May 2020 -- Kirkland, Washington
“I love stepping into crisis.”
Alex Johnson has a knack for seeing the potential in organizations that appear to be on their last leg. Not everybody he serves is in crisis — some leaders reach out before they hit rock bottom, others call on him for help in continually building and strengthening a healthy, productive culture — but Alex’s specialty is stepping in when things look bleak.
“Usually it’s because they have reached a point of diminishing return with the people,” said Alex. “They are either struggling to get their team motivated, they are struggling to get their team to follow them and engage. A decent portion are just looking around and realizing their staff doesn’t like them, they’re struggling to get their team moving and aligned, they’ve got open conflict or hostility in the organization. Their culture is toxic and they need help.”
Alex lived in Wheaton, Illinois until the age of 22, when he graduated from Wheaton College with a degree in psychology.
“I stumbled into the major about halfway through my undergrad and really fell in love with it,” he said. “I Initially thought I would be pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology. I moved to Richmond, Virginia because I wanted to go to a school there.”
After settling into Richmond, Alex decided this wasn’t the route for him. What he wanted instead was to go into ministry. So he moved to Denver, Colorado to attend Denver Seminary and became a pastor. With his psychology background and ministry focus, he was able to help lead an organizational turnaround at a church in Asheville, North Carolina. The church was in a tough situation and falling apart after years of neglect, but where anybody might have seen nothing but problems, Alex saw possibility.
“I have a bit of a natural bent to be able to see the potential in institutions," he said. "And it’s funny, because I’m very pragmatic. I tend to be skeptical by nature. I’m not this super optimistic person, but I do have this ability.”
For four years, Alex worked with the Asheville church and, in the end, what had looked like a hopeless situation had turned around. The church stood on its own two feet and began to thrive. After that, Alex started getting calls from other organizations that desperately needed help. As he stepped into crisis after crisis, he made an important realization.
“I think I began to realize I love entering into that space with teams and organizations and people where what they were doing is not working and they are in desperate need of finding a new way of entering the future and helping them do that. I’m intuitively aware of how much people are the real limitation on their success. Teams and leaders — we are our own glass ceilings due to elements of our personality that make us show up in ways that negatively impact the people around us, undermine our leadership and create cultural issues. So, I love stepping into those moments.”
The Pacific Northwest
Alex did eventually decide he still wanted to attend graduate school. His plan was to study industrial-organizational psychology at Seattle Pacific University. At the time, his wife was a year away from completing her own degree program, so they decided to move to the Seattle area and take turns. She would finish her program while Alex worked, then he would begin his doctorate program.
Alex took a job at Highlands Community Church in Renton, where he was placed in charge of the church's small groups ministry. His wife has since completed her degree and Alex has started studying industrial-organizational psychology.
“It’s the science of people at work," he explained. "Industrial psychology is focused on the individual level with things like selection. How do we get employees motivated and goal setting and working well in their environment? How do we get them in the appropriate seats on the bus? The organization level is usually more accessible to people, it’s asking how do people come together and work in teams?”
Industrial psychology is similar to an MBA in that students work with finances and case studies, but the difference is that someone like Alex will focus on a larger scope. For example, if a company has a process that works well in one location, industrial psychology examines how that process would translate to organizations across the country. Alex has been studying leadership, selection, team building, motivation, organizational assessment and development in preparation to help people in organizations thrive using good research and data-driven perspectives.
Alex’s boss at Highlands Community Church happens to be none other than Tom Dabasinskas, a Principal with OneAccord who joined the team last year.
“Tom knew when I came out here that I was going to school and ultimately heading in this direction in the future,” said Alex. “In February, we began having conversations about what it would like for me to come on board with what he’s doing with nonprofits.”
As Alex got to know more about OneAccord, he appreciated their approach of connecting with and serving organizations while being upfront about what they can and can’t do. And he saw a company that’s very serious about what it does.
“A lot of consulting gigs that are out there are not anchored," he said. "They have values, but I don’t know that they necessarily live them out. I’ve gotten to know OneAccord and learned a bit more about what they’re about. They are a group that has values and really works to live them out. I’ve been impressed with their persistence in pursuing those things that are valuable to them. And my values align with theirs: Absolute compassion and absolute truth are two things that I couldn’t have said more clearly. These are things I value tremendously.”
Alex will be working with the nonprofit team at OneAccord, but is interested in any organization that needs help turning things around, whether for profit or not.
A husband and father, Alex stays busy with family, work and school, and enjoys a good culinary adventure.
“I have an interest in and love for French wine, and love good food,” he said. “I love the outdoors — hiking and being with friends. I love boating. In ages past, when I had time, I played a lot more golf.”
Alex has been married to Katey for 11 years and they have three children, ages 5, 7 and 9.