After the PhD: From Student to Business Consultant

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I started my Ph.D. journey in Organizational Leadership with Regent University in 2013. I am happily married with six children ranging in age from 10 to 29. The reason I wanted to get my Ph.D. was simple, I wanted to do it. I earned my Masters of Business Communication in 2005, relocated from Kentucky to Iowa in 2009, during the recession, and I needed a sense of accomplishment. During this phase in my life, I started to sense God urging me to change my career and move to a different place. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I prayed fervently for wisdom, direction, and guidance. Fast forward to Valentine’s Day 2017 and I successfully defended my dissertation. I was now Dr. Debra J. Dean!

I’m the first in my immediate family to be a college graduate.  Earning my Ph.D. is by far the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life, especially at the age of 40. Not only was I a student and mother, but I was also a wife, daughter, sister, grandmother, and employee. It has changed the course of my life as well as that of my family.

I didn’t realize that once I earned my Ph.D., the work did not end. What I mean is, when I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I wore my cap and gown, received my diploma, and was all finished. Nothing more was expected of me. However, once I earned my Ph.D., that feeling of completion didn’t happen. Instead, I felt like I was just beginning a new chapter of my life. I felt like I had much to do and God was preparing my family and me for a change that was coming. It was through prayer that we sought direction and guidance.

While I was in the doctoral program, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the organization I worked for asked me what my plans were for using my degree. It was the first time I really thought about it, and frankly, I didn’t know the answer. It turns out many people go into full-time teaching when they get their Ph.D. I, on the other hand, though I wanted to move into higher levels of leadership within the organization. After all, I worked there for almost twenty years.

At that time in my life, the idea of moving into the higher levels of management was appealing to me because I defined success by title and the size of my paycheck. Today, however, my idea of success is very different. Now, success is about living a purposeful life which honors and glorifies God. With my degree in hand, a sizable resume of achievements, and lots of experience, I walked a path of uncertainty. Would I become a teacher? Would I go to work in another corporate job? Would I start my own business?

Career Guidance

In January of 2018, I decided to start working with a career coach. The coaching process helped to add clarity to my career path. An important step during the coaching process was, to examine my strengths, spiritual gifts, and goals. We also networked with many other people in both my personal life and in business. Ultimately, various mission statements, both business and personal, were created along with a plan.

  • My business mission is, “To marry work outcomes with faith-based attributes.” I accomplish this by doing research, adding new tools to my existing ones, and real-life corporate experience.
  • My personal mission statement is, “To inspire each person to identify their potential and pursue authenticity while living a life of eternal focus.”
  • Last, but not least, our family mission statement is,  “To work together as a team to focus on our eternal home.  To have authentic character, integrity, and to treat others the way we want to be treated.  To recognize and appreciate blessings and miracles, serve others in meaningful ways, enjoy the beauty of the world around us, and convene daily in an intimate relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
The Act of Resigning

As I mentioned earlier, our family sensed a coming change in our lives for several years. We saw changes happening at my workplace that did not align with our values and we expected another round of layoffs for quite some time. Fast forward a few months to when I handed in my resignation at work. This decision was a major one for our family. My last day at my corporate job was November 2nd and I am trusting God for his provisions. He has led us to this new location and increased my Christian network immensely. Some of the organizations I connected with are C12, Christian CEO, Convene, Faith Search Partners, Halftime, Slingshot, The Denver Institute for Faith and Work, The Greenroom, and The Legacy Center. We pray for wisdom, direction, and guidance daily as well as mediated on scripture.  There we have found that God does not always reveal the answer all at once. Often times, He provides us with guidance one step at a time.

Biblical Perspective

For example, God asked Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 3). He did not give Moses the full picture of where they were to go, and they wandered in the desert for 40 years. Often, they were told to wait with no indication for how long. They were even once told to follow a cloud (Numbers 9). One time, Moses sent spies into Canaan to see if the land was good (Numbers 13). Some returned and said it was, while others said it was not.

In another example, we see Abraham obeying God and taking his only son Isaac to offer as a sacrifice (Genesis 22). Abraham did so without question and Isaac followed without hesitation. They obeyed God wholeheartedly. In the end, we learn that God provided a ram for the sacrifice and spared Isaac’s life. This example reminds me that God is good. He is faithful and steadfast. He will provide and He has a plan. I can trust that God has the same for me. In fact, it says in Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

These scriptures reveal to me that God may not give me the full picture just as he did not give the full picture to Moses and the Israelites. He wants us to trust him, have faith, and be obedient. It also reminds me to not always rely on the advice of others. If I were to ask someone about leaving my job of over twenty years to start my own business, I am certain many would say I was foolish.  However, others will say to follow my heart.

These scriptures also highlight how important it is to have a team of trusted advisors. Just as Jesus set the example for us with his Apostles. We should have a team of around 12 people we trust, who can provide us with different insights into our lives. We should also have an inner circle of around three people who know us on an intimate level and who have our well-being in mind.

What has encouraged me most about this unknown journey I am undertaking is a feeling of how well I have been prepared, despite my timidity. I have conducted several research projects and presented my findings at conferences. I have several books in the works with one already at the publisher.  I have networked with others around the world that have a similar passion as myself, and I have a true sense of calling that I have never had before. It feels as if I am on the path my coach has encouraged me to follow, “Know who I am, and who I am not.”

business planningNext Steps…Business Consulting

So, what are my next steps on this journey? I believe I can adapt quickly to help local workplaces integrate virtuous leadership styles such as Servant Leadership and Spiritual Leadership.  It is in both leadership styles where altruistic love, sense of community, meaningful work, and serving, all play vital roles in the workplace.  As a business consultant, I now help organizations shift their organizational culture towards a more spiritual workplace by redesigning performance appraisals to measure items such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I have found these styles useful in predicting work outcomes and that these characteristics have a strong correlation to employee engagement, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment.

As with any business consultant or entrepreneur, there are basic business practices that must be acknowledged and maintained. A fellow business consultant once told me that his biggest challenge is to continually keep his contact list updated.  This is done by always networking and adding to that list. Perhaps you recently finished a degree and are unsure of what your next steps are. Here are some lessons I’ve learned…

  • articulate what problem you wish to solve,
  • identify why you are better than anyone else to tackle the problem,
  • determine if that problem can be solved in your current position, through local outreach (church, non-profits, etc.) or if creating a business is warranted,
  • make a detailed plan,
  • stay on track,
  • seek guidance when needed,
  • trust God,
  • and know what you are worth.

Above all, with continual prayer and God as my most trusted advisor, I have faith everything will turn out as it should for me. I pray the same for you.

Did you recently finish a degree program? Share your next steps in the comments below.

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About Debra Dean, Ph.D.

Dr. Dean is a graduate of Regent University. She is a Christian first and foremost, wife, mother, and currently serves as Adjunct Professor for several schools in addition to Business Transformation Director for a large financial services company. She enjoys being both scholar and practitioner where she can perform research and apply her findings in business settings. Her research interests include authenticity, cultural dimensions, followership, servant leadership, spiritual leadership, and workplace spirituality.

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