Leadership in Christian Perspective

Those who have been following this blog for a while understand that my sweet spot is thinking and writing about effective leadership practice from a Christian perspective. This includes engaging both what contemporary research and theory have to say about leadership practice, and bringing this theory and research into conversation with faith-based reflection.

Because of this interest—along with my desire to see people engaging their leadership with purpose and effectiveness—I partnered up with Mark Strauss and Baker Academic to write Leadership in Christian Perspective: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Practices for Servant Leaders.

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In the book, we share 9 practices for empowering leadership. These research-based practices are organize these around three-parts to the book:

  1. Beginning with Authentic and Purposeful Leaders
  2. Understanding the Priority of People
  3. Navigating toward Effectiveness

Here’s want a couple people are saying about the book:

Our fast-moving, chaotic culture demands more of leaders than ever before. In this well-researched book, Justin Irving and Mark Strauss provide deep insight with a helpful framework for anyone who values people and aspires to lead their organization through significant change.” – Ken Cochrum, vice president of Global Digital Strategies, Cru

In Leadership in Christian Perspective, Irving and Strauss intentionally set out on a daunting task to deliver a fully integrated and biblically rooted perspective on Christian leadership. They are thorough and effective in their examination of leadership constructs and carefully highlight the biblical case for each of them. The genius of their work is found in the integration of models and what then emerges. Empowerment becomes the thread that connects them all. Jesus Christ remains the greatest leadership role model, and without question their mission for this work is accomplished. I highly recommend this book to all Christian leaders!” – Tami Heim, president and CEO, Christian Leadership Alliance

If you’re interested in hearing us talk a bit about the book and its main emphases, Mark Strauss and I had a conversation with Bethel’s Peter Vogt on this podcast.

Whether serving as a Christian leader in business, the church, or some other sector, the book is written for you. Take a look in order to better understand how to effectively lead in a manner consistent with biblical foundations and Christian principles.

Top 10 Posts on Purpose in Leadership

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Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I took a bit of time at the beginning of the year to check in on which posts have been the most interesting to readers of Purpose in Leadership the past five years (2014-2018). Two main observations stand out as I consider the Top 10 from this season.

First, the discussion I offer on what the differences are between groups and teams is by far the most viewed post.  This post was viewed well over 5 times more than any other post on the blog in this time period. Understanding the importance of groups and teams, and how they differ, is so important for organizational leaders. I’m glad others have found this helpful.

Second, there continues to be significant interest in the intersection between leadership and communication. Two of the top five posts focus on the types and levels of leadership communication. I often say to students, “Although you can be an effective communicator without being an effective leader, effective communication is foundational to effective leadership.” Others seem to get this as well—effective communication is essential to effective leadership practice.

So here are the Top 10 Posts on Purpose in Leadership. I hope some of these will be an encouragement to you as you reflect on your own leadership practice.

#1.    Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?

#2.    5 Types of Leadership Communication

#3.    9 Effective Leadership Practices

#4.    Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress

#5.    7 Levels of Leadership Communication

#6.    Leading from the Front … Leading with Vision

#7.    Tolstoy on Leadership

#8.    Follower Motivation and Leader Humility

#9.    Let Your Life Speak — How to Understand Your Vocational Call

#10.  37 Barriers to Change

If you found one of these particularly helpful, please share your thoughts below.

People First Leadership: Remembering Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines

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Photo by Anugrah Lohiya on Pexels.com

This past week, Southwest Airlines Founder and Chairman Emeritus Herbert D. Kelleher passed away today at the age of 87.

Kelleher left quite an impression on both the airline industry and on those who worked with him. One of Southwest Airline’s achievements has been 46 years of consecutive profitability due to its approach to steady and responsible growth on behalf of its employees and customers.

The drive for Kelleher and Southwest was not merely financial. It was about people. The airline is known for its commitment to affordable travel for its customers, friendly customer service, and employee-centered servant leadership practices.

Kelleher’s business vision for the company evidenced his deep commitment to caring for employees. When asked on one occasion what Kelleher’s vision was for the company over the next ten years, he replied, “My vision is to keep Southwest Airlines job-secure for our people.” Through the time of Kelleher’s passing, Southwest Airlines has never been in bankruptcy or had a layoff of employees—an amazing claim for the turbulent airline industry.

In a statement posted on Southwest’s website regarding Kelleher’s passing, current Chairman and CEO, Gary Kelly, noted the following about Kelleher’s people-first approach to life and business:

“He inspired people; he motivated people; he challenged people—and, he kept us laughing all the way. He was an exceptionally gifted man with an enormous heart and love for people—all people. We have been beyond blessed to have him as a part of our lives.”

