Monday, March 14, 2016

"Mind and Spirit" -> The Servant by James Hunter

Business books by Christians are far and few between.  James Hunter has given us his views on the impact of the Christian life and business in the book "The Servant."   I enjoyed several thoughts in the book, and if you are interested in Christian business literature I would suggest this as a quick read. 

However, I would not call this out as one of the best books that I've read, yet it was still worth reading, but maybe it wouldn't be the go to book for me to teach a class on managing or leadership. 

This is interesting because you should never judge a book by how it impacts you. The person that recommended this book to me said that it was one of the most impactful things he had read, and he would give away copies to those that worked for him. It is an object lesson to me to see the differences in impacts to different people for the same thing. 

The most interesting thing about the person that recommended the book is that they really don't go to church or call themselves religious. The way that the conversation came up with this person is they had asked me if I was familiar with the idea of the leader as a servant. 

Now I went to Seattle Pacific University, and their moto was learning to be a Christian Scholar Servant.  I assumed it was going to be this therefore I asked him if it was religious.  

"Oh, I don't think so," he answered. 

He was very wrong, and I find it interesting that a non-Christian can find such comfort in a book written around the Bible. After all, this is a very Christian book.   For those of you that are familiar with the Gospels, the core of the book is the central point of the Gospel.  It is united around the idea that comes in Christ's incarnation.

The central tenets are are follows.

1. Although being equal with God, Jesus took on the nature of man so that he could be a servant to man.  This means that all of us are also servants.

2. What we are called to do is Love others with an agape Love.  The word agape is Greek and is a choice to take an attitude of Love by actions.

Agape love is not something that you feel.  It is something that you do.

I have written in my blog that I love the work of Lencioni.  Most of Lencioni's writing is also based around Biblical principles, but Lencioni goes deep to get there.  The way that Lencioni teachs these principles is by telling a story or what he calls lengthy parables.  Other good writers have done the same, with Eli Goldratt, in his book, "The Goal" being one of the best known authors to start this habit.

Hunter does the same thing, but I felt that he did it with little sensitivity and subtly.  Maybe most need this "obvious" writing style, but I did not feel that I needed it.  The stereotypes or tropes are so obvious that it hurts.  The cast of characters include:

  • 1. The protagonist, who is living a successful life, but really does not understand how to find true success.
  • 2. His wife, who is dutiful in her support, but the marriage is wearing thin.
  • 3. The Monk, who just happens to be a successful business person that went into the monastery.
  • 4.  The other participants that allow some other voices in the conversation.
  • 5. The diehard Army Sargent that is skeptical, but finds truth in the end.

With my complaints about the book done, I don't want to say that their isn't good in the book.  And the print is big.  However, let me grab some of the principles that I thought were worthwhile, and talk about them here.

The book calls out power and authority as two different things.  The idea is fantastic, but I don't like his definitions.  If you have studied these ideas at all, his definitions don't seem to be either Biblical or mainstream.

So, with a new take, here is his idea in my words. 

Power: when you have leverage over somebody thus they do what you say. 

Leader: When people come to you and seek you out because they believe you know the way.  They follow you. 

The tragic nature is when somebody had power but thinks they have leadership. Thus we need to put people in areas to see if they can lead before we give them power.   I have been in business for over 30 years.  This is a fundamental understanding that most people miss completely.  In the best of all words, we groom leaders, then eventually give them line authority.  We cement their leadership with management.  Often times, for some reason, somebody will be promoted and they lose track that people are doing what they say because they are "the Boss."

You can be given the title or Boss.  You have to earn the title of Leader.

imageTony Campolo many years ago, at a service that I was at, called out that as they studied sociological settings, they found out that generally the more power somebody displayed, the less love that they received.  In the best of all words, people follow you because they love you.  

To completely go off the rails, Campolo made the point that this was the nature of Paul's commandment that husbands should love their wives, and wives should obey their husband.  If a husband truly loves his wife, he does not command her to do thing.  The act of Loving drives out the misuse of power.

The problem with power is that it erodes relationships. People hate being forced to do something just because they are threatened. 

