Recently I spoke with the CEO/President of a very large corporation employing nearly 100,000 associates and generating annual revenue in the billions. To be successful, such a leader must be astute in finance, well-versed in emerging trends, and decisive when taking actions–a true leader. Additionally, such individuals are often accused of being ruthless and driven, with an eye on the bottom line, and highly competitive.
In light of this general perception I noticed his response to a question I posed: “Yes,” he said, “doing the right thing, is important. We have to start there, and then find a way forward.”
I have concluded that doing the right thing matters a great deal in all successful organizations and must be practiced by their leaders, including church leaders. It means doing the right thing by the people we employ, in the selection process, remuneration decisions, work expectations, and the support we provide. It is generally easier simply to do what we have always done and follow past patterns. But is that the right thing for our associates? It also extends to management of our financial resources? It seems so obvious that we must do the right thing, and yet it is easy to follow a path of convenience, of least resistance, of past practices, rather than identifying the right thing when we spend funds. And what about planning and programming? Certain programs are expected of us from both the top and the bottom of our organization, but are they right for the organization now? Every action, plan, decision contemplated by leadership should ask before implementation: But is it the right thing to do?
How do we know what is the right thing? Is there an organizational policy or a text in scripture that tells us that, or do we just follow our instinct (as the old quip goes, “I know the right thing when I see it”).
I believe there are some tests we can give to our leadership activities that help us discover what the right thing is. Here are some I have used.
1. Will our associates become better people, more effective and mature workers, successful in the organization, and prepared to take on larger responsibilities because of our leadership decisions? At a very practical level, are we surrounding ourselves with people equipped and able to succeed us when the time comes?
2. Does the principle of the talents in Jesus’ parable describe the way we allocate guaranteed funds? Specifically do we expect growth from all our investments of funds, or are we satisfied if we simply do not incur losses? In church organizations, these funds are donated by faithful believers, and surely leaders are not charged simply to protect the principal, but to grow its value through additional services rendered, more people helped, new initiatives in teaching and preaching the gospel? Can that be said about all our financial appropriations?
3. Leaders are constantly confronted with the question of what to keep and what to change! Programs, departments, services, activities are crossing our desks daily. Do we keep them all (because–well there they are), or do we stop doing certain things so we can introduce new things (innovate)? The temptation to keep everything we have done before, and be cautious about innovation is particularly great for Christian leaders whose resources keep coming primarily in the form of tithe and offerings. Is that doing the right thing, or are we to be change agents like the first Christian leaders beginning with Christ himself and his greatest apostle Paul?
There is one more test we may consider, and that I have borrowed from international management/leadership guru, Gary Hamel in his latest book on leadership, What Matters Now. In the short chapter entitled “Reclaiming the Noble,” Hamel proposes that leadership which is merely successful, though comforting to stockholders or church members respectively, lacks the excitement of leadership that is also “reclaiming the noble.” On Hamel’s roster of such leaders are Michelangelo, Galileo, Jefferson, Gandhi, William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Jr. Mother Theresa, Sir Edmund Hillary. Others are listed on my church roster, such as E.G, White, J.N. Andrews, Ana and Fernando Stahl, the Murdoch family, Ben Carson, et al. What is unique about them? They inspire by reclaiming in their time something we have nearly forgotten in ours, as key leadership goals, namely “beauty, truth, wisdom, justice, charity, fidelity, joy, courage and honor.” They reclaimed the noble.
Doing the right thing in leadership, especially Christian leadership, is not complete until it has captured the noble—those goals far beyond (but not apart from) the bottom line. These are the real values of Christian leadership, and the good news is that these values are not incompatible with organizational success. In fact, they may enhance it.