Servent Leadership: A Leader’s Relationships

A leader’s first task is not to keep the machinery moving but to help those under his charge to live and serve. Although 1 Timothy was an authoritative utterance to be implicitly obeyed, it was characterized by the graceful empowerment and loving freedom which would be expected in a letter to a friend or colleague. Paul salutes Timothy as his “own son in the faith.”1 He wanted Timothy to achieve God’s will for his life. (1 Timothy 1:18). We can see Paul’s concern for Timothy’s spiritual health (1 Timothy 4:12-16, 6:11-16), as well as his physical health (1 Timothy 5:23). “Leaders are not afraid of the strengths of their associates – that is, leaders cherish talent and facilitate synergies in relationships.”2

Leadership is an ongoing relationship between leader and superiors, colleagues, consumers, and followers. “Because the personal relationship defines the existing quality of interpersonal interaction between the leader and would-be followers, followers will not join the leader without the requisite relationship. Leadership is the relationship.”3. Leaders require many skills in managing relationships with all significant stakeholders, including superiors, peers, and external constituents. “Relationship behavior is the extent to which the leader engages in two-way or multi-way communication. It includes listening, encouraging, facilitating, providing clarification, and giving socio-emotional support.”4. The purpose of the relationship is to give each person the opportunity to grow and to contribute to his or her fullest potential and build strengths in the midst of differences.

Do leaders shape culture, or are they shaped by it? Both! The cultural subconscious of the organization sees strengths in differences. Thus, the differences that people bring to bear within the organization affect not only the organizational culture but also how leaders react to the differences. The apostle Paul was a cross-cultural missionary, a Jew who sought to be “all things to all people” in order to bring them the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Paul passes his urgency for leading various classes on to Timothy. The first classes of people mentioned are the generational differences of men and women. Paul instructed Timothy, “Rebuke not an elder, but treat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; the elder women as mothers; the younger sisters, with purity.” (1 Timothy 5:1-2). Paul commands Timothy’s actions towards the four classes of free persons within the community. From and organizational context the approach of a leader is to be one of influential charm. “Influence at work requires that you know what you are doing, have reasonable plans, are competent at the task at hand–but that often isn’t enough. It is just the price of admission.”5.

Over time, every organization develops distinctive beliefs and patterns. Many of these are unconscious or taken for granted, reflected in myths, fairy tales, stories, rituals, ceremonies, and other symbolic forms. Managers who understand the power of organizational culture are much better equipped to understand and influence their organizations. “The greatest potential of your organization is tied directly to aligning what your people do best with what your organization needs most.”6.

Leaders also need to be able to recognize different value systems from a global context. North American culture, for example, is distinctly different from the personal relationship approach that is so important in Asia and South America. The individualistic attitudes so commonplace in Canada and the US are a stark contrast to the common goal approach found in Japan. “Leaders of companies that span different cultures need to develop a strong sense of such systems, and the many other differences that can so easily lead to the misunderstandings that can block the workings of effective organizations.”7.

Paul reminds us to consider this shift in understanding differences in 1 Timothy 5:3…”Honor widows that are widows indeed.” Paul was instructing Timothy to care for the widows who were truly left alone and destitute. Widows were particularly vulnerable in ancient societies because no pensions, government assistance, or life insurance was available. In the eschatological sense, Paul is instructing the contemporary leader to care for his followers. Many western organizations are establishing factories in third-world countries in order to capitalize on cheap labor. Similarly, many in western society are taking advantage of immigrants and foreign nationals who are unaware of labor laws such as minimum wage and worker’s compensation. Leaders will have to find ways to lead the multiple stakeholders, and the complexities they represent, at a global level. This difficult juggling act requires clear values and ingrained ethical standards. In Redefining Diversity, Roosevelt Thomas viewed diversity as shifting from being an “understanding differences” vehicle for minimizing tension to a “strategic force contributing to globalization.”8. Paul’s concept of “honor” is the key to the effective leadership of diverse people in a global workplace. It establishes and maintains quality relationships, it creates conditions that foster self-realization, and it fosters a climate where people can be genuine and valued for who they are.

