Great achievements in life are never solo endeavors. Sometimes we forget that. We can be like the turtle on the fencepost. As the story goes, “if you’re walking along a fence and spot a turtle sitting atop a fencepost, you know it didn’t get there by itself.” True leaders have the humility to recognize the important role that other people have had in their lives. Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” My interviewee this week, Josh Gilreath, is one of those leaders who has accomplished great things as a leader but humbly recognizes that he is standing on the shoulders of others who have developed him as a leader. Gilreath is the new State Director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) in Mississippi. Gilreath is following in the footsteps of Bill Buckner, who passed away in May of this year after a lengthy illness and leading the organization for 27 years.
Gilreath grew up in Amory and graduated from Mississippi State with a degree in biological engineering. He worked as a graduate assistant at Mississippi State under Coach Jackie Sherrill, and went on to join the coaching staff at Indiana University. His faith led him to leave coaching and join the FCA staff back at Mississippi State where he served for eight years before launching the Pinelake Church Starkville campus. Shortly after Buckner’s funeral, the Mississippi FCA State Executive Board approached Gilreath about becoming Bill’s successor. Gilreath shared, “Next to my dad, I can’t think of anyone who has invested in my life more than Bill. The Board shared with me that they had several conversations with Bill, and it was his desire for me to follow him in the FCA ministry, should I sense God leading me that way.”
Gilreath emphasized the impact his family has had on his life and development as a leader. He noted, “My dad was influential in me coming to Christ, and he always expected me to be my best. If I started something, he expected me to finish.” He also shared that his grandmother who worked until she was 83 modeled a strong work ethic as did his grandfather who also taught him that your word should always be your bond. Gilreath shared that one of the many things that Bill Buckner taught him as a leader is to have a personal “Board of Directors” for your life to challenge you and hold you accountable. Gilreath credits his high school football coach Bobby Hall with teaching him to believe anything is possible, and former Mississippi State Coach Sylvester Croom with teaching him about integrity. He credits Pinelake Church Senior Pastor Chip Henderson with teaching him how to lead other leaders. Gilreath says that he learned how to have a sense of humor as a leader from his wife. He shared, “She is fun and loving. I can be too serious. She reminds me of the importance of having fun and having a sense of humor. We all need to laugh at ourselves.”
All of these influences and others have shaped Gilreath’s philosophy and character as a leader. He believes in leading with vision and emphasizes what could be and should be if you lead towards it. To help young leaders find their true passion and calling he challenges them to answer the question, “If money didn’t matter what would you do?” Gilreath brings a wealth of his experience to his new position. I know that Gilreath and the 31 dedicated full time staff members of FCA Mississippi will continue to positively influence thousands of students and coaches every year around the state.[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, September 15, 2014.]