Learning leadership from the man who created Nike

A true leader can learn from anyone at any time on any subject. I read broadly in the church world, the sporting world and the business world so I can continue to grow in my leadership.

Here is Coach & blogger JT Ayers sharing what he learned from the legendary founder of Nike, Phil Knight. 

Originally posted at

At the age of 24 a young runner fresh out of college borrowed $50 from his dad to start a small shoe company that would sell shoes to his kind of people, runners. At first, Phil Knight would sell high-quality shoes at a low price from Japan out of his own van at Track meets. After years of ups and downs, getting sued, and unable to generate profit, Phil Knight turned his small family run company into an empire.

Shoe Dog is a fantastic book written by and about Phil Knight’s journey in the 1970’s to build a business people would be happy to buy from.

Here are 5 Leadership Lessons from one of the most successful companies ever: Nike.

True Motivation

Knight is a native Oregonian who ran track under the famous coach Bill Bowerman at the University of Oregon, with whom he would co-found Nike with. He became a sales rep for the Tiger shoe made by a Japanese Company, Onitsuka Co. Knowing he could make a shoe that was perfect for his type of people, runners, he assembled a team of other runners to make a shoe that they would love. Bowerman would even experiment with rubber in waffle irons for a better sole to their shoes. Nike shoes were inexpensive and developed a reputation that his company (Blue Ribbon at the time) would do whatever it took to ensure that the culture of running could have their own shoe.

“At the time, our culture did not see running as a recreation activity. No one ran for fun.” Phil was creating a shoe for a culture that didn’t exist except for those few athletes that ran for sport. With no promise of success, Nike was built by runners for runners. They cared about their product and they cared about who they sold their product too.

Finding The Right Moment With The Right People

In 1972 after years of trying to work with Onitsuka, Phil took his best friends and employees out to break the Big News:

“This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. Our moment. No more selling someone else’s brand. No more working for someone else. Onitsuka has been holding us down for years. Their late deliveries, their mixed-up orders, their refusal to hear and implement our design ideas—who among us isn’t sick of dealing with all that? It’s time we faced facts: If we’re going to succeed, or fail, we should do so on our own terms, with our own ideas—our own brand. We posted two million in sales last year . . . none of which had anything to do with Onitsuka. That number was a testament to our ingenuity and hard work. Let’s not look at this as a crisis. Let’s look at this as our liberation. Our Independence Day. Yes, it’s going to be rough. I won’t lie to you. We’re definitely going to war, people. But we know the terrain. We know our way around Japan now. And that’s one reason I feel in my heart this is a war we can win. And if we win it, when we win it, I see great things for us on the other side.”

Phil had a vision and it was shared by his closest friends and colleagues.

"Often I’d walk into my house and Matthew and Travis would meet me at the door. 'Where have you been?' they’d ask. 'Daddy was with his friends,' I’d say, picking them up. They’d stare, confused. 'But Mommy told us you were working.”

Do the most important work with people you respect, love, and care for – friends.

Letting People Do Their Jobs

Knight hired well. More importantly once hired he let people do their jobs. Phil admits that he purposely would not respond to letters and calls from his team if they needed help. He let his people figure it out and they did because they cared about the product as much as he did.

A famous Harvard business professor studying Nike came to this conclusion about Nike. “Normally,” he said, “if one manager at a company can think tactically and strategically, that company has a good future. But boy are you lucky: More than half the [Core Leadership group of Nike] think that way!”

The people of Nike, because of Phil, were given freedom, his trust, and space to figure out the work. Ironically, Phil even didn’t like the Nike name and logo at first, stating “I guess it will grow on me,” but his team did like it so he went with it.

How To Be Competitive

Adidas and Converse dominated the shoe world in the early 70’s. At the time, Phil sold the Japanese shoe, Tigers, and learned he needed to be competitive with these big companies.

“People reflexively assume that competition is always a good thing, that it always brings out the best in people, but that’s only true of people who can forget the competition. The art of competing, I’d learned from track, was the art of forgetting, and I now reminded myself of that fact. You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past. You must forget that internal voice screaming, begging, “Not one more step!” And when it’s not possible to forget it, you must negotiate with it.”

Phil and his team never gave up. They had many opportunities to stop, sell, go public early, but they didn’t. They continued because they knew what they were doing mattered.

Success Is In Legacy

Some of the biggest successes Nike has ever had, according to Phil, has not been with how much money that made rather who they did it all for. Nike, started out as a family run business with friends and wives in the front office. This philosophy continues even today. Some of the biggest endorsements Nike had are family.

When Andre Agassi, won the U.S. Open, unseeded, he came to Phil’s box after the final shot, in tears and said, “We did it, Phil!”

