After thumbing through a recent edition of a magazine for religious leaders, I made a mental note. Most of what we read on leadership is rehashed drivel based upon baseless anecdotal trivialities. Several years ago I happened to be in Israel filming a series of videos. While driving through the Judean hills, a dialogue started up in the bus about a statement on leadership a leadership guru of that time.
What’s True in American MUST be True for the World!
As the discussion continued, we passed several young shepherds. Most Bedouin children begin shepherding around 10 years old. It was clear that most of the shepherds we passed were just kids. There is a leader. A young boy with twenty sheep, tasked with feeding and protecting them for the length of a twelve to sixteen hour day, and returning them to their stable by nightfall takes more leadership than most adults can muster. It was in that moment that I realized truth is universal. And if a principal cannot be applied universally, it is not universally true, and therefore, self-refuting, making it untrue! I began to review this whole conversation I was listening to in terms of this shepherd boy and discovered that much of what was being decried as “irrefutable laws of leadership” were in fact REFUTABLE! What was more compelling was my observation that most of the leadership resources we are offered to consume are really ONLY true in a western context where capitalism and (more importantly) consumerism drive economy and the power of choice for the average citizen. Armed with my new insight, I have since weighed every book, lecture, and presentation on leadership I have endured upon this simple understanding.
At a recent Leadership Forum held in Florida I had the chance to hear Simon Sinek, an ethnographer and leadership expert. He had an incredible and riveting speech. If you get the chance to hear him, I strongly recommend you do. It wasn’t until the very end of his lecture—the final observation—that I began to reflect on the validity of his final point.
He conveyed a story of an airline debacle that caused him to have to report to the gate to make a change. And while he is a masterful storyteller, I will abridge the story here. The airline employee was apparently being rude to which he asked, “Why are you being so rude? I am not an animal. I am a human.” She responded, “I am following the rules. I am just doing my job.” His final point was roughly based upon this interchange. His observation was this: “What this young lady was saying was: ‘I fear my employers!’” Then he went on to extrapolate his final point on teams, and mutual respect, and empowering employees, etc….
I thought about this for several hours trying to decide whether or not I agreed. I ran through dozens of scenarios in my mind of former employees as well as my own work experience. But what I ultimately could not hurdle was a scripture from Psalms 111:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
When my children were very young made a statement at a Christian church about our desires to raise our children to fear the Lord. A lady approached me and told me that we should never teach children to fear God. “God is love, they should never fear Him,” she defended. I realized that this is a flaw in Christian understanding.
Fear is what keeps anarchy at bay. I drive a lot. I log tens of thousand of miles every year in a vehicle. On any given day of the week, I do not fear police officers. After all, I am a law abiding citizen. However, when I am on the highway and see that distinct vehicle setting in the median, a tinge of fear shoots through my body. The fear I feel is not a bad fear based on misplaced emotions due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. The fear I feel is due to the possibility that I am doing something wrong. It could be reasonably argued that without fear, no one would obey the speed limit.
My children have no reason to fear me. My employees have no reason to fear me. However, if either of these find themselves out of harmony with the expectations of our home, or our workplace, then there may be sufficient reason for concern, or even fear. An effective leader does not remove fear from the work environment. He just needs to understand when and how to leverage that emotion to the benefit of the organization, to productivity, the good of others, or for the benefit of that child or employee maturing to a higher level of personal responsibility and self-discipline. And for clarification, I am NOT talking about uncontrollable fits of rage, physical and emotional abuse inflicted by the power hungry and greedy, or the drunken tirades of an alcoholic parent.
Employment is a privilege. Despite the insistence of the liberal “west,” to be gainfully employed is NOT a right. When an individual agrees to work for a man, or a company at such and such wage, the individual agrees, in part, to uphold the vision, values, philosophy, and goals of that company. If an employee does not wish to do so, then quit! No company in the world can afford someone who just wants money!
We have nothing to fear but…everything
What Simon Sinek cannot tell us about his encounter with the lady at the desk is this: How many times has she been out of step with company policy? How many times has she been warned about violating the expectations of employees? How many times has she found herself out of harmony with the company’s vision, values, philosophy, and goals? We just might discover that this employee had EVERYTHING to fear!
I close with a famous quote from Elbert Hubbard:
If you work for a man, in heaven’s name work for him. If he pays you wages which supply you bread and butter, work for him; speak well of him; stand by him, and stand by the institution he represents. If you must vilify, condemn, and eternally disparage, resign your position, and when you are outside, damn to your heart’s content, but as long as you are part of the institution do not condemn it. If you do that, you are loosening the tendrils that are holding you to the institution, and at the first high wind that comes along, you will be uprooted and blown away, and will probably never know the reason why.
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