Kelleher provided a model of servant leadership and valuing people. Mark Strauss and I included a bit about Kelleher’s leadership in our upcoming book. Here’s a look at some of this reflection:

“Although most business executives see the general value of their employees, not all executives prioritize people as individuals. Herb Kelleher sought to do to this at Southwest for people at every level of the organization—whether fellow executives or those in line jobs as baggage handlers and mechanics.

At one of the company’s famous spirit parties, surrounded by hundreds of people circling Herb for attention, [Colleen] Barrett tells the story of Herb intently talking with a Southwest mechanic in worker’s clothes for at least fifteen minutes—a long conversation by CEO standards. Barrett writes:

‘Herb never looked over the guy’s shoulder to see who else might be there, and never diverted his eyes from this man while they were talking. Herb was courteous to everyone who was trying to shove the guy out of his space so that they could fill it, but he gave this man his time. It was clear … that Herb had no hierarchical concerns—he was completely interested in what the Mechanic was trying to tell him.’”

As you think through your own leadership, what cues might you take from Herb Kelleher? Share your thoughts below.

Priority #1: Servant Leadership and Follower Focus

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Photo Credit: Focus, by ihtatho, Flickr

Last week I shared my 4 Top Leadership Priorities.These priorities are central to what I teach others about leadership in classes, and these priorities inform how I want to lead personally.

In this post, I want to settle in on the first priority identified in that post: Servant Leadership and Follower Focus.

Greenleaf on Servant Leadership

Robert K. Greenleaf was one of the first people to write about servant leadership in the contemporary literature. Although it is easily argued that servant leadership has ancient roots, I’m grateful for voices like Greenleaf who brought attention to the practice of servant leadership in the context of modern organizations. Here is one look at Greenleaf’s priorities:

“The servant-leader is servant first…. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first…. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?”

Greenleaf was working out his approach to leadership in the context of AT&T at the time of these reflections. Others have gone on to engage this “servant first” approach to leadership in diverse organizational sectors since then. At the core of this servant first approach to leadership is the focus leaders place on follwers.

In my own dissertation research, I discovered that servant leadership practices are not only a good idea, but that they also are effective. Here are a few resources that point such findings: (IJLS Journal Article; PIL blog series). 

The Core of Servant Leadership is Follower Focus

What differentiates servant leadership from other approaches to leadership? The short answer is “follower focus.”

Stone, Russell, and Patterson put it this way:

“The principal difference between transformational leadership and servant leadership is the focus of the leader…. The overriding focus of the servant leader is upon service to their followers…. The stress of servant leadership is upon the leader’s aim to serve. This desire to serve people supersedes organizational objectives. Servant leadership is a belief that organizational goals will be achieved on a long-term basis only by first facilitating the growth, development, and general well-being of the individuals who comprise the organization.”

In a previous post, I expressed this concept in the following manner:

While the organization as a whole needs to be externally focused (serving its customers, constituents, or mission), the primary focus of the leader must be on serving and caring for the followers who are directly responsible for fulfilling the organization’s mission.

At the end of the day, servant leaders care deeply about organizations meeting their goals. However, this commitment starts with care for and focus on followers.


 

When you consider your own approach to leadership and where your focus lies, where do followers fit into your primary commitments?

When honestly answered, are followers viewed primarily as a means to organizational ends, or are followers at the core of your leadership commitments, and thus valued primarily for who they are rather than simply what they contribute?

In my next post, I’ll turn my attention to the second leadership priority that further connects follower focus to organizational transformation and goal attainment.

As always, I love to hear your thoughts. Please share them below.

Harnessing the Hope of Humility: Timeless Wisdom for Today

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Photo Credit: basin, by Flood G., Flickr

In seasons of political posturing, humility rarely is modeled by current and aspiring politicians. But into such seasons, the hope of humility stands in stark contrast and calls for us to harness this hope for the good of our communities

In this post, let’s journey back to the time of Jesus Christ in order to explore the timeless wisdom of servant-hearted humility.

A Mother’s Request

Nearly 2000 years ago, a mother motivated by love for her boys made a request. She asked Jesus to allow her sons to sit in the places of honor at His right and left in His kingdom. As might be expected, the other ten disciples did not look favorably on this parental power play.

But Jesus harnessed the occasion as an opportunity to teach a kingdom reality: “You know that the 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” (Matthew 20:25-26).

We find here a profound reality in Jesus’ teaching—humility in the form of service is at the heart of leadership in the economy of Jesus. One of my colleagues notes that at its heart, this passage is calling leaders to positions of low status and high service.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

The low status & high service motif of Jesus was not mere rhetoric, however. Jesus lived and modeled this principle. Take, for instance, one of the most powerful sermons ever—the sermon preached with a basin and a towel.