When Tiger’s father, Earl, died, the church in Kansas held fewer than one hundred, and Phil was honored to be included.

When Jordan’s father was murdered, Phil flew to North Carolina for the funeral and discover with a shock that a seat was reserved for him in the front row.

Phil’s son, Matthew tragically died in a diving accident when he was 34, and the first person to call the Knight’s was Tiger Woods. “His call came in at 7:30 a.m. I will never, ever forget.”

For Phil Knight, “it was never just business. It never will be. If it ever does become just business, that will mean that business is very bad. I keep thinking of one line in The Bucket List. ‘You measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you.’

“If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.”

I highly recommended Phil Knight’s book Shoe Dog. Link below:




I have been a Jesus-follower for 57 years. It has been an amazing and exciting journey; surprises, sudden turns, potholes, some detours and, at times, (many times) open roads with wide lanes. One of the aspects of my journey with Jesus is prayer.  

I believe one of the qualities of a maturing Christian and a fruitful and effective leader is a growing and deepening prayer life…not measured primarily by the number of minutes or hours spent in prayer but by a consistent attitude of dependency, expectancy and gratitude.

Many years ago I took a walk for several miles with my then mentor, Warren Myers. As we began walking he suggested we pray. I think I might have prayed for a grand total of 5  minutes and during that time prayed for everything and everyone I could possibly think of. I observed Warren as he prayed. He was quite oblivious to the time in a way that sent a clear signal that he loved to pray, loved Jesus and loved people. It was a walk in the school of prayer. Living with Warren in a home at that time with a few other young men for training, and observing his prayer life, deepened my desire to grow in prayer.

Since those experiences with Warren, I have learned a lot about a growing intimacy with Jesus through prayer.

When I first began to follow Jesus most of what I prayed about was for Him to do things FOR ME.  Lord, I need this and I need that. I’m struggling here and hurting there and want you to make life easier for me. It was mostly about me; my needs, my pain and my issues.

Then I was led by the Holy Spirit to begin focusing on things I wanted to see Him accomplish IN ME. Now it was about my character, my attitudes and my spiritual maturity; but still mostly about me.

Then I moved into a 3rd stage of praying about what I wanted to see Him do THROUGH ME.  Now the main focus was on others, not me. I am reminded of an old song we use to sing, “Channels Only.”

The refrain is:

“Channels only, blessed Master, but with all your wondrous power              

Flowing through us, you can use us every day and every hour.”

I am a channel, not a depository for God. I want his power and grace to flow through me not just to me.

Now I am not saying that you move from For to In to Through and then when you get to “through me” you are no longer interested in “for” and “to”; but more along the lines that as I grow in my prayer journey, it is less about what I want to receive and more about what He wants to build into my life and do through my life.

The first verse of  “Channels Only” continues:

“How I praise you precious savior that your love laid hold of me

You have saved and cleansed and filled me that I might your channel be.”

The bottom line is that the Christian life is not all about me, but all about Him and what He wants to accomplish in this world using me in the process.

Prayer is not a matter of bringing Jesus around to my way of thinking, but coming around to His way of thinking. I still have a lot to learn on this, but with His help I'm making progress!



A priceless quality every leader needs to possess to lead well.

Brad Lomenick shares a priceless quality that leaders want to see in an employee or volunteer who is in a key role.

Originally posted by Brad Lomenick

I love leaders who execute. Leaders who get it done.

Leaders who can take a project across the finish line.

Leaders who know how to finish. And are motivated towards completion. 

When it comes to hiring new employees, no other characteristic is more important than someone who can finish. It is the #1 trait related to work ethic that I look for in a new hire.

Anyone can come up with a new idea, a new concept, a new pithy word, a new organization, or a new perspective. "Ideators" and idea people are fairly easy to locate and include in your organizational process. What ultimately matters is whether you can take an idea from concept to completion. And to do that, you have to have finishers on your team.

The folks who are intrinsically wired to make things happen, and bulldog their way to the finish line. Those who find joy in checking things off the list. But not just a task machine. What matters is whether you can carry the ball all the way down the field and cross the finish line.

Take a moment and think about who that is on your team. If you don't have someone in this role, go find them immediately. This is incredibly important if you are the leader- you have to have someone on your team in whom you have ultimate confidence that if you hand them a project, they will get it done... and without your constant management of them. The answer can't constantly be "we're still working on it....". You're either moving forward or backwards.

