Leadership: Respecting the Image

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It is interesting that in recent years, secular management experts have more and more given leaders help in biblical leadership. Where businesses and organizations were populated by leaders like Henry Ford and more recently, Steve Jobs, the focus in management research has moved towards respecting God’s image-bearers.

God’s Image in My Employees

Mind you, those who have no respect for the Bible do not base their findings on the teaching of scripture, but even their findings are evidence that God created them in His image. They are “thinking the thoughts of God after Him” without knowing it.

Though there is much debate concerning the meaning and implications of this teaching in the early pages of the Bible, there are common threads in the interpretation of it. Genesis 1:26-27 says,

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

God made males and females to have dominion over His creation. In doing so, he gave them personalities, gifts, talents, and abilities to rule. And being like God, though not God, they would be creative in the use of those abilities. They would create incredible systems, products, and relationships though always marked by the brokenness of the Fall. They would develop communication as their Creator communicates. And in all of it, they would be pointing to the One who made it all possible, which in biblical parlance is “glorifying God.”

But, unfortunately there are those who believe they are God’s gift to the world and they believe the world does not return the favor.

Leaders with Hubris

Recently, I watched a tennis match on TV between two world-class players. I was amazed how one of the players clearly expected the ball boys and “towel girls” to snap to when he simply put his hand out. He would extend his hand and one or two young helpers would come running to provide a towel or ball or whatever. There were no words said; I never noticed him express gratitude or thankfulness.

Thom Rainer, the CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, said, “Leaders with hubris see others as inferior. The rest of the world does not get it. Others are just not as smart. As a result, these leaders do not listen well because others really don’t have anything worthy to say.”1

Leaders with “hubris” are self-absorbed. It is made evident by their lack of respect for those around them, particularly under them. They believe the reason they are the leader – whether CEO, manager, supervisor, or other authority – is because they are smarter, quicker, wiser, and better looking than the rest.

Teaming

The problem with this is found at the end of Rainer’s quote: these leaders do not listen well because others really don’t have anything worthy to say. Management experts are finding, especially in this information age, leaders need all the help they can get from their employees as they seek to make wise decisions and pursue creative ideas.

The term, “teaming” has become common in business leadership. When a leader is “full of hubris,” as Rainer puts it, there is no team, only a despot with minions. Rather than an idea incubated by multiple, gifted individuals, becoming more focused, and taking into consideration various pitfalls and dangers, the idea is ill conceivably hatched by a single leader.

Though a leader may believe he is the all-wise-one, he is not.

The reason I can say this nearly 100% of the time is that every person on earth has been created in God’s image with creative abilities. Though some may indeed have a rare idea that fits with the mission of a particular business or organization, every person has something to say that can mold the ideas of others.

As I worked to develop a mission organization, I failed to take into account the varying personalities of those who served the mission. As an extrovert, with very apparent gifts in building new relationships, I had failed to consider how introverts could find a place to minister alongside those of us popping from one new person to another.

It was my daughter and son-in-law, both introverts, who challenged my perspective and gave my ministry new direction and help.

It is still too soon to see if I have really learned that lesson, but I was able to alter my language and the “jobs” of those who found it murder to walk up to a complete stranger and begin a conversation; something I had made the backbone of the organization over the years. It will take the wisdom of those who are introverts in an extrovert mission to help me develop the space for them to use their gifts.

Have you never experienced someone provide a needed direction change in your thinking and action? I have seen it from those I had no interest or desire in hearing. It takes humility for most of us, who are driven entrepreneurs, to hear and respect the ideas of our team.

Creating the Team

And it takes a humble leader who seeks out the ideas from the team to actually create the team in the first place. Dan Allender says, “The reluctant leader detoxifies power by empowering others to bring their vision, passion, and gifts to the enterprise.”2

Members of the organization must know they are respected and their ideas will not go unnoticed or considered, or worse, laughed at.

This creates collaboration, a key component in using God’s image-bearers in fruitful organizational management. One of the finest texts among the secular sources is “Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the knowledge Economy” by Amy Edmondson. In it she says,

Collaboration is a way of working with colleagues that is characterized by cooperation, mutual respect, and shared goals. It involves sharing information, coordinating actions, discussing what’s working and what’s not, and perpetually seeking input and feedback.

Something that becomes apparent in an organization that is ruled by a toxic leader is the lack of this kind of interaction. In fact, there is rarely any kind of interaction. People who have been berated and belittled by a leader will not share information, coordinate actions, or discuss what is working and what is not. They will either leave the organization or keep their head down to stay out of the sites of the bully.

Even some non-toxic leaders have difficulty creating this kind of collaboration. As Edmondson points out elsewhere in the book, leaders who continually present their idea first and with passion will find their employees fearful to disagree with them. She points out, this is simply because of the power differential between leader and employee. Leaders need to put a lid on and make a special effort it if they wish their team to grow into an effective idea machine.

Summary

As a Christian leader, my mission must be to encourage and build the abilities of whom I lead. They do not live to serve my ideas. My followers are made in the image of God with perspective and wisdom I do not have.

References:

  1. “How and Why I Could Fall,” ThomRainer.com, June 25, 2018, https://thomrainer.com/2018/06/how-and-why-i-could-fall/.
  2. Dan B. Allender, Leading with a Limp: Take Full Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2008), page 19.
  3. Amy C. Edmondson, Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy, Kindle 1st edition (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012), location 1078-1080.

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