Show Trust to Earn Trust

I started this weekly devotional to bring the scriptures together with information about leadership. Over the years I have diverged from the original goal but have kept true to bringing the scriptures to whomever might read this. This week, we’ll talk about trustworthiness which has become an interesting topic in American politics. In my life’s various roles, I am entrusted with very confidential information that I cannot always disclose. Other times, I have to “play my cards close to the vest” until I know who I’m dealing with. I am often a very trusting individual and have had that trust taken advantage of, so I tend to be cautious. When you are in a leadership position, the stakes are often much higher when it comes to establishing and maintaining trust.

I have always believed that sometimes you must show trust to earn trust. It is a leadership principle that I learned early in my career. Whether you are leading people or organizations, trust will never follow you if people don’t believe you and they will not trust you unless you trust them first. The subject of leadership has been written about for decades and there are a number of personal characteristics that impact a leader’s effectiveness; trustworthiness is just one characteristic. No matter what role you serve at work or at home, you are leading someone – formally or not. Keep in mind that you are either being a positive or negative example for others because someone is always watching what you do and say.

 “Here is a trustworthy saying: whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.” 1 Timothy 3:1

It takes a lot of courage to step into a leadership role. The whole debate about “are leaders born or are they created” fails to recognize the courage component. If someone steps into a leadership position without a little fear, they are stepping on thin ice. I’ve said before that leading is a privilege and an honor that we should not take lightly. People are putting their faith in that person and in some professions, their lives. Leading is more than telling others what to do or having a rank/title. Leaders are accepting the faith that others are placing in them. It is a noble task. 

Timothy is describing those who wish to lead the church and he is reminding them that it isn’t about the power and prestige that comes with it but the honor and responsibility that does. Jesus knew His role as the leader of the disciples. He knew what God was asking of Him and gladly accepted His fate. He charged us to be “fishers of men” by teaching us how to live better lives, to be examples for others to follow but most importantly, to rely on God for the wisdom and strength to carry out our daily lives. Leadership is a noble task and it is not to be taken lightly. People are putting faith in you. Rely on God for your wisdom and strength and you will always have their faith. 

Servant

Recently, I’ve been asked about my leadership style and I always answer that I subscribe to the principles of Servant Leadership, a leadership style developed by Robert Greenleaf in 1977. Since that time a number of researchers have tried to define the attributes of what a Servant Leader “looks like”. For me, the answer was simple – Jesus Christ. However, the business world needed more. Skip Prichard (2013) posted a unique summary of many of the scholarly attributes that he believes summarizes the leaders using Servant Leadership: 

  1. Values diverse opinions
  2. Cultivates a culture of trust
  3. Develops other leaders
  4. Helps people with life issues
  5. Encourages
  6. Sells instead of tells
  7. Thinks you, not me
  8. Thinks long-term
  9. Acts with humility

The attributes of the Servant Leadership model focus the leader on the needs of the employee. When the organization’s goals are aligned with the employee’s and each individual understands his/her role and the expectations placed on them, the organization is set-up for success. It made me think about how we treat each other and how leaders influence other people. Throughout my 35 plus years in government, I’ve seen and heard about some pretty wild working environments. Today’s workforce expects this type of leadership and no matter where you sit in your career – leader or follower, after seeing this list I hope you agree. As I filed away this little bit of research on the subject, I wanted to share how we all could apply the principles of servant leadership to our lives.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

When I’m asked about Jesus as a servant, my first thought always goes to the night of the last supper when He washed the feet of His disciples; nothing says servant like washing feet. We’ve all heard the story about Jesus feeding of the thousands at a wedding. What we often fail to remember about this “story” was that as that event ended, the people were asking Jesus to be their King. He wanted nothing to do with it and left immediately. 

Jesus did not come into this world to be served. Everything we read about Jesus is how he served others – healing the sick, feeding the hungry, turning water to wine at the wedding and teaching everyone the true meaning of the words His Father had written in the scriptures. The most important part of this verse is this: He came to “give His life as ransom for many.” He understood that and continued to serve others until His work was done. No matter what our place in life is, we can be comforted in the fact that Jesus died for us – a final act of Servant Leadership. We are forgiven through him.