Ultimately, my recommendation is that everyone on the team plays the finisher role. Now some have to more than others, but no one can or should only be the "idea" person. Everyone is required to execute and own projects from start to finish. It's a non-negotiable. As a team, take incredible pride in being able to take a concept and turn it into a finished project. Make it a distinctive part of your culture. Make it part of your DNA. 



My first thought was that it was pretty much over: my speaking, coaching and writing would come to a screeching halt!

My wife Susan and I were in Seattle (February 24-27, 2017) on a ministry trip. It happened Saturday afternoon while I was getting some time with one of the leaders at Downtown Cornerstone, the church that had invited me to invest in some of their leaders and  to preach on Sunday. Little did I know at the moment that the rest of Saturday and Sunday was going to look very different than we had planned.

As this leader and I were wrapping up our time, I was going to pray for him and suddenly realized I couldn’t remember his name. I was clearly foggy in my brain. As we parted and I made my way to the elevator with my room keycard in hand, I didn’t remember what floor we were on or the room number. Clearly something was not right in my head. I went to the desk, showed my ID and they told me what room it was.

Upon entering our hotel room, I shared with Susan that something was wrong. Friends came to the hotel and drove us to the ER at Virginia Mason. The questions came. Do you know what year this is? NO. Do you know what week or day of the week this is? NO. Do you know your phone number or address? NO. What the heck is happening to me?  My mind was just blank. Did I just have a stroke or a blood clot in my brain? Was this the end of the line for me?

They ran all kinds of tests and took more blood than I wished to give them. They did an MRI and a CT scan. Everything came back normal. Then came the diagnosis. You have what is called “Transient Global Amnesia (TGA)” (I’m very glad it’s not “Permanent Global Amnesia!)

I thought to myself: never heard of it. Maybe they just made that up to make me feel a bit better. More information: It usually lasts 12-48 hours, then returns to normal. I had my own questions. What causes TGA? Can I get it again? “We are not sure what causes it, and the chances of it happening again are not likely. I remained in the hospital that night. While I was supposed to be sleeping  (lots of luck with that!) I was googling TGA and didn’t learn much other than that there is more the doctors don’t know than that they do know about it. Thankfully, it resolved overnight.

I had ten hours or so of the TGA experience--scary to say the least. But I’m back and telling people that God shut down my “computer” and rebooted it with new software and a new Intel Chip, or else I would not be able to write as I am at this moment. My mind, believe it or not, seems to me to be better than it was before!

There are a lot of thoughts and ideas that I have been processing, but let me share just two of them.

1. Gratitude to God

I’m sure we’ve heard it said that you don’t appreciate something until you loose it or it’s taken away from you. While in the middle of my ten hours of TGA I began to understand how much I relied on and needed my brain and mind to work well. How could I possibly continue to coach, write, conduct seminars, consult and make a contribution as an elder at my church if I can’t even remember how old I am or what day of the week it is? I am profoundly grateful for the mind the Lord has given me and grateful that what I experienced was transient. But I also realize that at some point I could have permanent amnesia as some do; or get hit with something else which takes me out of the game. After all none of us is going to live forever. It’s not a matter of if, but when, which leads me to my second point.

2.  Sovereignty of God

A few years ago Pastor Mike Coppersmith (with whom I worked at Our Savior’s Community Church in Palm Springs for ten years) gave me Job 23:13, 14 in The Message: “But he is singular and sovereign. Who can argue with him? He does what he wants, when he wants. He will complete in detail what he’s decided about me, and whatever else he determines to do.”

He is in complete control of all the details of my life; TGA and anything else he allows to come my way. I can honestly say that while lying in the hospital bed, I was ready for whatever was going to happen. He has been my shepherd these 57 years as a Christian and has never failed or disappointed me. I was prepared to call it over and live with what I had for the rest of my life without kicking, screaming and arguing with God. In his grace it was “transient,” but who knows what next week or next month will bring. Jesus, Jesus I am resting in the joy of who you are. Amen…and Amen!





7 Questions every church needs to answer!

Many churches in the USA are plateaued, declining and dying. There are a variety of reasons for this, some of which can be addressed by asking some essential questions. Brian Howard (on the executive team of Acts 29) gives us seven questions every church needs to answer. Fasten your seatbelt as you read this, asking God for courage to make some changes for church health going forward.

Originally posted by Brian Howard

7 Questions Every Church Needs to Answer

Many churches are little more than social clubs. As a  result, they are completely ineffective in reaching their communities.

No new church starts with the goal of being irrelevant, but over time, churches often lose track of their very reason for existence.

