So much of our lives is spent at work. There is great pressure to advance, to excel, to influence and to be seen. Far too many of us have allowed our identity to be more about what we do than who we truly are. I have worked on church staffs and in retail environments and currently am in more of a corporate office setting. Regardless of the purpose of different organizations, there is a general expectation to make a difference, even if at times it might involve cutting corners. In such high pressure environments, is it possible to lead well, in an effective manner, according to biblical principles?
I have learned over the years through challenging circumstances and personal pain that I must be about the calling God has on my life and entrust the details to Him. Promotion, recognition, influence and the like cannot be my focus or I become desperately self-seeking. Rather, I must intentionally keep in mind the following biblical principles when it comes to leading well at work.
Do all for Christ – Colossians 3:17 (ESV) encourages me that “whatever [I] do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…” If I want to lead effectively in the work place, I must remember that I am first and foremost a representative of Christ. For years I have tried to work with the mindset that Jesus is sitting at my desk with me. How much more effectively would I manage my time if this was true? Would I speak with a different tone on the phone or would I reply differently to that difficult email? While this is my reality as a follower of Christ, I confess that it takes great intentionality to live accordingly and do all of my work for Christ.
Submit to authority – In Romans 13:1 (ESV), I am commanded to “be subject to the governing authorities.” While this passage is specifically speaking to government, I can see a fairly easy correlation to my boss and supervisors. I must confess that I am blessed to have a boss who leads with great compassion, vision and empowerment. He is truly about the team above himself and it is a joy to work under his leadership. However, this has not always been the case in my life, nor could I say that I have the same relationship with every leader at my current job. So, what happens when I might not agree with or get along with work leadership? I do not see an asterisk in this verse that God only asks me to submit to authority that I like or agree with. Rather, I must trust that God has established leadership and must submit accordingly. This in no way implies that I cannot share an opinion, or even disagree with leadership, but ultimately the final decision is theirs. If I simply cannot submit, then it might be time to move to a place where I can be a benefit to the organization and not a thorn.
Serve others – The point of leadership is not to take care of and promote myself. Jesus teaches that true leadership is not about lording over others, but rather is about serving people (Luke 22:25-26). Effective leadership in my workplace happens as I am able to look for ways to elevate others. There is great joy in shining the spotlight on the accomplishments of my team; far greater than self-promotion could ever provide. Great leadership teaches us to praise publicly and criticize privately. In the same manner, I need to deflect the praises of others onto my team while shouldering the responsibility when criticism surfaces. This is a great way to serve others at work. Give credit away, don’t pass blame when criticism arises, and trust God to handle the promotions and recognition on your behalf.
Get caught doing good – Speaking of recognition, I would say it is much more satisfying to get caught doing good than to strive for recognition. We have all been in a meeting where somebody is busy talking about how amazing they are. Typically, their own hype does not match the project they are talking about, but even if it does, there seems to be a lack of luster when they have to shine the spotlight on themselves. When I was younger, I spent an inordinate amount of time telling people about what I was doing and how well I thought that I was doing it. 1 Peter 5:6 (ESV) says to “humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” Why would I violate this clear biblical principle and risk missing out on God raising me up? I am fairly certain that He can raise me up much further than I could ever hope to do for myself.
Is it possible to lead biblically within the workplace? Yes! Is it easy? No! I work in a Christian ministry and the struggles to lead biblically still very much exist. Why is this so? Probably because my organization is filled with broken and sinful people, including ME! All I know is that God’s ways are the best and this has been proven in my life so many times over the years. I am growing in each of these areas through circumstances and relationships at work, and my hope is that I am becoming a better representative of Christ along the way.
How about you? Are any of these steps particularly challenging for you? What other aspects of workplace leadership would you add to the list?