Recently, I listened to a lecture on ethics in leadership by the late Howard Hendricks, a former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. He spoke of his participation in a symposium at the Center for Creative Leadership, where it was determined the number one need in business leadership is ethics.
In this particular lecture, Hendricks challenged the audience to put morals and ethics at the forefront of any training directed toward leaders, especially when developing models for ethics instruction in business education. His point hinged on the truth that Christian leaders should be grounded in morality from the outset, if for no other reason than being a disciple of Jesus.
Core Values: Trust and Integrity
Ethical behavior is quickly becoming a top value young leaders look for in an organization and in other leaders. People find it difficult to follow leaders who violate trust and lack integrity. Trust is inextricably tied to integrity; without one, the other does not exist. Essentially, leaders must act out the stated values of the organization; actions must match values. If a leader’s actions betray core values, integrity and trust diminish until employees no longer buy into the leader or the organization.
Slippery Slope of Self-Interest
Unethical behavior often finds its roots in selfishness, entitlement, and greed. As an enormous deterrent to leading with the mindset of a steward, concern for self is also a major contributor to faulty decision-making resulting in unethical behavior. Inflated attitudes of ownership, rights, privileges, and entitlement can result in corrupted, destructive, and sometimes abusive leadership characteristics. When a leader begins to pursue self-interest, self-comfort, self-security, and self-enrichment, that leader is headed for pitfalls that will ensnare him, causing him to abuse his position and reduce his effectiveness to inspire followers and maintain stakeholder confidence.
Adopt a Steward Mindset
If we hope to avoid self-serving leadership that brings harm to organizations and their constituents, we must RETHINK ownership, rights, and entitlements. Responding to organizational demands, personnel development, accountability to stakeholders, and responsibility to the greater community within which the organization operates gives leaders vast opportunities to act as trustees or stewards. Naturally, this will demand a business leader who understands stewardship from an informed Biblical perspective, viewing his life not as his own, and serving Christ in all his activities. This business leader must view money, possessions, time, influence, and relationships not through the lens of personal entitlements, but as items entrusted on loan, which must be returned to God with gain for His Kingdom.
Move from an Attitude of Ownership to Stewardship
Contemporary leadership models available to Christian business people are steeped in the conviction that owners and stakeholders have rights to the business that often conflict with what might benefit customers, employees, the community at large, and even what might be best for the health of the business. Leading as a steward will help Christian business professionals balance the perceived rights of owners, stakeholders, employees, and the community by realizing the entire organization and process of business is entrusted to their care as a steward, not as the rightful owner.
Ethical behavior outwardly demonstrates a person’s inner desires, thoughts, and identity. Therefore, a Christian leader’s ethical character reflects his core identity as steward of Christ. Leaders can successfully move from an attitude of ownership to stewardship by:
- moving their focus from self to others
- channeling their power for the benefit of followers and stakeholders
- realizing the true owner is God.
The organization, stakeholders, employees, followers, and finances all belong to God; therefore, the leader responds as a trustee and representative of the true owner, resulting in God honoring, ethical decision-making.
Will you respond to your leadership challenges from self-interest or will you accept the challenge to die to self and lead with integrity as a faithful steward?
Howard Rich recently completed his doctoral dissertation exploring the presence of steward characteristics among leaders of for-profit businesses. He desires to see steward leadership practiced as a viable model for Christians in the marketplace, resulting in increased generosity and resources liberated for Kingdom purposes. Howard lives in South Korea with his wife, Terri and their two teenagers, Amanda and Matthew.
Just a reminder – if you missed the 2013 CLA National Conference or would like to bring back what you learned to others in your organization, we have it covered. Order recordings of this year’s conference from our good friends at Dove Conference Services.