But this irrelevance and ineffectiveness can be reversed when a church invests the time and energy to answer a few key questions, and then creates a vision plan to act on the answers. (Stay with me, Theologues. This exercise is helpful for us also)

Over the past 15 years, I have coached hundreds of pastors and churches through a vision planning process that when properly implemented has the potential to move your ministry into uncharted territories of fruitfulness. Instead of settling for mediocrity, commit to answering these seven questions to move your church forward:

Seriously. Take a day, sit down, and work through these questions.

Question 1: Why Do We Exist?

Why exactly does your church exist? The answer to this question might seem obvious, but few churches have invested the time to answer it. Fewer yet live out their reason for existence.

Jim Collins says Successful, enduring organizations understand the fundamental reason they were founded and why they exist, and they stay true to that reason.”

Successful, enduring organizations understand the fundamental reason they were founded and why they exist, and they stay true to that reason.

What is the fundamental reason your church was founded and exists? Answering this question will keep a church from losing its way and doing all kinds of random things.

Here are a few questions to guide you through this first step:

  • What is the reason that we exist? (The more idealistic, the better)
  • How does the Scripture answer this question?
  • Why do we exist in this particular place and at this particular time?
  • If we didn’t exist, the world would be worse off how?
  • How do we contribute to a better world?
  • Why do we do what we do?
  • How do we make our particular community a better place?

Question 2: Who Do We Serve?

Every church should clearly identify and clarify the people it is looking to reach. I have written about this extensively elsewhere. The following two posts will teach you how to determine exactly who your church is committing to serve.

Question 3: What Do We Prioritize?

You know why your church exists. You have identified your target audience. But what are your Core Values? This is not a business question but a theological question.

Core Values are the non-negotiable convictions upon which your church is built. Core values are unchangeable, already exist, and rooted in Scripture.

Here is an example of a Core Value:

Authentic Biblical Community as the commitment and experience of every follower of Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 10:24-25).

If you believed this, it would dramatically affect the way you go about ministry in your church.

Guidelines for Identifying your Core Values

  • Core Values should be rooted in Scripture
  • Limit your Core Values to no more than 5.
  • ExtraEvery leader in your church needs to be committed to living out each of your Core Values. No staff person or leader should be in place who does not completely buy into and live out each Core Value.

Also Read: Three Things Every Lead Pastor Must Do

Question 4: How Will We Know if We Are Successful?

How will we evaluate fruitfulness? What will we measure? I am not asserting that you are in control of conversions or spiritual growth, but will you measure anything in order to know if your ministry is bearing any fruit? Most churches measure attendance and giving, but are these the most important things to measure? I recommend measuring things like:

  • Percentage of Attenders that are Members
  • Percentage of Members in Community Groups
  • Percentage of Members Serving somewhere
  • Number of People Baptized Annually
  • Number of people who have completed discipleship or missional living training.
  • Number of New Leaders Trained and Plugged in

When you define what you will measure, you will by necessity set goals and take strides toward growing in those areas.

Question 5: What Will Our Future Look Like?

What will your Church look like as you live out your Core Values? Describe the future that you see as God works in your church. Create bullet-point statements as you work through your Core Values. Make sure to write each statement in the present tense as though it were already true.  I suggest 15-25 statements that describe your future. Here are some examples:

  • We are known as the most loving and caring people in our city.
  • We partner in global mission aggressively showing mercy to the poor and needy and carrying out the great commission globally.

Question 6: What are our Top 3-5 Goals in the Next 12-18 Months?

Steps 1-5 are all about what you are called to be. Step 6 answers the question, “What are we going to do in order to be?”

To identify your top 3-5 goals, read back through steps 1-5.Why do we exist? Who do we serve? What do we prioritize? What will we measure? Then ask: Where are we failing? What must we begin to work on?

What are you going to do to move these areas forward in the next 12-18 months?


  • Goals need to be written down, specific and measurable.
  • Don’t aim too high or too low. If a goal is 100% achievable, then you have not aimed high enough. If a goal is only 40% achievable, then you have aimed too high.

Question 7: What Is Most Important Right Now?

Of your 3-5 goals for the next 12-18 months, what is most important right now – in the next 3-6 months?

Patrick Lencioni calls this a thematic goal. One clear thematic goal that an entire leadership team rallies around right now will help to guide against ministry silos.

Not sure what your top goal should be? Answer the following question:

If we accomplish only one thing in the next _____ months what would that be?

  1. Why Do We Exist?
  2. Who Do We Serve?
  3. What Do We Prioritize?
  4. How Will We Know if We Are Successful?
  5. What Will Our Future Look Like?
  6. What are our Top 3-5 Goals in the Next 12-18 Months?
  7. What Is Most Important Right Now?

Answering these seven questions is important for every church.

Ready to move forward? Get a day on the calendar and get to work!