Throughout my research on how to infuse Christian faith into daily work, I study concepts of servant and spiritual leadership as well as the fruit of the Spirit to examine if these concepts really apply to the workplace, especially a secular workplace. Each time I do a study, I find that they more than relate. They can predict such desired workplace outcomes such as employee engagement, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment.
Some attributes of servant leadership include agapao love, humility, altruism, vision, service, trust and empowerment. I have also studied spiritual leadership concepts of altruistic love, faith/hope, vision, inner life, meaningful work and sense of community. And, when using the fruit of the Spirit, I examine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Each of these concepts can be measured to see if it relates to and/or predicts the desired workplace outcome. They can also be taught.
This article is part one of a three-part diary to demonstrate how an employee can integrate their Christian faith in the workplace, whether it is a Christian workplace or not. In this article, we will focus on servant leadership and the key attributes of agapao love, humility, altruism, vision, service, trust and empowerment. This article will demonstrate how to test to see which items relate to your specific workplace and will break down each of the seven characteristics to demonstrate how to live them out in your daily life.
Servant Leadership Assessment Index
The Servant Leadership Assessment Index by Dennis and Bocarnea (see References, below) is a 42-item survey that can be used with your team. This is an easy assessment to pair with another survey to examine the relationship for whatever desired workplace outcome. In 2016, I conducted a study on servant leadership and employee engagement. I found that all seven constructs related to engagement and the act of serving predicted engagement among the department of 36 people. This type of research clearly communicates which characteristic to start with. After providing the report to senior leaders, I was asked to coach, mentor and train the team on how to serve one another. She intentionally worked to develop a culture where agapao love, humility, altruism, vision, service, trust and empowerment were displayed daily. If you don’t have the capacity to survey your larger team, you can skip that part and easily begin by focusing on all seven items on purpose in your daily work.
Love One Another
The Great Commandment calls us to love God and love others (Matthew 22:36-40). When teaching people in the workplace to love one another, I look for simple actions such as talk to one another, know the names of your co-workers and their family members, inquire about their hobbies, and have real conversation to talk about their life. Love is also displayed with empathy, care, and concern. Love is also shown while walking with one another through difficult times and rejoicing with each other during good times. If someone is going through a hard time, pray for/with them, pitch in and help with their work, and offer a listening ear. If only one piece of advice is gleaned from this article, it should be that the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). In all of my research, love is always a significant predictor variable of any desired workplace outcome.
Jim Collins wrote that great leaders have humility, doubt, and drive. If you are a leader, are you humble? Using the Servant Leadership Assessment Index could give you a baseline of how humble your team thinks you are. In general, when your department does well, do you take credit for their hard work or do you offer credit where it is due? If a failure occurs on your team, do you take the brunt of the punishment and protect your team, or do you point fingers to your follower? Humility is a character trait mentioned in the Bible many times (Colossians 3:12, Ephesians 4:2, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).
The best example of altruistic love is the unconditional love Jesus shows by dying for our sins so that we can be in heaven for eternity. An altruistic person gives of their finances, influence, skills and time without expecting anything in return. They also share their experience and wisdom. So often, leaders hold back certain bits of information because they are fearful that their employees will surpass them in knowledge, position, salary or title. However, that is exactly what we are called to do. We should want what is best for everyone. God’s command to love our neighbor (Leviticus 19:18, Galatians 5:14) gives credence to the philosophy that a leader should do for their followers exactly what he or she would want done for them. We should not be jealous if our team members are picked for special projects and we should not hold grudges if a colleague is promoted. Ultimately, we celebrate with one another, we show empathy and concern for one another, and we love one another without expecting anything in return.
