I have a responsibility as a business leader to be a wise steward of the company’s resources. This includes setting the direction for the company by providing a strong vision to which the employees feel connected. It also means making decisions about how to utilize our resources (e.g. talent, time, money). Another responsibility of mine is to build a positive and healthy environment where people feel encouraged to use their talents well. It is good practice for employees to think about their values and their purpose at the company, but more importantly about their purpose holistically. That’s why I encourage employees to discover their values and write a personal mission statement. When an employee sees the alignment between their values and the company’s direction and values, it can be really motivating. However, I don’t want to impose my beliefs on them. I never want employees to be put in a situation where they feel pressured to adopt my beliefs or anyone else’s.
I also have a responsibility to live out my faith as a Christian in all aspects of my life, including my work. I try to do this in different ways depending on the situation. With my business relationships, I focus on a quote from St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” That is a great quote, but what does it really mean? I don’t have it all figured out, but here are three ways that I try to apply it at work:
Love your neighbor as yourself. Interstates leaders really care about and love our people. We want them to succeed, reach their potential, find their purpose, and find joy. We focus on doing the right thing for the employees as a whole and individually. When things are going well, it can be pretty easy to find joy. When things are going poorly (for the employee or for the company), it isn’t fun. We may need to have hard conversations and give delta feedback (constructive criticism); however, leaders must focus on doing the right thing and not on trying to please everyone. Even when the hard decision is to let an employee go, it can be done in a caring way.
Servant Leadership. There are many books and articles written about this topic and there are various ways to look at it. Our leaders try to implement the philosophy by looking for that strong balance between serving and leading. This is also how we talk about it in our leadership classes. We encourage leaders to think about others when making decisions about clients, vendors, business partners, and teams.
The philosophy is also implied in Interstates’ Why Statement (a statement that explains why Interstates exists as a company): “We believe in making a difference for our clients, providing opportunities for our people, and pursuing a better way.” Other elements of servant leadership are having a passion for what you do, showing strong self-confidence, good self-awareness, humility, and vulnerability. In other words, love what you do and know your strengths and weaknesses. Finally, be willing to talk about those weaknesses and mistakes so that you can learn from them and grow.
This past winter, I had to face this head-on when I was leading a new forum and the first meeting of the series bombed. I asked a few other leaders about it and they gave me some great advice. I took that advice, apologized to the team for the poor facilitation, and communicated the direction for a re-set at the next meeting. Instead of hiding from it, I owned up to it. I felt supported by the team, and the changes had a positive impact on the following meetings. It was a really freeing (and somewhat surprising) experience for me and was definitely a risk worth taking.
Being a good steward. God made each person with strengths and weaknesses; but we are perfect in His eyes. As a business leader, I want to walk beside people and help them understand more about themselves. My goal for them is that they embrace these things and learn to use their gifts to serve others. If we can learn to lean on others to offset our own individual weaknesses, it often results in building a strong sense of community.
This healthy tension has led me to focus on integrating my faith into my life. My hope is that if I lead well and live my life as described above, good things will happen. I trust in the Lord that all things happen for a reason. I hope to be put in situations where someone could ask me about my faith and Jesus Christ. If not, my hope is that maybe they will seek someone else out and start asking questions. When that happens, I believe that the Holy Spirit is at work. For me, this means that I can respect every employee’s right to choose their faith and support them as much as possible while still holding true to my own personal convictions.
During my journey as a Christian in the business world, I always try to remember to lean on my faith and trust in the Lord during good and tough times. I do this by reflecting on one of my favorite verses from Philippians:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phillippians 4:4-7