Globalization brings with it issues of cross-cultural understanding such as international relationships, workforce diversity, ethics, and multicultural communications. It is critical that leaders assist other stakeholders in changing their context from local and/or regional to global. Leaders that know how to get the most out of their people guide protégés in shifting their context to envision worthy goals and move toward their fulfillment. “When a leader sees a circumstance in a larger, more meaningful context and is willing to explain it, that leader is in fact creating the context, calling everyone’s attention to the idea that the context is greater than what first appears.”9. When followers have an understanding of what the organizational context is and are able to put it into perspective, change is inevitable. When others haven’t considered the context that the leadership has considered, they must be properly informed so that they can make sense of it. Helping followers to make sense of the expanding context is the first step towards aligning conflicting values.

It would be difficult for a church to survive with an evangelical ministry and a Pastor that only values praise and worship. Paul states the importance of diffusing conflicting values by warning Timothy of unsound doctrine: “That thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine.” (1 Timothy 1:3). Paul is warning Timothy of heretical teachers but he is also warning contemporary leaders of conflicting values. Flat hierarchies, globalization, and cross-functional teams present new challenges to leaders who must influence people who have different styles or views.10.

Conflicts arise when people cannot make sense of the organization’s values – an employee that values honesty over profits and an organization that values high profits over honesty. When does the employee’s honesty supersede the organizations profitability? Organizations have been deeply wounded by such value conflicts, mostly because employees did not feel they had a forum to discuss these conflicts. An open exchange on values is critical to clarifying the limits of behavior and personal responsibility. “Value commitments, value judgments, value standards, value relationships, and valuational experiences are the day-to-day expression of symbolic human meanings that bring order and significance into human transactions.”11.

Leaders project values into the organization through their perceptions, attitudes, and behavior. A leader’s preferences are also revealed in the attitudes he adopts towards organizational stakeholders. While there will always be differences between leaders and the organizational community regarding levels of importance, creating consensus about key values is an important task. “One of the most important keys to greater effectiveness is a close link between personal and organizational values. A survey by the American Management Association of 1,460 managers and chief executives suggests that an understanding of this relationship will provide new leverage for corporate vitality.”12. Any organization, religious and secular, that wishes to attract the best of tomorrow’s leaders must clarify the linkage between personal and organizational values.

1. 1 Timothy 1:2: This phrase was intended to assert explicitly that Timothy was on of Paul’s own converts; the relationship between them was so strong, that Paul writes as a father would to his own son – A Spiritual Father.

2. Don Clayton, Leadershift: The Work-life Balance Program, (Camberwell: Australian Council for Education Research, 2004), 11.

3. Warren Blank, The 9 Natural Laws of Leadership, (New York: AMACOM Books, 1995), The second natural law of leadership thus explains that the power we call leadership refers to the interaction of leader and follower. Followers are allies who join the leader, and together they create the energy that drives organizations. 10-12.

4. Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal, Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997), 300.

5. Allan R. Cohen, Influence Without Authority 2nd Ed, (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2005, Influence is about trades, exchanging something the other values in return for what you want, 7.

6. John Hoover, Unleashing Leadership, (Franklin Lakes: The Career Press, 2005), 9.

7. Tony Kippenberger, Leadership Express, (Oxford: Capstone Publishing Ltd., 2002), .37.

8. Robert Roosevelt Thomas, Redefining Diversity, (New York: AMACOM Books, 1996), Global diversity allows leaders to “serve the best customers in the world” and would be a lever for gaining competitive advantage. 188.

9. Terry Pearce, Leading Out Loud: Inspiring Change Through Authentic Communication, (San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2003), 94.

10. Allan R. Cohen, Influence Without Authority 2nd Ed, (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2005), 9-10

11. William C. Frederick, Values, Nature, and Culture in the American Corporation, (Cary: Oxford University Press, Inc, 1995), 111.

12. Dennis T. Jaffe, Organizational Vision, Values and Mission, (Menlo Park: Course Technology Crisp, 1993), 22.

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