A leader with vision has a picture of the future in their mind and can communicate it to their team with passion. The communication is done so without ego. Far too often, visionary leaders are hired because they can forecast the future in charismatic ways, yet they fail miserably at fostering a culture where followers want to engage and achieve the desired goal simply because of their lack of humility. Biblically speaking, the visionary leader seeks counsel from God and not from man (Jeremiah 23:16). In all of my years in the secular corporate world, I had not seen this played out so well until I met a leader from a local credit union. He explained to me that in order for him to continue working (assuming he was old enough to retire), he would need to seek God’s will and not his own (John 30). He wanted his credit union to serve a greater purpose and it was seen in the way he “unashamedly” led his people with God at the forefront of all of his decisions. His place of work was different. He had built a culture around Christian values and everyone knew it. Those that didn’t want to participate were free to leave and he would replace them with someone else. But for him, it was most important that he leave a lasting legacy of God’s way in business.
Service is the foundational principle of servant leadership. It is the idea that we put the needs of others before our own. And, that we put the needs of others before those of the business too. In the workplace, this means we always put people before profit. Galatians 5:13 calls us to not indulge, but rather serve each other. In this regard, many people have asked me if it is okay for Christian’s to be rich. Yes, it is. When Mother Teresa met with J. Robert Ouimet, she told him that the money he had made in his very successful business was not his. It was loaned to him by God. Crown Financial Ministries explains that God owns the money, we manage it. It is the way we steward the money that matters. And, we are called to serve others with our finances, influence, skills, and time.
Trust is something one must earn. It can take years to build a trusting relationship and seconds to destroy it. Trust is more than just telling the truth. Trust involves consistent behavior so that others know what to expect. The character trait of being trustworthy coincides with a team that can make a decision based on the historical actions seen by their leader; even when the leader is not around. Trust goes both ways in a relationship. Dave Ramsey uses a rope to describe trust. He explains that an imaginary rope is tied around the waist of the other person. The length of the rope depends on the previous relationship. If the rope is long, it means the person has freedom to explore and make decisions. If the rope is short, it means the person does not have freedom to do such things. The length of the rope depends on how much trust is held within the relationship. One of the more popular verses of scripture about trust is Proverbs 3:5-6, where we are to trust in the Lord and not our own understanding. Proverbs 11:13 also tells us to be a trustworthy person, one that can avoid gossip and keep a secret. Ultimately, we can always trust God. Unfortunately, we cannot always trust fellow human beings because we all have sinned (Romans 3:23). However, we should strive to be a trustworthy person. In the office, this means we keep private and confidential matters, private and confidential. It also means we do what we say we are going to do, even if it is hard or inconvenient. We certainly don’t want the reputation that others can’t rely on us or can’t trust us based on previous encounters.
When a leader empowers others, they listen to them. They watch them. They acknowledge that the other person can do the work. It can be very detrimental to the team for a leader to say they empower someone to make decisions and then go back on their word. Therefore, empowerment is something that must be given with due diligence. I have seen many examples in the workplace where a leader tells someone they can use the company credit card to make purchases only to see them yell at the person later. Empowerment is shown in the book of Acts where Jesus had walked with his Disciples for three years and trained them to take over his mission on earth. He had taught them all they needed to know and empowered them to continue the effort. Empowering employees also involves much training and observation to know when the right time comes that the other person can be trusted to continue the work. This does not mean they will not make mistakes, but it means the leader believes the other person can do the work in a similar fashion as he or she would do.
In the next two installments, we will explore more aspects of how Christian virtues contribute to the workplace.
Dennis, R. S., & Bocarnea, M. (2005). Development of the Servant Leadership Assessment Instrument. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 26(8), 600-615. doi:10.1108/01437730510633692
Collins, 2001 P. N. (n.d.). Good Vs. Great Leaders: The Difference is Humility, Doubt and Drive. Retrieved from https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/good-vs-great-leaders-the-difference-is-humility-doubt-and-drive/
Cruze, R. (2019, April 29). The Key to Raising Responsible Adults. Retrieved from https://www.rachelcruze.com/topics/kids-and-money/living-by-the-rope.
Ouimet, J., & Semen, Y. (2013). Everything has been loaned to you: the biography of a transformational Ceo. Staten Island, NY: St. Pauls.
Dr. Debra J. Dean is President and CEO of Dean Business Consulting and serves as an adjunct professor. She and her husband have six children and three grandchildren. They enjoy spending time outdoors and relishing the beauty of God’s creation.