Getting badly lost on an overnight trip and adopting a child with serious medical needs each have lessons for leaders.

Your planned destination is not where you’re going to be today.

This was the first of several lessons from “Authentic Leadership: Where Courage and Vulnerability Meet,” MaryJo Burchard’s keynote Wednesday at the 2023 Fresno Pacific University Leadership Forum, March 29, 2023. Burchard, Ph.D., demonstrated both attributes in abundance as she distilled leadership lessons from her heart and her life to about 170 people over breakfast in the Warkentine Culture and Arts Center (CAC) on the main FPU campus, 1717 S. Chestnut Ave., Fresno.

Burchard, whose work includes serving as an organizational recovery consultant after the 2019 mass shooting in Virginia Beach, were she lives, is the founder of Concord Solutions, which helps leaders, teams and organizations find strength, focus and connection in major disruption and tough change. Burchard is an FPU graduate and former staff member. More at

You cannot plan your way out of vulnerability.

Despite nearly running out of gas in the depths of a nighttime blizzard near Joseph, UT, (population 269), two hours south of their target of Provo, MaryJo and husband Kenny reached their destination marriage intact in pre-GPS 1995. An even more serious detour from another Plan A awaited the couple 20 years later in a hot, stuffy office in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. After years of planning, they were there to adopt a child.

“We were told that the only young children currently available for adoption had serious medical challenges,” Burchard said. “It was a gut punch.”

As they flipped through books of eligible children struggling to adjust their upended expectations, Burchard wondered—what if Plan A is still here, and she missed it? “I prayed the most frightening prayer I have even breathed I my life: “God, none of these kids looks like the child we imagined…But if our son is here, help me see past the diagnosis, and see him with your eyes.”

The second time around Burchard stopped at the picture of a boy named Viktor. The four-year-old had an unclosed cleft pallet gave him a lipless smile and highlighted the protruding upper jaw resting on his chin. Something compelled Burchard to put her thumb over his mouth. “In that moment, I saw him,” she said. “He was one of the only children in the notebook who was smiling.” 

Today, Viktor—affectionately nicknamed Veech—is a young man in his 20s confident enough to be part of his parents’ public sharing of the family journey with complete strangers. This accomplishment for all three Burchards came only after years of pain and change, from physical operations to attitudes and expectations.

Authentic engagement can help create belonging before “fit” exists, but it requires letting go of what life is ‘supposed to be like’ and embracing reality as it is.

As a small boy, Viktor didn’t “fit”—physically or culturally. “All those things were 100% true,” Burchard said. “The rest of the truth is that he still belonged with us—and we still belonged with him.”  

“Accepting the situation means as it is means you need to be willing to lead and invest yourself in the people you have. Not the people you wish you had,” Burchard said.

Viktor was going to require years of painful medical procedures. How do parents, hurting themselves, support a four-year-old through that?

Keep telling the truth. The whole truth. The uncomfortable truth.

“Telling the whole truth is a matter of trust,” Burchard said. Leaders of organizations in turmoil may fear telling employees the truth because they have already been through so much. “By telling the truth you are saying: I believe you can handle what I’m telling you. I believe we will face it together,” Burchard said. Applying that to her family: “The struggle was sweet because we were in it together.”

Struggle is inevitable, but can be the making of a leader, a team, an organization or a family.

“If you dare to be a leader in this contemporary world, unexpected, sweeping changes are inevitable. You need to expect them. But you don’t need to dread them. Strength, wisdom, recovery, growth—they all require hardship,” Burchard said.

After the keynote, break-out sessions were offered in three tracks. Attendance for the first set of sessions was 113, with 88 at the second set:

  • Authentic Leadership—“Courageous Leadership Discussion” and “How to Build Belonging as a Leader,” both led by Burchard, with the first one including husband Kenny and son Viktor.
  • Christian Business—“Shepherding Resilience within Organizations,” led by Paul Saldana, MBA, and “Lessons in Business and Life from Bezos and Jesus,” led by Steven Starcher, D.Min. Both are instructors in the FPU School of Business.
  • Community Transformation—“Leadership: Point of View Matters,” and “Virtues and Talent: How to Unlock the Most Out of Your Team,” both led by Carlos Huerta, MBA, executive director of the FPU Center for Community Transformation, part of the Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary.

See the first session of the 2023 Leadership Forum at

Leadership Forum 2023 was supported by these sponsors:

  • Leadership Sponsor
    • Wells Fargo
  • Integrity Sponsors
    • Camarena Health
    • Johanson Transportation Service
    • MB Foundation
    • Moore, Grider & Company LLP
  • Influence Sponsor
    • CBMC (Christian Business Men’s Connection)
    • Center for Community Transformation
    • Fresno Pacific University Foundation
    • FPU School of Business

PHOTO: (From left) FPU Business Faculty Suzana Dobric Veiss, Ph.D., interviews MaryJo, Viktor and Kenny Burchard in a break-out session at the 2023 Leadership Forum



Wayne Steffen
Associate Director of Publications and Media Relations