All Authority has been given to me

Delegating is one of the greatest personal timesaving things a leader can do but it can also be one of the greatest developmental opportunities a leader can give to one of their people. When you delegate work to someone, you are typically delegating the decision-making authority, but you remain responsible for the decisions that are made, even in your absence. They have the authority, but you still have the responsibility. We had the family video game “Shrek”, based on the popular movie. One of the characters in the movie frequently said – “choose wisely”; and when I delegated tasked to my people, I was bound by that advice too. There are several benefits to using delegation as a professional development tool – it allows the leader to do more, and it increases the morale, confidence and productivity of the subordinates. Having been the recipient of delegated tasks, I can attest to the growth that I experienced because someone delegated to me. 

It is important for the leader to pick people who are ready for the added work – set them up for success. Leaders need to give them the freedom to complete the job but enough follow-up to keep the task on target, have a clear set of goals while being consistent in your oversight and, never delegate projects that YOU are absolutely supposed to do. When a delegated task is completed, take the time to review the project with them to see how they felt it went, what they learned and what they might do differently but most importantly, praise them for their work; no matter what improvements need to be made. 

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18

This verse makes me wonder what the disciples thought when they heard this. They knew that Jesus was special but to hear Him declare His authority must have been powerful. The difference between this declaration and delegation is that God did not delegate His decision-making (power) to Jesus – He was in Him. The Lutheran Church teaches “With the universal Christian Church, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod teaches and responds to the love of the Triune God: the Father, creator of all that exists; Jesus Christ, the Son, who became human to suffer and die for the sins of all human beings and to rise to life again in the ultimate victory over death and Satan; and the Holy Spirit, who creates faith through God’s Word and Sacraments. The three persons of the Trinity are coequal and coeternal, one God.” (lcms.org) 

There is no delegation here. Jesus needed to tell the disciples that He had the authority. It wasn’t until after His death that they began to understand the meaning of what He was saying. This authority allowed Jesus to cast out demons, heal the sick and raise the dead. And despite all of this, people still mocked Him and eventually killed Him. I would suggest, looking back at my comment about what the disciples thought about this, in retrospect; with Jesus’ help, the disciples spent time understanding all that they had learned with Him in the days before His ascension. They surely had an increase in their morale, the confidence to go on and improved productivity in sharing the good news of Christ.

Focus

My business partner and I provide strategic planning consulting services for local governments. We use a slightly different approach to the traditional planning process where, instead of focusing on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, we talk about strategic focus areas and the principles that guide them. Every community or organization has them. Sometimes they are found in mission or value statements but often they are representative of the things important to the community. For example, every city, no matter its size, will focus on fiscal sustainability and transparency. In the past, strategic planning often focused on dreaming big – “what would we do if nothing stood in our way” thinking. In today’s reality, there are plenty of things to get in the way, so we ask our clients what is it that they are focused on and what principles are they based in. 

People, for the most part, can be the same – what are you focused on and what principles are those focused areas based in. Ask yourself, what am I focused on? How do you spend your time and what do you get from it? I’m not suggesting that if you spend your time watching TV for a couple hours at night and you’re not getting anything out of it and that you should stop; I am suggesting that if ALL you do is watch TV when you aren’t at work, perhaps you can focus some time elsewhere. Once you determine what you are focused on, you can start to drill in to why you do it and how you will do it. Bringing these things into perspective can help guide the choices that you make.

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured on the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

Talk about focus, Jesus had to keep His eye on where He was heading. Satan tried to blur Jesus’ focus when he tempted Him for 40 days. When God’s plan for His death was revealed to Him, Jesus remained focused on His goal of saving the lost. Even as He carried His own cross, Jesus remained focused on the goal of joining His Father in Heaven and defeating the devil once and for all. There were plenty of things to distract Him – fame, power, faithful disciples and the broken moral structure of the society that He lived in; yet Jesus remained focused. 

His strategic focus was saving the world and He based that focus on the guiding principles established by God – the Ten Commandments. Because of His focus, we can drill in to being good and faithful servants. Jesus took with Him, in His death, our sin and the guilt of breaking these principles. This freedom from sin allows us to focus on the teachings of Jesus and the Word of God. We can find our daily principles spelled out in the bible and maintain our focus on God. Spend some time reinforcing those principles and make time with God a strategic focus area.

