I orginally wrote this post for the Evangelical Alliance to support the launch of their new course on Public Christianity called SENT. You can find a copy here.
The workplace can be a tough place to be, often bringing with it demanding bosses, difficult customers and complex career paths. In this mix of success and frustration it can be hard to carve out your own path.
So it is that after another exhausting day I slouch into the fading blue train seat and wonder if this is really what I should be doing with my life. I look at my emails pinging in and ask myself some questions…What is my tiny role in God’s big picture? In my struggle to get through each day am I simply surviving or building resilience? What could I do to change the culture at work? If I got the chance to say something to improve the corporate culture in the UK, what would I say?
It is into this space that we went as a group of 12 or so Christian business people in the last few months of 2018. Through the materials provided by Evangelical Alliance’s SENT course, we piloted material seeking to shape our views of public leadership. To many of us it is hard to see ourselves as leaders, let alone think about deliberately putting ourselves in the public eye. The Evangelical Alliance asked us to intentionally explore the role of the workplace disciple in the public square.
Through four sessions we were taken on a journey through understanding our worldview, unpacking distinctive Christian leadership, building our leadership competency and becoming a force for change. As we journeyed together we started to share our insecurities and hopes, we started to pray into each other’s lives, inspiring each other to be more confident in our leading.
Through the course, I often reflected on what it takes to start a movement. How do we harness individual enthusiasm and prayerfully channel this into a city-wide passion for renewal? It is impossible to tell the exact moment when the boulder’s centre of gravity inexorably crosses the tipping point and the fall is inevitable. However, we quickly see the gathering momentum as a result. This course pushed a small group of us on the northeast coast of Scotland over the edge and into the mist beyond. On behalf of all the participants, thank you for the push!
Yesterday I read this verse in Hebrews whilst studying for a sermon I am writing at the moment on Jesus’ public humiliation before his crucifixion: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority because they kept watch over you as those who must give an account” (Hebrews 13v17).
Over the last 25 years, I have served as both a person-in-the-pew and in church leadership at four churches. I have also had many conversations with people who had little if any confidence in their church leaders. I admit that I have not always followed this instruction, so I’m speaking to myself as much as anyone. Here are 10 lessons that hit me afresh when I read this verse:
- Leaders will shape the DNA of a church, company or organisation whether they realise it or not, as will our attitude to them leading us (for better or worse)
- Having confidence in our leaders is not something that comes naturally to most people, it will normally require a change in heart attitude on our part
- It is a command of scripture, so we would do well to obey it and will find a blessing as a result
- Submitting doesn’t mean we will always (or often) agree, but it does mean supporting them by our words and attitude as far as is biblically possible
- Our leaders will make mistakes, we should get used to it. Sometimes they will recognise these mistakes (publically or privately), sometimes they will not. This verse is not conditional on our leaders admitting their mistakes.
- Complaining and moaning to others does not resolve anything (it only hardens our heart), be courageous enough to gently address unbiblical actions or attitudes face to face, or cover over with love and be silent.
- If we think the best, hope for the best and act for the best we will make their lives a lot easier and our own minds a lot more contented
- Other passages make it clear leaders do not have unquestioned authority, be clear what areas really constitute disqualification from leadership and which don’t (see 1 Timothy chapter 1 & 6, 2 Timothy 2 & 3).
- In a world where leadership is constantly in the spotlight (and everyone is an expert) be gentle with your leaders, always keeping your own failings and faults at the front of your mind. They will one day have to give an account for their oversight.
- Forgiveness, forgetfulness and prayer for their blessing will defeat a critical and bitter spirit that is rising up in our hearts from past hurts.
Father, help us to appreciate those who give of their time, effort and gifts to lead us, often without thanks for all their sacrifices. May we be easy to lead amongst the flock, being both biblically discerning and relentlessly supportive as we all follow you. Help them as they keep watch over us to know your presence and wisdom in their lives. Amen
If you are into your business gurus then you will probably be familiar with Jim Collins’ book Good to Great which seeks to determine what it takes to make a great company. While some of the companies in this classic are now struggling or gone, the principles Collins draws out are as they helpful now as they were back then.
At the heart of his book is a challenge to all leaders to aspire to something he calls Level 5 leadership – the leader who is simultaneously authentically humble and resolutely determined. He challenges us to walk in the path of someone like Martin Luther King Jr. who embodied these two leadership qualities magnificantly. Collins has coached hundreds of leadership teams on this model and he finds it resonates with people – we want to be led by fair, transparent, accountable leaders.
As I have observed many leaders first hand over the years I am left asking myself this question; Do I really aspire to be a Level 5 leader? Do I want to be this type of person? If the answer is yes and I/we do aspire to this level of leadership, here are five questions I need to ask myself before I commit to this path:
- Am I ready to be overlooked and treated unfairly? We work in a dog eat dog world, are you someone who will fight for every inch of respect, compensation and opportunity possible? Let’s get real, when we are not invited to a key meeting how do we react? When we find out we are not equally compensated alongside our peers do we hit the roof? When we are the last person to receive recognition are we still ok? What will be our response to these situations? The difference in our approach will show itself as the difference between fighting for equality and meritocracy in an organisation verses fighting for personal standing, compensation and profile. Are we prepared to suck it up more often than we stand up for an issue?
- Are you willing to not defend yourself? We live in the cut and thrust world where you will probably have enemies at some point. How will you react when it gets personal? In a conflict situation how will you respond when the arrows start flying? In positions of power we have the opportunity to seek to right personal wrongs and to push our version of events through our organisation. Will we go on the offensive when we are criticised? Beyond Broken challenges us not to throw the javelin when others attack, and by doing so we are absorbing the human cost of the offence. Will we become bitter or better leaders? To become Level 5 we should expect criticism as part of the job, expect to be misunderstood and misrepresented. Decide now that although your motives will be questioned you will always act with integrity.
- Are you willing to forgive? Following on from this if you accept this path you will need to learn how to forgive people who are not level 5 leaders and are not seeking to follow the same path. When others directly oppose what you are trying to do, especially when they resort to underhand techniques to try and undermine your position what will be the story you leave in your heart? What will you do when the dust settles and you are now their boss? Will you get your own back for their treatment of you, or will you breath out, forgive, move on and start again?
- Are you ready to leave alone? If we are one of those leaders seeking to take the organisation into unchartered territory, for its own benefit and survival, then we will sometimes end up in a culture war against the establishment. At those moments the temptation is to take our allies and start a competing organisation in the next door office or church building. At that moment we must decide who we will be. Will we be the disgruntled leader who seeks to destroy what they once worked so hard to build, or will we seek to begin a new story in uncontested water where our services or ministry is really needed? Level 5 leaders take the personal loss of starting from scratch rather than rip an organisation in two through splitting the leadership.
- Are you willing to fail? Finally, we must face up to our own failure. A couple of times in my life I have failed at things I have passionately believed where the right thing to do. At these times we are tempted to wallow in self-pity or rage against the machine. The Level 5 leader will take stock, dress their wounds, and slowly but surely get up to fight another day. This may well be the defining characteristic of the humble resolute leader, and I wonder if those two character traits can really flourish in a world where we have never known personal loss and failure. If we embrace the lessons failure would teach us we can ultimately move beyond seeking our own personal prestige to the calling beyond ourselves.
If you want to explore what it means to be this kind of leader we would love you to join us at the Thrive Conference next month in Aberdeen where we will look at this type of distinctive leadership: https://thebusinessconnection.org/thrive/