I also found attractive some of the behaviors that Hunter calls out as important to a good leader.  The idea is one of praxis.  Praxis is the concept that if we start acting in a particular way, some times even before our brain understands why we are acting in a particular way.  Then through contemplation, our brain forces us to start thinking as we are acting.  Our natural way is to think, "If I could only feel a particular way, then I would do what I want to do."  This turns this though completely on its head.  Instead, we "act in a particular way to drive our feelings to a particular level."  This idea is very counter intuitive, but if I do it, I find that it is true.  Act and then the feelings follow.

In other words, we should not ask somebody about their motivation.  In reality, the heart is very deceptive, and we can't always figure out what is even in our own heart.  So I cannot judge my heart or other hearts.  This again is very counter intuitive.  We want to judge others and put our worst behavior onto them.  What makes life much, much worse is that we have a tendency to always give ourselves the benefit of the doubt.  When we look at others, we have a tendency to say, "they acted with bad motives."  This misreading of others is so well known that behavioral psychologists have given it a name, "Fundamental Attribution Error."

So, we cannot focus on their motivation.  What we can focus on is people's behaviors.  We can choose to behave in a certain way.

So, he gives a list of behaviors of a good leader.

  1. Integrity (You have wholeness, transparency, and follow through)

  2. Good role model (Cardinal Virtue:  Temperance)

  3. Caring (Christian Virtue:  Charity)

  4. Committed (Christian Virtue:  Faith)

  5. Good listener (Christian Virtue: Love)

  6. Hold people accountable (Cardinal virtues:  Justice)

  7. Respectful (Christian Virtue: Love)

  8. Encouragement (Christian Virtue: Hope)

  9. Positive (Christian virtue:  Hope)

  10. Gratitude and Appreciative (Christian virtue: Love)

The list above is what he had in the book.  Behind this list, I put either the Christian virtue or the Cardinal Virtues.  I'm disappointed that there does not seem to be at least a mapping to all of the Christian and Cardinal Virtues.  Some of them get close, but not as clear as what I would like.  For instance, I would like to call out temperance as a clear roll for the leader.  Prudence certainly is something that a Leader should display.   A leader without Fortitude is no leader at all.  

However, I can be nit picky.  In reality, the most important thing to do is understand what you think a leader is, and what we should do to try and do these behaviors.  For no other reason than this, I thought this conversation was good in the book.

Probably one of the more interesting things to think about is his idea of what a Leader is suppose to do in his role.  He calls this out as the following definition for Leadership:

Leadership is getting the task at hand done while building relationships. He makes sure to distinguish between wants and needs:

He also called out how to be a servant but not be trampled on.  The challenge is that we are to be a servant and not a slave.  A servant should look to fill others needs, but be careful of fulfilling other people's wants.  Somebody's want will lead them down a bad path.  I may want to get nothing but junk food, but I have a need to eat vegetables. 

  1. Do not give people what they want.  They will be spoiled.
  2. Do give people what they need.  They will not be spoiled.

The most Christian thing about the book is that there is an extended conversation on the idea that you need to Love your employees.  He actually goes as far as calling out what Agape Love is, and calls out II Corinthians 13 as the model of what a leader should do.

In summary, this is what he see in the passage.

Leadership Attributes from II Cor 13

Patience -> Showing Self-Control
Kindness -> Giving Attention, Appreciation, and Encouragement
Humility -> Being authentic without pretense or arrogance
Respectfulness -> Treating others as important people
Selflessness -> Meeting the needs of others
Forgiveness -> Giving up resentment when wronged
Honesty -> Being free from deception
Commitment -> Sticking to your choices
Results:  Service and Sacrifice -> Setting aside you own wants and needs; Seeking the greatest good for others

So, overall, the book had some good thoughts, and is worth it if you are a Christian to see some of the attributes applied from the Bible to business.  While I felt the book had good points, I was not overly blown away by the book.  However, a non-Christian co-worker did see this as revolutionary.  

Therefore, we should never under estimate the ability of God's Word to influence people.  Maybe this could be a book that could be given to one of your friends or co-workers to sneak a little gospel into their business.

And this is Good News.

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