Harvard and the Holy Word
Harvard and the Holy Word
Time Tested Leadership Principles – 2nd Edition
When it comes to authority on leadership and leadership development it is easy to identify Harvard as one of the premier institutions in the space. According to Wikipedia, the Harvard Business Review was founded in 1922 with the intention of being the highest type of business journal that the school could produce. Over the years the publication has captured the attention of leaders from around the world. It has consistently positioned itself as second to none when it comes to sophisticated research and practical techniques to influence modern business. When the Harvard Business Review says something, leaders listen.
On the other hand, when a leader starts a sentence with, “the Bible says”, it’s not always met with the same degree of acceptance in the business community. In fact, starting a presentation with those words might bring any meeting to a screeching halt. In today’s world God’s Word is not seen in the same light as other authoritative publications due to the sensitivities that often come with anything “religious.” However, if you are interested in the most comprehensive and practical words of wisdom on anything and everything leadership related then the Bible is a great place to start.
In a previous article I mentioned a March 2016 article published in the Harvard Business Review by Sunni Giles titled, “The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World.” The article highlights the ten most important competencies that experts believe will be the key to future leadership success. Each of the skills is specifically identified then explained through a series of illustrations and analogies. It prompted me to think about how many of these influential skills are introduced in the pages of the Bible. As I did my research and discovered that ALL TEN of the competencies are mentioned in God’s Word, it was clear that a little digging into what the Creator of the world had to say would be a healthy exercise. In light of that set up, we are going to look at the second most important leadership competency (click here to read about the first) according to those surveyed and that is: The ability to provide clear goals and objectives with loose guidelines or direction. People who aspire to be top performers need clear targets, but they want freedom to decide how to go about achieving them. The very best of the best will be the ones who know how to balance providing direction but allowing people the space to determine which roads to take. This skill sounds a lot like what you will read in the pages of the Bible around vision and empowerment.
In the book of Proverbs, you can read about the principle of vision in Proverbs 29:18 - “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law.” Another translation says, “without vision the people perish”. God knew that vision, or providing clear goals and objectives is important for people to stay focused and live life to the fullest. The Proverb goes on to point out that people live better lives when they are living inside a set of boundaries. This is exactly what great leaders can provide to their teams. Clear vision with boundaries for pursuing the vision is a powerful step in setting a team up for success.
When I rejoined Mattress Firm in 2009 we were operating with a stated vision of creating the first border to border and coast to coast mattress specialty retailer. What made this so unique was that we only had 700 stores and didn’t have a single location in many states across the country. Yet, the vision for pursuing this lofty goal was regularly restated in a way that empowered our team to make decisions, creatively solve problems and try new ideas. As a senior leader in the organization charged with running a segment of the business I made decisions and guided my team in a way that focused on the vision. Ultimately, we were able to achieve the goal almost seven years later with more than 3,500 stores and a location in almost every state. With vision people prosper.
In likely one of the most profound illustrations of this leadership competency ever demonstrated, Jesus introduced powerful vision with tremendous empowerment when He spoke the words of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (NASB).
He clearly states a powerful vision; to make disciples of everyone, everywhere and that you can do it by teaching them, baptizing them and guiding them to do what Jesus asked us to do. But what about the details? How do I make disciples? What should I teach them? What if they won’t listen to me? Do I need to travel around the world to make disciples? I could go on and on with questions about the details. I realize we have the benefit of the Bible to provide further guidance, but every answer is not spelled out in the pages of Scripture. We must all live by faith which means we are taking steps without knowing for sure of the outcome. It’s what draws us to fully depend on God.
Wise leaders see the importance of casting vision, providing boundaries and empowering people to make it happen. It’s what people want, and it is the model Jesus Himself put in place two thousand years ago. If it works to take the most important message ever delivered to the ends of the earth, then I am confident it will work to keep your business moving forward!