My social media feeds are filled with stories of leaders. Stories about political leaders like Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren, and Vladimir Putin. Stories about business leaders like Tim Cook, Marissa Mayer, and Mark Zuckerberg. Some praise the leader as exactly the kind of person needed. Others are highly critical. In each case, the author uses a set of criteria to judge the leader as good or bad, but most of those criteria have little to do with the degree to which the leader honors God. Don’t get me wrong—you can’t be a good, Christian leader if you’re not a good leader. But as Christians, we’re called to something more than just being able to lead effectively.
What does leadership that honors God look like? What does it mean to be a godly supervisor in your workplace? The answer is complicated, of course. The Bible has a number of examples of good and bad leadership from God’s perspective. I want to focus specifically on the hearts of those who supervisor others. Three attitudes define how supervisors can glorify God as they relate to their subordinates—service, respect, and mercy.
In Mark 10:35-45, James and John ask for authority over the other apostles. Look at Jesus’ reaction as He explains His approach to leadership: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
Since the 1970’s, servant leadership has become a popular buzzword. How does that work in the “real” world? First, it’s a mindset that says I’m not better than the people around me. Regardless of your title, it’s recognizing you need Jesus, just like everyone else in your organization.
Second, being a servant means the humility to place others’ needs, ideas, and opinions ahead of your own. It’s surrendering the superiority that can come with being a supervisor. In major decisions, do you encourage significant feedback from others? When someone has a new idea, do you accept that their idea might have merit, even if it breaks from “the way we’ve always done things”?
Of course, as a supervisor, it’s easy to say to yourself, “well, I’ve got more experience than they do,” or “they just don’t understand the big picture.” Think about James’ and John’s positions—they were among Jesus’ closest followers! The inner circle. If anyone deserved to be the greatest in His kingdom, surely it was them. Just because you have a dominant position doesn’t mean you can dominate the people around you.
In Ephesians 6, Paul instructs slaves to respect and obey their masters. He then turns to masters and says “Masters, treat your slaves in the same way.” That relates to supervisors and employees in our society. Treat your subordinates with respect. Treat them with the same respect you desire from others because God is over both you and them. Having a higher position in your organization doesn’t get you any favor with God. In fact, supervisors have an even greater responsibility to treat others with respect because of their position. When Job was confronted by his friends over some sin they assumed he was hiding, he defended himself by listing sins of which he was innocent. Look at Job 31:13-14. “If I have denied justice to my menservants and maidservants when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me?” God expects you to show respect to your subordinates. Why? Job says the same thing as Paul: “Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?”
Perhaps the hardest part of being a Christian supervisor is knowing how to balance high standards with grace. The master in Matthew 25 who entrusted talents to three servants had high standards—look at what happened to the third servant! The man with one talent was timid because he knew the master expected a lot.
On the other hand, the parable of the unmerciful servant is convicting. The master forgave his servant a huge debt because the servant couldn’t pay it. The servant then found someone who owed a relatively small sum and demanded payment. Jesus condemns the “middle manager” for showing no mercy to the other servant. We’ve been forgiven a tremendous debt. Do we pounce on those around us who make mistakes? Remember the debt Jesus paid for you. How do we have high standards but still practice mercy?
Part of that is remembering your subordinates are human. Yes, we can acknowledge that on one level, but sometimes, it’s easy to forget we all make mistakes. It’s easy to expect everyone around us to be perfect. You might say, “I don’t expect people to be perfect, but they ought to at least be reasonable.” What you mean is you expect them to be reasonable all the time. Basically, you’d like them to be perfectly reasonable. But remember they’re human. Show mercy to the people around you when they make mistakes. People do quality work, but underneath everything, we’re all sinners in need of a Savior. For me, it helps to remember my own mistakes. Pray for your subordinates. Maintain high standards, but look for ways to show grace when others don’t meet those standards.
These three attitudes—service, respect toward subordinates, and mercy—are countercultural. They may not help the bottom line. They may not earn you the respect of your peers. But they are three attitudes that honor God in your workplace.
This article was used with permission from crosswalk.com.