World Impact President Leads with Others’ Interests in Mind

Posted by: DVULI | December 19, 2022

Alvin Sanders, World Impact President, leads with humility and self-awareness. Gerald Bell's 2003 portrait shows him smiling in front of a world map.

by Gerald Bell (Kansas City 2003)

A first encounter with the president and CEO of World Impact, Alvin Sanders (Cincinnati 2014), could give you pause. As a man of color, he stands 6′ 5″, weighs 260 pounds, and makes piercing direct eye contact when speaking to others. Such qualities, depending on the setting, could either draw people close or be a reason to create space.  

“Did you play sports?” is the typical question Alvin is accustomed to answering because of his athletic physique. As a matter of fact, in both high school and college, he was a multi-sports student athlete who eventually focused his athleticism on the game of basketball.  

Naturally competitive, Alvin was raised in a two-parent home on the southeast side of Columbus, Ohio. His father served in the military, which meant his upbringing came with some rigorous disciplines and high expectations. This might explain his confident personality and being very comfortable in his skin. 

“If your initial impression of me is that I’m a hard person or rough, that is not the case,” offers Alvin. “I will use the description that my wife uses for me:  I’m a ‘concrete marshmallow’ in that upon initial meetings, depending on how you meet me, it may look like I’m a very hard individual. I’m really the exact opposite.” 

More than five years in his leadership role with World Impact—an organization that empowers urban leaders and partners with local churches to reach their cities with the gospel—Alvin has had to come to terms with how he’s perceived and what impact it has on forming credible relationships with executives, partners, and supporters. Even though his past ministry experience includes being a church planter and lead pastor, relationships with others have required intentional work on his part.  

“Through growth over the years, I have figured myself out,” concludes Alvin. “I can catch myself and say, ‘Oh, Alvin, you’re dominating the room. You need to be quiet.’ If I can read people’s body language, I can see how they react to me. Then it’s kind of like, ‘Okay, I really need to be quiet.'” 

Reading reactions and body language is a skill set most organizational and team leaders strive to master. Alvin has come to learn and frankly recommends going into new relationships as a “learner in humility.” “Don’t come in thinking you’re a know-it-all,” quips Alvin, who is a “D” on the DISC Profile. “I say it takes at least a year to totally learn a new community. Understand the layout and all the dynamics within that community and neighborhood. And just sort of be a learner.” 

Alvin goes on to reveal, “When I blow relationships, it’s usually because I have forgotten how intimidating I can be, and I have not allowed space for other people to express their opinions and their views and who they are.” 

With a BS in Biblical Studies and an MA in Religion and Urban Ministry, Alvin, who is also a published author, went on to earn a PhD in Educational Leadership from Miami University of Ohio. As a 2014 graduate of the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative (DVULI), he also is trained in the Arbinger Institute’s leadership coaching. His exposure to the Arbinger material while a participant in DVULI was just what he needed to lead him to a breakthrough in relationships.  

Alvin credits many of his takeaways from Arbinger for sharpening not only his organizational leadership skills but also his role as a husband for 30 years and as a father of two daughters—the youngest he describes as “the spitfire and very much like me.”  

“She was 15, and we were having difficulty in terms of engaging one another relationally,” Alvin admits. “Now she’s 22, and we’re the best of buddies and good friends. Using the principles from The Anatomy of Peace helped me have a breakthrough relationship with her.” 

The Anatomy of Peace is a resource published by the Arbinger Institute and is intended to help individuals in family and organizational institutions come together and navigate their way out of the personal, professional, and global conflicts that weigh on them when they are at war.   

In a big way, Alvin said what he learned from Arbinger “helps you become more self-aware of yourself and how you treat other people—that’s why it had a huge impact on me.” 

As a global organization, World Impact reaches beyond the US to territories like Bangladesh, Colombia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Ukraine, among others. Alvin and his team are dedicated to empowering church leaders who are not equipped or trained to take on the challenges that exist in urban contexts. 

With such a mission and all the relational dynamics that could ensue, Alvin leaves no room for chance. He has made it a requirement for all new hires at World Impact to be trained in the Arbinger material.  

“I don’t think I would’ve risen to the position of president and CEO if I had not gotten much more polished at how to engage people and get tasks done in a way that treated people with respect, honor, and dignity,” says Alvin. “I am very interested in people and their stories. If you’re just interested in someone because of something they could do for you, people smell that a mile away, and they kind of won’t want to be bothered with you.”  

To keep sharp as an urban leader, Alvin has adopted a personal approach to his own development: 

First is spiritual growth. I need to be making sure that I’m doing all the things that keep me spiritually grounded, as well as growing in my expertise in leadership and how to manage an organization.  

Second is strategic development. Basically, pulling together a collaborative process to determine the strategy for the ministry and the organization and the direction it needs to go. 

Third is leadership development. Developing our colleagues, executive team members, and those young and up-and-coming leaders within the organization enables us to do our part, and we stand back and allow God to do His choosing of who sticks around for the long haul.  

Last is major donor development. In my position, I don’t have a lot of fundraising tasks, but my tasks are to build relationships and keep a stable portfolio of people who we believe in and who likewise believe in World Impact. 

“Pertaining to relationships, be interested more than interesting,” advises Alvin. “Don’t try to impress people, the community, kids, or your boss. Be interested in them and in their perspective, and then try to figure out what you bring to the table to make the meal, so to speak. Understand that you are not the meal, but you have something to contribute to the success. There are always people who are going to be better than you.”

This article was published in the Winter 2022 issue of DVULI’s On the LEVEL print newsletter