“I wish I’d had something like this 20 or 30 years ago – it would have made a big difference in how I lived out my faith…”
That’s a sentiment that’s voiced frequently in one form or another by the 50- and 60-somethings who make up most of Pinnacle Forum’s Chapters around the country.
And it’s one that’s being addressed by the Emerging Leaders Initiative, an innovative process designed for men and women in their 20’s and 30’s.
The initiative was launched several years ago by Pinnacle Forum’s Chicago Metro Area Chapter, but much has happened since Partner and ELI co-founder Clif Fenton shared about the initiative in a January 2016 Pulse.
Back then, ELI was still in its infancy, operating as an all-volunteer, mentor-based organization with much of the work being done by Fenton, co-founder Mark Chassman and others in their Chapter.
Today, after 18 months of growth and refinement, ELI is its own 501(c)(3) non-profit, with a five-member board and a full-time executive director.
It was as an ELI mentee that Michael Sugihara fully realized that his passion and purpose was “to empower young people to engage their God-given strengths and purposes for the renewal of others” – a calling that made him the perfect choice to become ELI’s first executive director a year ago.
“I discovered a desire to serve others early on, whether it was through volunteering during my early school years or even in my initial desire to pursue a career in medicine,” Michael explains. “However, God continued to craft His calling in my life and focused this hope to ‘serve others’ through this specific means of empowering young emerging leaders. In so many ways, ELI is what has allowed me to fully embrace this call.”
“Now,” the 26-year-old continues, “I get the incredible opportunity to live into my calling each and every day through our mentors and leadership team as well as in the lives of our mentees … truly an amazing blessing.”
There are clear similarities between ELI and Pinnacle Forum, from its vision “To see the workplace transformed by a movement of Christ-centered leaders” to its mission of “Equipping emerging leaders in the transformational practices and principles of Jesus.”
But ELI’s model is distinctly different from Pinnacle Forum, primarily its use of a mentor-mentee approach to reach a target group of people in their 20’s and 30’s.
Early on, Pinnacle Forum Partners served as mentors – a natural way to start, Clif says, since Partners fit the profile of Christ-centered leaders – but most of today’s new mentors come from personal referrals by board members and existing participants.
Once potential mentors and mentees have been screened and approved, they begin a year-long program built around a specially-designed curriculum that focuses on specific challenges they will face as they live out their faith in the workplace.
“Jesus’ principles and practices are contrasted with behaviors encouraged by the secular culture found in most places of work,” Clif explains. “The goal is equip mentees to meet the inevitable challenges of following their faith in a secular world as well as developing practices that can produce better results than the secular model.”
The program utilizes a combination of one-on-one mentoring, in-person group meetings and extensive use of technology such as Zoom to facilitate communication.
In the end, ELI’s goal is the same as Pinnacle Forum’s: transformation.
“Transformation will continue to be at the heart of my vision, goals, hopes, and dreams for ELI,” Michael says. “Transformed lives. Transformed workplaces. Transformed culture.”
“What would it look like for emerging leaders to be transformed through the ELI process, and in turn bring Christ into each relationship and area of influence?” he continues. “What could God do with a movement of Christ-centered leaders who are constantly and consistently experiencing Jesus in new and life-changing ways?”
Having gone through the program himself, Michael has a unique perspective as executive director.
“My childhood friend, Stephen Kawasaki, invited me to join ELI after I graduated from Cornell (University) and moved back to the Chicago area,” he explains.” I was drawn by the idea of doing leadership differently and making an impact beyond myself.
“ELI provided me with the community, tools and support to change lives, starting with my own. In living out a transformed life, I’ve seen co-workers come to personally know Jesus, I’ve seen others engage in spiritual conversations for the first time, and I’ve seen leaders empowered to rethink leadership, motivation, and to truly serve others. I am able to approach mentoring and discipleship differently and have had the immense privilege of being a part of something that God has used and is using to transform lives and cultures.
“I can honestly say,” he concludes, “that ELI has made all the difference in my life and has transformed me and my dreams. It has uniquely equipped me to be about Jesus in real and practical ways in my work and life, and by doing so has grown my own faith, purpose, and impact.”
And he wants that for others.
“My hope is that ELI may be a vessel that God uses to equip the called and to empower mentors and mentees alike to be about His work of transformation, specifically in the workplace. When we invite God into intentional spaces of discipleship, community, and accountability, He does amazing things!”
Both co-founder Clif and executive director Michael embrace the connection – past, present and future – between ELI and Pinnacle Forum.
“I see ELI connecting with Pinnacle Forum’s mission and Four “E” Strategy in many different ways,” Michael says. “In a like way, ELI is about equipping leaders to engage Christ toward an end of personal and cultural transformation.
“Our mentor teams are functional means of encouragement, places to experience authentic relationships and to build into each other through Christ,” he continues. “Additionally, our framework is designed to intentionally equip our mentors and mentees and provide avenues for learning, applying, and reflecting on each leadership session. Every participant is challenged to engage specific Christ-centered leadership tools each week in the workplace and to put to work their faith and service in the culture around them.
And, he notes, “in many ways, ELI is the result of the final ‘E’, execution, and is how PinnacleForum members have put into action the Spirit’s leading. Through the ELI equipping process, it is for each participant to seek how God is leading them to execute on their God-given purpose in the places they’ve been called and for the transformation of themselves and others.”
Looking ahead, co-founder Clif hopes to see today’s ELI mentees become tomorrow’s PinnacleForum Partners.
“Since the mission and vision of Pinnacle Forum and ELI are identical,” he says, “PinnacleForum should be a natural next step as our millennials take on more senior and influential roles in their professions.”
COMING NEXT: How ELI has influenced mentors and mentees alike – and how other Pinnacle Forum Chapters can reach the next generation of leaders in their communities.
For more information on the Emerging Leaders Initiative, contact Executive Director Michael Sugihara at Michael@