Attitude

There are a number of things that make us who we are; attitude, education, experiences, families, goals, faith and the list goes on. Last week I talked about suffering and how that affects us too. I love to people watch whenever we go out; it’s a huge source of entertainment. I often say that people are strange creatures, and the human psyche never fails to amaze me. The way we react to things or the way that we think is always interesting. I started to wonder about myself and if I’m just as crazy as everyone else – the answer is yes. I find that I’m really flexible and diplomatic with a significant segment of the people that I encounter every day. Then, I become this stubborn, crabby old man on the flip side. I try to be consistent and predictable, so people don’t have to guess which “Bill” is showing up. There are so many things that affect my attitude or outlook on the issues in my life. 

All of us juggle multiple roles – spouse, boss, worker, leader, follower, friend, brother or sister, neighbor, etc. Knowing how to respond can be the difference between being the hero or the zero. I often try to be more humble than not and the peacekeeper rather the pot stirrer. I’m constantly searching for the middle of the road. “Fair” comes out of my mouth often. As I prepared to write this, I found myself doing a personal inventory of sorts. I wondered how all of these traits come across when someone watches me. I know I’m just as crazy as the next guy, filled with idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. I would encourage you to take some time to consider your attitude about life and how others perceive you. Do you like what you see? What can you do to change it? What should you keep doing? What do you want to achieve?

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:5-11 

Wow! No pressure here – your attitude should be same as Jesus’. We have often told our kids that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time and this tall order is no different. In His usual wisdom, God has given us the directions on how to that as well. He gave us a four-step process to keep our attitudes in check.1) Do not consider yourself equal to God or even pretend to understand why He does the things that He does. It is too big to grasp. We must accept that He is doing what is in our best interests and in His own time. 2) Be a servant. Jesus was the ultimate servant and led others through His willingness to serve. He was a lowly carpenter who made things for other people. You can’t underestimate the power of servitude, so serve others with pride.

3) Do not take yourself too seriously. Humility is a strong character trait that is often confused with being shy. Being humble means that you’d be willing to wash the feet of someone else, nothing is too small of a job. You are not better than anyone else. 4) Jesus is your savior. Your salvation is found in Him and not through anything that you can do. You don’t have to worry about never being good enough or never doing enough; God took care of that for you. Jesus was exalted to the highest place after cleansing us from all sin. You can live your life of faith confident in your salvation and life everlasting. If that doesn’t give you a positive attitude, I can’t imagine what will. 

God is Light

I just finished reading a couple of leadership articles from different sources. One was about Servant Leadership – leading others to greatness through service to them. I have been a long-time believer in Servant Leadership and believe that it is just as important a concept today as it was when I heard about it 30 years ago. When you serve others, you become a light to them. The old, autocratic leader is a life crushing way to be led.  The basic premise with an autocrat is that the employee lacks motivation, doesn’t understand their job well and needs constant over watch. Its roots are in the military when orders were given and followed without question. The result today is a dark workplace filled with uninspired employees.

Servant Leadership switches the focus to the employee through empowerment, trust and faith in them. When an employee underperforms, they are coached back to success. Leaders in this type of environment are not served by their employees; instead they serve the employees. Southwest Airlines has been operating under this philosophy for over 40 years and they have been pretty successful. If you are not in a leadership position, you can still be a servant leader to your coworkers. Think about parenting for minute, you are serving your children constantly (driving to practice, helping with homework, teaching life skills, etc.) and providing a living example of being there for them. How do you relate to the other people in your life? Are you a giver or a taker? This world is exhausting and having someone take care of you may sound peaceful, but I believe that you will be more satisfied helping others achieve their goals than you will be if you are being catered to. 

5 “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:5-7

I urge you to let verse 5 sweep peace over your mind – “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” The world events over the past month is about all that a normal person can handle. The political fighting in the U.S, the war in Ukraine, the mass shootings that we are now numb too and the lingering effects of the pandemic are just a few of the stresses that we have faced recently. Most of us have personal issues to deal with at the same as everything else. Perhaps it’s a medical diagnosis, a job loss, financial problems, relationship issues; the list can go on and on. From the sound of things, there is no light anywhere in this world. The world is a dark place and we need God to provide us light.

We know from these verses and many more that with God there is no darkness. Sure, there is a lot of shade but there is no darkness. When we are in the dark, we are often afraid, confused and uncertain. Our senses change as we adjust to the dark, but we remain uncertain and afraid because we are not in control of our physical space. We never know when we will trip on something, bump into a wall or fall down. God is light! We walk in it all the time. We have comfort and peace in God’s light that we get through our fellowship with each other and with Him. This cleansing from all sin comes through our faith in Jesus Christ, who’s blood was shed for us. Go boldly into the world with the light of God shining all around you.

