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Leadership Through Character

November 01, 2018 - 6 minute read

John Townsend outside Grimm Hall at sunset

John Townsend, founder of the Townsend Institute for Leadership and Counseling at CUI, brings to CUI a wealth of experience, credibility and stature as one of the nation’s leading business consultants, leadership coaches and psychologists. He has written 35 books which have sold over 10 million copies, including the New York Times best-selling Boundaries series, as well as Leading from Your Gut, and Handling Difficult People. He co-hosts the nationally-syndicated talk show “New Life Live” with 3 million listeners.

But before Townsend went into psychology and business consulting, he was planning to be a missionary to Africa. “What occurred during that time was a bit out of the blue,” he says of the change in his life direction.

It happened when he was a seminary student and joined a growth group with half a dozen other students. It was taught by a faculty member highly trained in group dynamics who led students through discussions about their own needs and challenges.

By going deep and becoming vulnerable in that setting, they were able to make fundamental changes in how they thought, behaved and felt about themselves and others. Townsend considered the results “almost miraculous.”

“I saw people’s lives forever changed for the better, including my own,” he recalls. “The power of relationships and trust really made sense to me.”

He told the missions organization that he committed to taking a different path, then dived into the theology and the science of psychology.

“I wanted to make sure it worked out theologically, and that science supported it,” Townsend says. “I found out that so many of the research findings and techniques were in line with what the Bible has been saying all along. Then I knew there was something that made sense.”

The real 'aha’ experience came when we found that the quality of relationships in your life affects the hardwiring of the brain. We didn’t know that before.

He earned his master’s degree in theology at Dallas Seminary, then moved to California to earn his doctorate at Rosemead School of Psychology at Biola University. When he arrived, a student named Henry Cloud was his student sponsor and helped him move in. The pair became roommates, then partners in creating a model of human growth, and co-owners of an inpatient/outpatient healthcare company with operations in 35 cities in the western U.S. There, they tested their ideas and strengthened their model.

“That ten years was a really busy time,” Townsend says. “We were learning so much from the health centers. We had our own research and training laboratory, in a sense. We could see what was working with patients and received a tremendous amount of data.”

Townsend says that initially, he had no strategic plan for arriving at where he is today. “In the beginning, I just knew I trusted that growth model that we had developed was biblical and effective,” he says. “I had vetted it out, studied it and seen it work. I wanted to help people grow, and I saw how they and their businesses and parenting and marriages were transformed.”

Townsend and Cloud’s book Boundaries, along with their radio program and a schedule of seminars across the country, dramatically increased the platform. It was soon evident that not only were individuals finding emotional and relational healing from the material, but leaders also began asking for help with their organizations’ performance and culture. He contextualized the growth model to apply to leaders and organizations, and the results were highly successful.

One example is a multi-billion dollar investment company Townsend worked with, which had been unable to reach the next level of performance at the rate they thought they should. Townsend came on board as a consultant and found a team made up of “a lot of highly intelligent, hardworking, strategic people who were emotionally disconnected from each other,” he says. “They had a great work ethic but no real trust or vulnerability with each other.”

He put all the key executives into a small group and had them talk about how they personally felt about each other. The conversation broke open when one man said to another, “You really intimidate me because you’re smart, and sometimes I don’t feel very confident around you.” The first man was surprised and replied, “I had no idea you thought that.” Others jumped in and it became clear that this first man made everyone feel incompetent because he never admitted having problems. That was one reason the company was not performing as it should have. When the man shared about how he kept things buttoned up because of a fear of rejection, that’s when true friendships began to grow.

Dr. John Townsend behind-the-scenes for an info night

“They formed a tight, trusting team and the business growth rate accelerated significantly and for a long time, Townsend says.

Today, that kind of relational transformation is further supported by neuroscience, which shows how much our brains affect how we lead, coach and train people.

“The real ‘aha’ experience came when we found that the quality of relationships in your life actually affects the hardwiring of the brain,” Townsend says. “We never knew that before. We thought it was just hardwired to be the same forever. But you can actually change the way the brain works by the quality of relationships you’re with.

That’s why I spend most of my time studying the neuroscience research and writing on it, because it’s how people, families and organizations grow. The research says things work better when people are connected and trusting. And this all happens both in the counseling office and the conference room of the company.”

Townsend and his teams work extensively with leaders and organizations of all sizes through his Townsend Leadership Group and Townsend Leadership Program. They offer leadership development and training, executive coaching, corporate consulting, strategic planning and team facilitation all to help people experience greater personal and professional success. He also partners with GrowthSkills, an intensive workshop for breakthroughs for leaders, counselors and growth-oriented individuals.

John also provides digital growth experiences, such as his library of videos on, and his newly-released online growth tool, the TPRAT, or Townsend Personal and Relational Assessment Tool, which he beta-tested with our Concordia Institute students.

The power of relationships and trust really made sense to me.

The Townsend Institute for Leadership & Counseling at Concordia University Irvine offers online masters’ programs in counseling, executive coaching and consulting, and organizational leadership, along with certificate programs in counseling, executive coaching, and organizational leadership. An exciting new development is also that this Spring, the Institute will offer online undergraduate programs in leadership and organizational psychology which will interface seamlessly with the graduate school. The coursework is based on the latest neuroscience, and the biblically-based content from Townsend’s books, writings, videos and teachings. These emphasize the two foundational principles at the heart of his model: competence and character.

“I’m really excited about the Institute because now we have a formal academic way of teaching people to perform at their highest level possible,” Townsend says. “It’s a very good partnership with Concordia Irvine, and I love being part of the Concordia family.”

It’s a long way from Africa, but Townsend’s work continues to bring good news and transformation to many people.

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