Our Joe Mebrahtu and Kevin Bourne sat down with former rock musician turned church leader, Shawn Gabie, to talk about influencing culture, building a personal brand and leadership.
Joe Mebrahtu: Your background is music; you’ve been a drummer for a few rock bands and you’re used to being in the background. As a church leader you’re a professional communicator how was it transitioning from being in the background to being a public figure? Has the transition been easy? Difficult? What was the process?
Shawn Gabie: Because of my type of communication, the transition from being in the background to being on the platform speaking is very different. As a drummer, I still led from the drums; I still had a natural leadership in what I did. What I happened to do in that season of my life was all music. That was my passion. I was in various styles of band, various ensembles, but when I had my encounter with Jesus I started to realize through the course of the experiences I was having that there was more to my life than just music. Not knowing that I would be on a platform speaking. Now I’m at the forefront and the target is bigger. The vulnerability is greater. The discouragement is potentially greater at this level because everyone is judging everything you say versus when you’re in a band, you’re many members in a band, and it’s the whole band that’s often being judged or criticized. For me the transition is different than a typical transition because it was a God thing. As soon as you add God into the mix of any equation it changes all of the variables. My confidence became primarily solidified in the fact that I knew I was called for this, it wasn’t a vocation that I picked. It was a calling that literally opened up the doors for it to happen naturally.
Kevin Bourne: How do you particularly deal with the disappointment and the criticism? You’ve had people blogging about you. You’ve had people say things on the internet about you. What are the personal ways you deal with those discouragements, that opposition that you face all of the time?
SG: I think in the beginning, I would say it was harder for me because I was a lot more like, “Let’s fight it out” if someone had a disagreement or false perspective of what I do. I think as you grow up, and you mature, then you realize you can’t defend yourself. There’s not anything you can do necessarily that’s going to change people’s opinions of you. I would rather be on the offense of moving forward in life. Doing what I’m called to do. Trying to score the goals I’m called to score than to be on the defensive blocking everyone’s shots. There are people that I know that are personally thinking a certain way about something I’ve done or do. I may have a conversation with them to bring a healthy perspective of what the truth is. There’s people out there that have never met me. I don’t want to waste my time or my emotional energy on any of that because in the end, that is irrelevant to the goals I’m going to score in life. The hardest moments now are when the people that you love are the ones that are chattering behind the scenes; those are the hardest moments you can’t run away from. The ones on the outside they’re probably always going to be on the outside.
JM: Our magazine is about helping creators to transition into cultural influencers. What are some of the keys that you’ve learned in transitioning from creator to influencer?
SG: Unless we really know ourselves, and are self-aware of what our personal inner culture really is, we can’t really effectively change someone else’s culture or a culture of an organization because leaders lead best when what they do is simply a by-product of what they are. Knowing who you are in every season will allow you to become who you’re supposed to be in the next season of life. I think that is the starting point that every leader has to have if they have any heart to change culture. Self-awareness and seasonal awareness, knowing what’s happening in the season, how is your inner culture changing and who are you right now. If you can nail those two out when you go into a season it will propel you and allow you to shape the culture that you’re called to shape the right way. The second thing is once you establish that you got to be willing to say I want to give my life for it. The people that want to put ten per cent of their heart into an area, well don’t expect to change anything significantly because you’re only going to get out of it what you put into it. I knew going into this, what I do, my personal vision, what I am called to do. This is a lifelong thing. This is not a job, this is not even a vocation, and it’s a calling. It’s a mandate. The next thing would be to be confident enough to move through every form of resistance no matter how hard it is and keep going. Not allow your emotions to dictate because your emotions will be spun out of control trying to change anything. You will want to give up. You will want to quit. It will feel impossible because it is impossible but because you’ve had God in the equation who created culture to begin with, everything is possible.
KB: You’re known for your pop culture references in some of your messages. You’ve done your series on the Shark Tank. You’ve done a Godfather inspired series. You’ve done The Voice inspired series. It isn’t typical for church leaders to have those kind of references. Why do you feel it’s important or necessary to make those references in your messages?
SG: To be honest, I didn’t set out to make those references. I feel like they fit into the references we were being led to do. They just happen to fit in. It’s kind of like success and money. Most people that make a lot of money often start out with what they’re passionate about and money happens. I feel like it’s kind of like the same thing. We do what we feel is right to do and then those things end up fitting in those pieces and making our messages that much more powerful. I think I have a lot of friends that are probably more culturally relevant than me in the sense of how they infuse pop culture, arts and entertainment into their messages. I’m not setting out to try and do that. If I’m writing a message and it comes to me it’s just like a cherry on top that makes it that much more palatable to the average listener. With the Godfather series, we set out to speak on family and that just came into play. These things that the culture understand as a starting point just add to the substance that we are already giving. To me those cultural references become like the icing on the cake. It helps create in them, a starting point. “Okay I can relate to this; I can relate to what he’s saying on this topic, I can receive the substance.” I don’t set out to do that with an objective; it happens. I love it when it happens. I feel like it adds to what we do.
