overcome after your incarceration that have impacted your leadership?

    Thank you again for sharing your story.

  5. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Thank you, Elysse. Yes, I did get into a price war, LOL. I am too darn competitive to let something go. 🙂 I would love to see the fishing industry there. I am no longer in it, but I was for 20 years.
    The biggest part of self-awareness that grew for me in prison was who I am in Christ. I was very fortunate in what I did there and had much free time, so my daily reading and studying scripture was invaluable. Knowing who I am in Christ has a huge impact on how I do leadership now – that is where the integrity comes in. As far as insecurities – I was very blessed. I was well-known in the seafood industry and was surprised at the amazing acceptance and grace that I received from others. My old boss ended up going bankrupt and lost everything, and a lot came out while I was away. So when I got out, I found a job within the first 2 or 3 days and started moving up the ladder again. As I have said in another post, I was one of the blessed few with a support system. My heart breaks for the men I was in with that got out to nothing. It is a circular life for them, and it is truly sad. Thank you for your thoughts and reply.

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