How to Be the Boss

Don't be like the leader who said, "There go my people; I must follow them, for I am their leader."

IN THE account of the exploits of David's mighty men in 1 Chronicles one saga stands out as a prime example of valor and dedication to leadership far above and beyond the call of duty. David was in hiding for his life in the caves of Adullam, fearful of King Saul, who was bent on his destruction. Deposed from his childhood city by a garrison of Philistines, "David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, that is at the gate!" (chap. 11:17). This was by no means a command to those in his hearing; it was more an audible thought, born of nostalgic reminiscing and possibly uttered with a sigh. He was aware of the complete impossibility of the fulfillment of his idle wish, for "the Philistines' garrison was then at Bethlehem." Three of David's men heard his desire, and his wish became their passion. "And the three brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, that was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David" (verse 18).

This dedication of David's mighty men said something about their caliber. But of more significance, it said much about David as their leader. This type of wise leadership and team dedication is not totally nonexistent in our age or in the Seventh-day Adventist organized work. A worker in one conference was heard to say about his conference president, "If he needed a man to go from church to church to clean the rest-rooms I would volunteer." This, I submit, says something about this dedicated worker, but it also says much about the leadership qualities of the conference president.

The kind of leadership loyalty described above does not come about by accident. It is not the result of organizational financial posture or geographical location. Five-figure salaries cannot buy it, nor unlimited expense accounts produce it. It springs of itself out of a satisfactory human-relations experience between the executive and his subordinates. It is the natural outgrowth of the proper combination of situational and personality ingredients.

It is no secret that there are workers who view approaching visits from their president with no great pleasure. The relationship is characterized more by fear, trepidation, and at times ecclesiastical jealousy. Nor is it a secret that some workers await the arrival of the biennial or quadrennial session in hope of a change in leadership, or in hope of becoming the leader's replacement.

The Dynamics of Leadership

What are the dynamics of a tight, closely knit, mutually dedicated conference, school staff, or other organization? How does a leader grow to enjoy the demonstration of the spirit of dedication exemplified by David's mighty men? Executives, administrators, and aspiring leaders are invited to consider objectively the following suggestions:

1. Be Yourself. Leadership is not what the leader does, it is what he is. Methods, theories, techniques of leading men, may be studied and compared, but the fact must be faced that the difference between success and failure rests not so much in the technique, but in the leader himself. More attention needs to be focused on the personality factors of the man himself. This does not mean that there can be listed a certain combination of personality characteristics that are optimum for leaders. Men and women of a wide variety of personality types can function well in leadership situations. Any personality pattern that permits rich and deep relation ships with other human beings to develop is satisfactory. But above all, a leader leads best being himself. If your leadership approach springs from any source other than the real YOU, you are a phony, and in this day and age even children can spot a phony at a hundred paces. It is no small wonder then that a leader operating under the guise of something other than his real self is ineffective. The staff, sling, and five smooth stones that are your own familiar equipment are always more effective for you than Saul's armor.

2. Be Aware of Human Needs. Those who work with people need to be keenly aware of and sensitive to human needs. The tremendous power Jesus demonstrated in moving and leading people lay in His tremendous interest in people. "But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man" (John 2:24, 25). He really knew what made men tick. He was aware of their deep heart longings. His was a sensitive soul from His childhood up. "At all times and in all places He manifested a loving interest in men, and shed about Him the light of a cheerful piety."— The Desire of Ages, p. 86. He specialized in the whole man—all that concerned man concerned Him. He was not a manipulator of men, using them as rungs of a ladder to hoist himself to a higher position. His love was for people, not things. "He was interested in every phase of suffering that came under His notice."—Ibid., p. 92. His interest and concern for His workers was in no way a selfish compartmentalized concern. He knew His team.

Christ's knowledge of men was not the result of special divine power unavailable to us. He employed no advantage that we are not offered. His knowledge of men was the natural concomitant of His interest in men.

The successful leader today recognizes his men's emotional needs and drives, as well as their financial needs. (An increase in salary does not always produce an increase in dedication or production.) Everyone has a need for recognition and wants to believe that he amounts to some thing in the opinion of others. Never be reluctant to express approval. Adequate recognition of good behavior is one of the best ways to produce continued desirable behavior. Carnegie, in his classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, advocates that we be hearty in our approbation, and genuinely lavish in our praise.