Created to do Good Works

“Service Before Self”, is one of the core values of the US Air Force. I would see this posted in just about every military installation that I worked on regardless of the branch. We haven’t been seeing much of this these days, but the world has changed the past two years. All of us serve someone at some point in our day and usually throughout our lives. As parents, we serve our kids, as spouses we serve our mate and as employees we serve customers – either internal or external to the company. Even leaders have people that they serve. A leader should be someone who is serving those that follow them; the concept known as servant leadership. By making their followers stronger, servant leaders build up their staff and work to make them successful. There are people in leadership positions who wrongfully believe that since they are in this place of “power” that people should be serving them. A true leader is more concerned about how they can support and help those that follow them.

Ken Blanchard has written extensively about servant leadership. Unfortunately, we see people every day who are simply serving themselves. The millennium generation grew up watching the greed of Wall Street and “leaders” serving their own interests. If anyone else benefited, well, that was just extra. So, who are you serving? I would suggest putting your focus on others and see what comes of it. I have benefited from a number of mentors in my life and I have also played that role for others. It is immensely satisfying and rewarding to help others when there is nothing to be gained.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

St. Paul wrote a lot about serving others in his letters, focusing much of his attention on humility. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds them to be humble proclaiming, “I came to you in weakness and fear”. He was asking them to serve others with humility too. Using Jesus as our example, ask yourself, how did He show humility for us? The first thing that comes to my mind is the washing of His disciple’s feet at the last supper. The leader of the group, the leader of the heavens washed feet. Jesus was serving us!

The Son of God and God Himself was serving us so that we would see his example of a “good life”. God has prepared the good works for us. He has set the course, put people in our lives and us in the lives of others so that we could execute the plan He has for us. God has prepared these good works for us in advance; they aren’t chance but these opportunities are given to us to do God’s work. We are not put here to do our works or to be boastful. My apologies to the Air Force but “Service Before Self” really came from God. It was demonstrated to us by Jesus and now we must humble ourselves to serve others, just as God planned. 

Yes, I missed last week

Well, it took more than 10 years for me to miss a week. I’ve missed a Monday before but never a whole week. Even when I travel, I try to write before I leave but not last week – I missed it entirely. We were on a cruise, and I relaxed so much that when I realized that I hadn’t posted anything, it was way too late into the week. I’d be a hypocrite if I started making excuses; so, I won’t. If you missed my weekly devotion, then I guess my work is having an impact. Without further ado… 

“Do what I say, not what I do” is an old expression used to describe a hypocrite. We seem to be hearing a lot from people these days that go out in public and profess one thing but then are caught doing another. How about these examples: the politician who talks about decency and moral values while carrying on affair with a young staffer or the Hollywood star who supports equality but is being accused of harassing women. What about us as parents or supervisors? Does hypocrisy exist in your life? Do you text and drive but tell your kids to leave their phones in their pockets? We see supervisors telling their staff to be productive but watch them take two hour lunches and then spend the afternoon reading about their fantasy football team. 

As we enter tax preparation season in the U.S., let’s consider this – is stealing wrong? If so, why is it okay to cheat on your taxes? All of us will tell those in our lives that we love them but do we do anything that shows them that we do? We can all go around and tell people to do things or tell them how to live their lives but we need to be ready to do the same things we tell others to do. We often hear people tell us what to do or what is expected of us and yet we fail to follow their direction because its silly or we don’t agree with it. Imagine how you would react if you found out that someone ignored what you asked them to do. It’s a matter of honesty, we should do as we say or do as we are asked. When does personal freedom end and anarchy begin?

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22

“I go to church on Sunday, why do I need to read the Bible during the week?” “I’m a good Christian. I give money to charities and donate my time when I can”. How often have you heard these phrases or even said them? Many Bible studies examine the concept of discipleship. One definition of disciple is a learner or growing in faith and knowledge. I often discuss the idea of being in God’s Word on a regular basis. 