In John 13, we find Jesus at a Passover feast with His disciples. With divine audacity, Jesus rises from the meal, wraps a towel around his waist, and stoops low, with heavenly humility, as He begins to wash His disciples’ feet. We see in this amazing account the words of Jesus made alive: “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus lived the kingdom principle of low status & high service.

The Hope of Humility

The timeless teaching of Jesus that modeled and called His followers to leadership marked by low status and high service stands in stark contrast the inverted high status and low service motif modeled by so many leaders in our day. What such leaders fail to realize, however, is that in the case of humble service it is not only good wisdom but also good business.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great asks, “What catapults a company from merely good to truly great?” His answer is refreshing—leaders who combine fierce resolve and humility are key.

It’s often viewed as counter-intuitive. Usually humility is associated with pushovers rather than leaders of great companies. But amazing as this is, biblical humility is just what the cultural and corporate doctors have ordered.

Harnessing the Hope of Humility

So how is the hope of humility to be harnessed?  Let me offer three “prescriptions.”

Prescription 1: Be an Apprentice in the School of Humility

The first prescription is to be an apprentice in the School of Humility. Humility is by its very nature something that is learned through participation. 2 Chronicles 7:14 calls us to this apprentice-like participation: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Harnessing the hope of humility begins as a participating apprentice.

Prescription 2: Follow the Man from Galilee

In the School of Humility, our apprenticeship is under the Master Practitioner—Jesus, the servant from Galilee. When Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, He called them to a life-trajectory of humble service saying, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Following the Master Servant furthers a harnessing of the hope of humility.

Prescription 3: Go to the Grace

The final prescription is simply this: Go to the grace. In 1 Peter 5:5, Peter writes, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Do you wish to harness the hope of humility?  Go to God’s graceful place of humility. You’ll be glad you did.


 

It’s difficult to imagine how one person’s actions of humility and service could change the course of history, but this is exactly what happened through the life of Jesus as He began to turn the world right side up. Applying these prescriptions will help us begin the process of aligning the course of our lives with His. Applying these prescriptions will help us to harness the hope of humility.

#5 … Top 10 Posts from 2015 — 9 Effective Leadership Practices

 

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Number Nine, by Mario Klingemann, Flickr

In a previous post I shared some observations on my top blogs posts from 2015. In the coming weeks I will be taking time both to share new content and to share some of the top viewed posts from the past year.

The #5 post from 2015 was …

9 Effective Leadership Practices

Servant leadership is a good idea. The core of servant leadership is about leaders placing follower needs at the highest priority level. Most would agree this is a good idea. The question many do raise, however, is whether or not this good idea is also effective?

Thankfully social science research methods can help us. One of the benefits of social science research is its capacity to confirm the utility or effectiveness of practices that are inherently valid philosophically or biblically.

Good Ideas that Work

For instance we do not need research to inform us that humility is important for individuals and leaders; this is an argument that may be made practically, philosophically and biblically. The validity and importance of humility may be argued apart from research. However, research can come alongside logic and experience to confirm the utility or effectiveness of an idea like humility. This is what was found by Jim Collins in his research on Level Five Leaders. Not only is leader humility ethically-good and biblically-consistent as an idea—an argument that may be made biblically, philosophically, and practically—Jim Collins found through research that leader humility is also effective.

Here’s a link to the Purpose in Leadership #5 post from 2015:

9 Effective Leadership Practices

#10 … Top Posts from 2015 — Strategic Foresight

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Photo Credit: In the middle of nowhere, by Brian Koprowski, Flickr

In a previous post I shared some observations on my top blogs posts from 2015. In the coming weeks I will be taking time both to share new content and to share some of the top viewed posts from the past year.

The #10 post from 2015 was …

Strategic Foresight:
The Past, Present, and Future Focus of Leadership

This was one of two posts on strategy that made the top ten in 2015. In the article, I argue that in light of the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world we live in, it is a mandate for leaders to learn from the past and present and look to the future with strategic foresight.

Strategic Foresight

Clarity and foresight are essential leadership characteristics. Organizations and teams need leaders who can see clearly in the midst of confusing organizational and environmental realities.

THE VUCA WORLD

We are increasingly experiencing what some refer to as a “VUCA” world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. More than ever, we need leaders with vision, clarity, and foresight.

What do leaders need to do in light of such a world?

Read more about the need for leaders to engage with strategic foresight in Purpose in Leadership’s #10 post from 2015. Here’s the link to continue reading…

Strategic Foresight:
The Past, Present, and Future Focus of Leadership