Even when censure is in order it can be sandwiched between praise and approval. The Christ of the seven churches shows skill with this method: "I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil. . . . Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love" (Rev. 2:2-4). To the church the rough edges of censure are softened with the gentle cushion of praise. Approval exhibits trust and confidence. Your men crave it, but it adds nothing to the operating budget!

Wise leaders capitalize on their men's need for belonging. Man is a herd creature, group-oriented by nature. Everyone wants to feel that he belongs, is appreciated, needed, and valued by his significant group. Nobody feels warm toward the circle that shuts him out. So generate the spirit that yours is a great team to belong to.

The need for a cause must not be left out. Every mature, adjusted, well-integrated personality needs a cause—a super structure around which to build his life and activity, a flame to set ablaze, a goal to fill his sights, an azimuth to plot his trajectory. The real leader is cause oriented, and his followers are of the same stripe. He fills their need for a cause with his cause. They espouse it as their own, and it indeed becomes their own. Dedicated service far beyond the call of duty and above the requirement of the paycheck is the due reward of the executive who is sharp as to the needs of his people.

3. Disdain Me-Too-Ism. Don't be afraid to have a few mavericks on the team who disagree. Independent thinking needs to be encouraged, not for the sake of rebellion, and not in areas where we have a "Thus saith the Lord," but as part of the quest for originality and integrity. Demand that your men be thinkers, not mere reflectors of your thoughts. (See Education, p. 17.) Me-too-ism has a deadening effect on progress, and over-conformity can inflict a crippling stagnation. Criticism is not generally directed at the leader personally. Learn how to handle it. Back oil and view it objectively. It may well have merit. Often you are too close to your own problem to see all the details of its scope and implications. Use your committee as a "think tank." Many employees have fertile, creative minds. Build well your own independent system of values, but be tolerant of views diver gent from your own. Give the other fellow's argument a good look. Back away, look again before arguing for your position.

4. Check Your Own Maturity. The leader of men must be a man. Again Christ serves as an example of perfection in symmetrical maturity. From childhood on, His life was characterized by steady, harmonious increments of manliness. His brief ministry was replete with proof that He is history's one perfect model of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual maturity. From a child He demonstrated a precocity well beyond His years. Of Him it is said that "at a very early age, Jesus had begun to act for Him self in the formation of His character" (The Desire of Ages, p. 86).

The entire chapter in the book The Desire of Ages entitled "Days of Conflict" is replete with descriptions of traits that are criteria of maturity rarely seen in those of even greater years. Mature men are not self-oriented, not egocentric. Pity the employees who must work for the self-centered boss.

The mature boss is able to assume responsibility. He does not rely on others for his behavior, nor blame others for his failures. He objectively attacks problems and issues, not people. He is mature enough to see and separate the two. He is able to "bind time," that is to say, he takes the long view. He is not "now"-centered. Now, or the immediate, is viewed as part of the great over-all picture. He endures present discomfort or pain for future gain. The mature man does not attempt to dis guise reality or escape it. He knows that the head-in-the-sand approach will not make the problem go away. He believes in himself and his cause, and has a comprehensive sense of optimism and "can do." He thinks big, and talks success, not failure. Like the good army officer, he never gives a command unless he is confident it will be obeyed. Wishy-washy leaders lead wishy-washy men. Don't be like the leader who said, "There go my people; I must follow them, for I am their leader."

Successful leaders are never bored with their work. They have a breadth of inter est. There are so many things to see and do. There is so much good even in the common things.

The mature man is well aware that negative situations will arise. The more closely gears are meshed, the greater opportunity for friction. Negative situations need not take one by surprise. It helps to plan ahead for such situations and react in preplanned ways. Again, attack the situation, never the persons involved in the situation. Ask questions: "What happened?" "How did it come about?" "Could you go over the part about so and so once more? for I want to make certain I understand you correctly," "What do you think can be done about it?" Then listen. Listening allows the other fellow to let off steam, but even more important, it might impart useful information. Blessed be the leader who knows how to listen even when time is at a premium.

The mature boss is understanding. Understanding means more than a collection of hearsay facts. It involves insight and ability to develop rapport with people. Such a leader will not need to worry about what his men will say behind his back, or whether they will take advantage of him.

Finally, loving leadership develops a loving team. It is said that a sports reporter cornered Vince Lombardi, former coach of the Green Bay Packers football team, at the conclusion of a championship season and queried him as to the secret of his team's victory. Vince replied with a wide grin, "My men love each other!"

After all, "the greatest of these is love."


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March 1971

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