I was teaching Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to a group of Christian executives.
The attendees were gathered from various locations throughout Europe. I took my usual approach to present the topic, explaining that leaders who adjust their behavior to the needs of those they lead – self-regulation – are better at motivating others. I demonstrated through research and several true stories that this leadership behavior often generates a greater level of worker satisfaction that results in a higher level of productivity for the organization.
As I labored on, Branko, who grew up under the communist regime in Serbia, became visibly agitated. He knows well the communist philosophy, tactics, and terminology of motivation. Finally, when he could no longer endure my presentation, he raised his hand and blurted out, “Your approach to Christian leadership is severely flawed. Your teaching implies that our ultimate motivation for practicing self-regulation is to get more productivity out of people so that the leaders and their organizations can be more successful.”
“Yes,” I said “that’s correct.” Do you have a problem with that?”
“Yes,” Branko said, “I have a big problem with that. The kind of leadership you are proposing is virtually the same as the ‘carrot and stick’ approach that our communist dictators have used for decades to oppress the masses.”
Wow! What an indictment.
He said, “The kind of leadership you are proposing is virtually the same as the ‘carrot and stick’ approach that our communist dictators used for decades to oppress the masses.” That conversation changed my whole perspective on leadership.
My “if-it-works-it-must-be-right” orientation toward leadership
From my western, “if-it-works-it-must-be-right” orientation toward leadership, I could see nothing wrong with my teaching. But slowly Branko unraveled my arguments, and helped me to see that our ultimate motivation for leading changes everything. If my end game as a leader is to get more production out of those I lead, then I’ll use self-regulation, a hammer, or any other device that works. And what’s more, I’ll stop using any device if it doesn’t produce the desired production in my followers.
Jesus’ approach was radically different in that his ultimate motive for leading people was to help them reach their highest Kingdom potential. For Jesus, his vision to “build the church” was a high priority on his agenda, but progress toward that goal was always a by-product of this fundamental commitment to the development of his followers. This is revolutionary.
These days I still teach the benefits of self-regulation to leaders, but from a completely different perspective. Leaders are certainly accountable for results, and skills like self-regulation are helpful, but with one major twist: our primary role is to help those we lead be all that God wants them to be. That’s radical, and it’s risky. But as a Christ-centered leader, it’s just the right thing to do.
Photo Credit: Bruce Thomson