I am frequently reminded of a conversation that I had with someone who was struggling. I said that when you go to church, you are getting God on you and when you participate in the Sacrament of Communion that you are getting God in you. Studying the Word of God and putting it into practice is another way to get God in you. While this theory of mine is not based in sound theology, to me it makes sense. Becoming one with God is what He desires most for us. The Bible is full of instructions for us about how to live our lives but if we don’t know what the Bible says, then we can’t follow it very well. Take time to start studying the Word given to us by God and then put those words into action. God has begun His good work in you; help Him by being a part of the work, you can’t lose. 

Who’s Responsible?

“Who’s responsible for this?” Most everyone shivers when they hear those words. Responsibility can often be a huge burden. We are given it through our job/position and sometimes we just take it upon ourselves. If you are the boss then you are always responsible for the things that happen in your area. If you are a parent, you too are responsible for everything that happens around your house. We all have responsibilities to something or someone and these responsibilities usually weigh us down. There are days when we don’t feel like being in charge or always being responsible, it’s natural. As a leader, you are always leading your people. You don’t get to say “I’m not feeling it today” or give away your responsibilities; we just can’t do it. 

No matter what you do or what position you hold; people count on you. Think about the people that you count on every day, in every setting or circumstance. You are one of those people to someone else. We are responsible to each other; the key is also being accountable to them. There’s an old saying that one “oh no!” wipes out ten “atta boys”. Go out and make this a great week for yourself and those that you are responsible to and those that you are responsible for. See how contagious a little responsibility can be and demonstrate what accountability looks like. Own your actions, your promises and your words.

For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; it is he who will save us.” Isaiah 33:22

Today’s verse is from the Old Testament, a time before Jesus Christ. Think about how the world was during that time period and the chaos that consumed everyone. I imagine it to be a very scary time to live in: between the wars, slavery, punishments, Kings and Rulers not to mention that God was not very happy with His people. No one was taking responsibility for themselves or their actions. Isaiah was trying to tell the people who really was in charge of their lives. 

No one but the Lord was responsible for all of these things; not a single King was in control, the Lord was. Yet still, no one was listening, and people continued to ignore their responsibilities. The Lord is our Judge, our lawgiver and our King and He saved us through His Son Jesus Christ. It was God who took responsibility for our salvation and sent His Son to us. It was Jesus who took the responsibility to live a perfect life, to teach us how to live and even accepted the responsibility of paying for our sins. God gave us the laws but Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection took away our failures to follow the laws (sin). It was God who held Jesus accountable for our sins and yet, He granted each of us eternal life through faith in Him. We can count on Him to be with us in our journey here on earth; He’ll never say “I’m not felling it today”.

Thankfulness

Thanksgiving was last week and I felt another devotion on thankfulness was fitting. Leaders are in the position to influence the lives of those that work for them, those they work with and occasionally, those who they work for, especially if you are in middle management. Regardless of our roles in life, we are often so busy trying to juggle all of our priorities that sometimes we forget to say thank you. If we are in a leadership position, it is only because people follow us. If they are following us because they have to, well, we are simply just managing them. If we are true leaders, we are influencing people’s lives each day by what we say and do. If the people who work for you are truly following you, they will alter their perceptions, attitudes, knowledge and behaviors all because of you. 

Last week I suggested that you pick someone who makes your life just a little easier and say thank you to them. I’d like to suggest that you also say thanks to the team that follows you. Tell them about the great work they do and how it impacts your business, then tell your coworkers how great it is to work with them and what they do to support you and then thank your boss for what he or she does for you personally and how you’ve grown from your experience working for them. Even if your boss is horrible, you are still learning something. Don’t let this Thanksgiving time slip away without thanking those that make your workdays a little more bearable. As a leader, it’s important for your people to know that you notice and that you care.

8Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. 9Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.  1 Chronicles 16:8-9

We are taught that when we pray, we should give thanks to God for all that he’s done for us. Even if you are struggling right now, God is with you making you stronger. We often pray when we need something or are worried but how often do we pray just to give thanks? We see people accepting awards or scoring points in a sporting event point to the heavens as if to say “thanks to you God”. We don’t have to wait until we win an award or score a touchdown; everyday is reason to celebrate.

Today’s verse reminds us to tell others what God has done for us: “tell of all his wonderful acts.” The greatest thing that God has done for us is to send us a Savior, someone to intercede on our behalf with God so that our sins are forgiven. Jesus Christ taught us how to live, how to treat each other and how to be saved from ourselves. He is a great leader and deserves our thanks. Today, tell God how thankful you are for everything in your life and ask for the courage to spread to the word.