In a non-Christian context, good Christian leaders reveal Christ to others, writes Ronald JJ Wong. Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.
Leadership is exercising authority to lead people for a purpose. But in practice, the exercise of authority often causes friction or even hurts, even if unintended.
It is the nature of the power relationship between authority and subordinates. Leaders may not realise that they have treated people unfairly or wrongly. Perhaps the manner of exercise of authority caused unintended anxiety or confusion.
The greatest problem of leaders is a lack of self-awareness. It’s not just leaders, but many of us who lack self-awareness.
Yet, as Christians, we are exhorted in the Scriptures to develop self-awareness. Jesus exhorted: “Pay attention to yourselves!” (Luke 17:3).
Psalm 139:23-24 says:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting!”
Consider King David after he had Bathsheba’s husband killed and committed adultery with Bathsheba ((2 Samuel 11:1-27). Nobody dared to tell him he did wrong. And he continued about his days as though he did no wrong. Until the Lord sent the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12:7).
Even when Nathan did so, he had to begin by using a parable and not tell King David off directly.
Often, subordinates feel powerless to speak truthfully about how they feel. So, how can leaders develop self-awareness?
Developing self-awareness as leaders
Here are three ways:
1. Invite feedback
It’s important to explicitly invite colleagues and subordinates to share their honest, good faith, developmental feedback about ourselves.
It’s important to develop a culture of safety and honesty for people to be honest.
That alone is not enough. Because they may still feel scared. It’s important to develop a culture of safety and honesty for people to be honest.
It’s important to communicate this through our conduct and non-verbal means. So, when colleagues do give us feedback, we should actively listen without judgement.
We do not have to respond immediately. Appreciate the person’s feedback and say you’ll consider the feedback. Then carefully consider the feedback before responding at some other time.
Conversely, if we are quick to respond to the feedback without careful consideration, it may come across as dismissive or being defensive. Then the message that person will receive is that you don’t really want to listen to her feedback but just want to dismiss or defend. It’s just paying lip service to the invitation for feedback.
2. Be authentic
In order to develop a culture of honesty where team members can trust one another to share feedback in good faith for everyone’s growth, we need to begin by being authentic ourselves.
Authenticity can be dangerous if misunderstood and misapplied. It is about responsibly sharing things about ourselves in appropriate situations.
Authenticity often means being vulnerable. Sharing our struggles or weaknesses allows people to feel assured that since you have been vulnerable, they can be too.
However, authenticity misunderstood and misapplied can become dangerous.
Authenticity is not about revealing every emotion or thought. It is not about acting according to one’s impulses. It is not about putting on an exhibitionistic performance. It is not about behaving inappropriately in the guise of being true to oneself. It is not an excuse for flip-flopping on decisions, narcissism or causing instability.
Authenticity is in the main about responsibly sharing things about ourselves in appropriate situations so as to develop psychological safety in the group for sincere communication.
Most importantly, in a leadership context, it is about acknowledging one’s own weakness or mistakes in order to develop the group’s relationship and communication.
3. Be first to seek reconciliation
If we as leaders realise that we may have wittingly or unwittingly treated a colleague unfairly or unkindly, we should seek forgiveness and reconciliation. That is a fundamentally Christian virtue and a Gospel demonstration.
Reconciliation with others is paramount for a right relationship with God.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:22-24: “Whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council … So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Reconciliation with others is paramount for a right relationship with God.
Reconciliation is needed to re-establish moral authority and itself a leadership act of gathering together for a shared purpose.
Reconciliation is also a ministry or service which testifies of Christ’s reconciling work on the Cross (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).
In Kara Martin’s book, Workship: How To Use Your Work To Worship God, she recounts an anecdote of a Christian nurse. The nurse has just gone through a long and sad day because a patient wasn’t responding well to treatment. Weary and stressed, she noticed one of the cleaners did not do a good job. She scolded the cleaner rudely as she left the room.
That evening she was convicted about her conduct. She rushed to work early the next morning to apologise to the cleaner. The cleaner burst into tears and explained that she had often been yelled at but this was the first time anyone had apologised to her.
The nurse shared that she was a Christian and felt convicted to seek her forgiveness. That started many conversations thereafter on sin, grace, forgiveness, and the Christian faith.
What it means in day-to-day practice
Practically, a good Christian leader will:
- Communicate direction and instructions clearly to the team;
- Listen carefully to the team;
- Not micromanage the team’s work but provide sufficient guidance when needed;
- Seek and value the opinion of the team;
- Encourage and build up the team for success;
- Do what is right and just;
- Advocate for what is right and just within the organisation;
- Seek to ensure that the team’s wellbeing is cared for, including having enough rest and are not overworked.
In short, good Christian leaders should seek to justly and wisely serve others to flourish holistically.
In a non-Christian context, Christian leaders who do this well reveal Christ to others.
Good Christian leaders should seek to justly and wisely serve others to flourish holistically.
There’s an anecdote in Timothy Keller’s book on work, Every Good Endeavour.
After a church service, Tim Keller asked a lady how she ended up attending the church. She shared that she made a big mistake at work that she thought would cost her job.
To her surprise, her boss went to his superior and took full responsibility for it. He then lost some of his reputation at work. She thanked him and asked why he did that because she always sees bosses take credit but never responsibility.
Her boss shared that, as a Christian, God accepts him because, on the cross, Jesus took the blame for wrongs he had done; that’s why he took the blame for others. The woman stared at him for a long time and asked: “Where do you go to church?”
Whatever context we may be in, Christians who have positions of authority or leadership should:
- Develop self-awareness
- Seek reconciliation, and
- Wisely serve others to flourish holistically.
Just as God is the Chief Shepherd, Christian leaders are to be under-shepherds who gather and tend to people to help them flourish for the discerned purposes of God.
May our character and convictions as Christian leaders reflect the image of God — His character and His heart.
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