James 2:8-9, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”
Centuries ago there were two particular travelers on a dangerous road. Seeing a person needing help, there was the traveler that analyzed, “What will happen to me if I stop to help?” The other traveler considered, “What will happen to him if I don’t help?”
We know the second traveler as the Good Samaritan. It’s noteworthy that the Good Samaritan went back to check on the man. The Samaritan was focused on results.
This story points to a fundamental test of Christian authenticity. Do you really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, or are you a poser? Posers give off an impression that they’re one thing when they’re really not. James tells us that the telltale is favoritism. Any demonstration of partiality reveals that we’re judging people based on what we see and treating them differently based on how we judge.
I wonder if this was an extraordinary moment in the Samaritan’s life, the kind of experience that determines the person and leader one becomes. What’s obvious is that he demonstrated everything essential about respect and dignity as well as diversity and inclusion. It seems to me that we can make this functional in the workplace in simple ways.
A Context for Service
As a great many of us know, the world of work is changing in fundamental and significant ways. At the same time that jobs and work are being decoupled from companies, business has become global, more relational, and intensely interlinked. And in this interconnected world, behavior matters more than ever and in ways it never has.
In the future, organizations will find strength in inclusion and diversity as they serve their customers and members from all the world’s countries and cultures. As the most farsighted among us know, inclusion is much more than doing demographic math. Inclusion is the difficult business of building organizations that allow people with widely varied experiences, values and backgrounds to contribute wholeheartedly to the success of the enterprise. Achieving inclusion is no easy task—especially in organizations that were designed in different times to serve customers differently.
Yet while talk about diversity and inclusion efforts are de rigueur for almost all organizations today, much of it overlooks the underlying claims of Scripture, claims about what it means to be formed in the image of God, and how human flourishing can be nurtured in the workplace. For the authentic Christian leader that carries tremendous implications.
The Christian leader’s distinct view of humanity in the workplace offers an antidote to the pervasive fragmentation, competition and cynicism that many workers feel today– precisely because it begins with the glory and greatness that God intended for persons to participate in creation through their work. Work can be a process of healing and developing and polishing of human potential through organizational life.
If we fail on the key challenge of diversity and inclusion, our efforts in every other area may falter. It does little good to formulate a brilliant strategic plan unless we affirm that each individual has more to contribute than job skills. Each has unique experiences and knowledge, insights, creativity, the capacity to encourage others, the capacity to share, and so on. In the end, diversity and inclusion is all about valuing relationships, about valuing people as individuals.
How do we make this practical? Let me propose some leadership qualities to consider.
Leadership Quality 1: Know your group members. I know that the only path to creating more innovative workplaces and communities is to depend on one another. Look around at your colleagues and neighbors and get to know, really know, them. Know them as persons. Know their past work experiences. Know what skills and talents they possess. Ask them about their aspirations, their short- and long-term goals. Sometimes people don’t even recognize their own potential and sell themselves short. Leaders of the future will look for that potential, nurture it carefully, and help peoples grow. Many of us are where we are today because someone saw the potential in us and took an interest in helping us develop that potential.
Leadership Quality 2: Engage Everyone’s Creativity Meaningfully. Every burst of creativity, every innovation, begins with the identification of an opportunity or injustice that somebody finds meaningful. When people become interested in an issue, their creativity is instantly engaged. If we want to see better and more innovation in the workplace, leaders must engage teams in meaningful issues. The simplest way to find what’s meaningful is to notice what causes people to sit up and notice, what they talk about in the corridors, and where they spend their energy. One of the basic lessons of leadership is discovering where “the energy wants to go” and learning to work with it.
Leadership Quality 3: Make shared ownership a priority. This quality reaches beyond “Let’s put our differences aside.” “Look at all we have in common.” It values these truths, but when we stop there, our differences are not even recognized as advantageous kindling to ignite more creative problem solving and the innovation that we want to inspire in people. To create shared ownership, employee engagement has to be the first goal. The focus: continuous improvement. This means achieving results is everyone’s responsibility. A common protocol of behaviors helps create the environment, especially when it is expected across the organization.
Leadership Quality 4: Use the tools of respect. Effective leaders define good manners and civility. Manners have to do with rules of social behavior; civility has to do with respect for other people. Both are indispensable. This is how we build the healthy, inclusive and embracing relationships that unleash the human spirit. We can dismiss this as soft management and soft talk, but I challenge us to measure the performance of a team whose work is underscored by trust, civility, and good manners against a team where mistrust, disrespect, and lack of consideration are the rule of the day. No contest.
Leadership Quality 5: Establish mutualism as perpetual practice. This quality adds a new guide for decisions, problem solving, products, services, profit making. Everyone benefits; no one is harmed. It creates win, win, win: I win, you win, we all win. Building a foundation on mutualism changes everything we do. It demands that we consciously make a routine practice of evaluating every behavior, every communication – every day – first with a thoughtful inspection of the implications and benefits they have for all concerned. It adds a new element of consideration to every business or strategic plan, and provides a whole new measurement for equitable collaborations and partnerships.
How do you begin this conscious leadership to create an open, responsive, diverse organization? The answer is not complicated: you get up in the morning and you start. Perhaps most important, discover ways to make Scripture practical in shaping the kind of organization where individuals can be truly human in how they work – connecting, learning, contributing. And this is the real legacy of Christian leadership: changed lives and cohesive communities.
Rob Long is the founder and managing director of CoVenture Consulting LLC. He is an organizational innovation consultant passionate about helping clients see/k emerging opportunities and business practices for making grace functional in the workplace—in the sense of making vivid God’s practical purposes for work and to create conditions in which human potential flourishes. He holds an Executive MBA in organizational economics from the Texas A&M Mays Business School.