JM: You’re also known for being very particular about the visuals that accompany your messages. From branding, to video, to design, where did this attention to detail come from? Why do you feel these aspects are important tools as a communicator?
SG: I feel like everything visual represents something verbal to some degree. I think visual is verbal without any voice behind it. It speaks something. I think as an individual, I naturally care about what things look like. I think I’ve always been someone that takes care of myself. I take care of my own body. I’ve always cared about how I represent what I believe on the inside. Throughout my band phases, you express on the outside how you feel on the inside. Every music style is often a reflection of your inner culture, your inner self; what you most jive with, what you most connect to. I like fashion, I like trends. It’s not like it’s a materialistic, superficial thing. I like people that care about those details. It could be the way I’m wired, I don’t know. I really don’t know where that came from to be honest with you, so I think with me travelling around the world in 2004, my personal brand began to build as a result of me travelling. Before that I was a soul proprietor in my own field. I was an entrepreneur, and everything that I did, said, put out as a resource, had to represent what I believe. It had to represent who I am. Fast forward eleven years later in a church setting, I care about how things are visually represented because I feel like it’s a reflection of leadership.
KB: Aside from the visuals, another thing you’re known for is your use of social media and technology. You kind of define yourself as being very ahead of the curve when it comes to social media and technology. What role has those things played in you building a community, building a following and just getting your message out there?
SG: From a social media standpoint, in a world where it’s the primary form of communication nowadays, at least to a generation that’s 45 and below, I don’t think you cannot do social media and be anything public in life. Number one, social media in this day and age cannot not exist in your company, organization, church or whatever you do. I feel like because of what we do specifically I feel like there is a massive market or opportunity for engaging people that would never be engaged otherwise. I think social media for many people is the starting point for engagement. They see something that feels and looks like them, speaks their language. They connect to it and they find out the substance of that thing is not what they thought but maybe it’s what they need. It’s not what they’ve been asking for but it’s what they’ve been looking for. If social media can be that as a bridge to the culture, to connect a little closer to heaven, then we’ve won. It’s an easy way to keep the people connected to your brand. They’re looking for real. They’re looking for genuine. I feel like social media is a package that is easily accepted by anybody because it’s the present value in our culture. I think it’s a way of giving our substance good packaging, good presence in a culture that’s social media driven.
KB: What’s your favourite go-to social media platform?
SG: Instagram. Facebook. Periscope because it’s very new, the concept is very fresh, and it engages people at a whole different level. I’d say for quick communication, Instagram, but what’s more interesting right now is Periscope. It’s a little more interesting in its focus but I love Instagram. It’s the easiest thing to use.
JM: You were told by your grade nine teacher that you would never amount to anything. You had a life transformation later in high school. After high school you’ve gone on to do lots of public speaking, wrote a book and created three course curriculum. Any parting words for your grade nine teacher? In the context of someone who’s out there who maybe has a dream of becoming something and there are people who are around him or her who tell them you won’t amount to anything. What’s your response to those types of individuals?
SG: Never doubt that change is possible and never use one experience in someone’s life to judge their whole life. Einstein didn’t speak until he was six or seven. Proverbs 18:21 says, “The power of the tongue is either life or death”. It does no good to say anything of that nature to anyone, ever. It doesn’t do anything good. Some people could use it as fuel to the fire to prove somebody wrong, but if you live your whole life trying to prove people wrong, you’re never going to do anything for yourself and by the time you prove them wrong, what do you have for yourself? You spend your life proving people wrong that criticize you. If that’s your motivation, it’s a very superficial motivation. You need to do things you want to do things because you love them; because you’re passionate about them. Do them because you’re called to do them. Don’t do them to appease somebody else because when that somebody else dies or when that somebody else doesn’t care anymore, you’ve spent all that mental, emotional energy just trying to prove them wrong that you’re left with confusion. All things are possible in life, even if in the moment they seem impossible. Anything can change and as a result, you’ll be surprised often times the people that you think will never amount to anything often amount to the most.
JM: You’ve gone from being someone with unique perspectives and unique experiences to creating content, i.e. your manuals and written books. What advice would you have for someone who’s just at the beginning stages?
SG: I’d say if you’re not passionate about what you believe in, don’t start. I feel like my starting point was developing a course and I started to teach it based upon my experience. Being passionate about what I was doing drove me to do what I needed to do it better, bigger and create something from it. And nowhere in my mind was I thinking this was a great money-making opportunity for me; it didn’t even cross my mind one time. I was willing to work a full-time job and do it part-time because I so loved doing it. And I remember spending hours at the coffee shop after work editing stuff, and then doing it all over again the next day. Because I so believed in it and it brought life to my life. If you don’t love and believe in what you’re doing, if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, don’t even start it because you’re just going to end up adding unnecessary work in your life that you’re really going to end up hating. If you’re called to it it’s going to be a process and you’re going to get discouraged in the process, but make steps forward. Step out. Plan. Be aggressive. Be determined. Utilize your time. Don’t be a talker, be a doer. Be a doer, then talk about it because once you’re doing it you have the authority and influence to talk about it.