Building a healthy and productive environment within an organization absolutely requires the influence and impact of a strong leader, i.e., someone who puts the needs of their team members before their own. When a leader serves in an altruistic, loving way, the leader has the opportunity to build stronger relationships with their team members. It’s not about control, rather compassion and engagement.
“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40, NKJV).
These simple words ignited a counterculture movement that still drives Christians today, more than two millennia since Christ spoke. A catalyst that shapes the Christian’s lifestyle and intrinsic motivation each and every day. Christ taught that believers are to first love the Lord. There is no doubt or debate in meaning here, Christians must put the Lord front and center in their hearts and minds. There is a spiritual primacy here that must be acted upon in the believer’s daily walk. Then Jesus tells His followers to love their neighbor, not themselves or their money, beauty, skills, or own wisdom. No, Jesus commands His followers to love others. These two directives set the foundation for every aspect of the believer’s life, a focus first on the Lord and then on others. Thoughts about one’s self aren’t even mentioned, because selfish thinking is anathema to Christian living.
The verses in Matthew 22:37-40 are indeed a counter-cultural statement, primarily because so much of our culture today, as it was in Biblical times, reinforces narcissistic and self-serving living. It’s also truly evident in today’s post-modern society where people can choose the truth that best serves their own preferences. Also consider the endless stream of social media videos that focus on people’s supposed beauty, dancing skills, the proper use of woke terminology, or simply attacking others for not sharing their views. But this is not how Jesus has called Christians to live. The primacy of self must be confronted and subjugated first to the Lord, and secondly to others.
It’s with this thought in mind that it’s important to consider organizational leadership in churches, business, schools, sports, and even families. Anyone and everyone who is a leader must be cognizant of Jesus’ lesson to love others as a primary function of one’s life. Christians are not called to be dutiful servants to the Lord and ignore others. No, Christians are called to humble themselves and elevate others above themselves.
In one of the most powerful chapters in the New Testament, Paul writes in Romans 12, how Christians are to lead transformed lives. Paul doesn’t exhort the Christian to lift himself on a pedestal as better than others because of their gift of salvation. Quite the opposite. In verse three, Paul tells the believer to consider himself humbly, not to boast. Then in verse sixteen, Paul explains that Christians should associate with the humble, and to be cautious of their own opinion. This requires a person who will continually learn and seek wisdom, never trusting in their own knowledge as the penultimate source. Furthermore, these verses teach both the average Christian, and in the case of this article, the Christian leader, to maintain a humble approach to their walk and ministry in leadership. Not only does it prevent a leader from becoming egotistical, but it ensures that he or she will remain open to the feedback and input of their team. But this is only possible when a leader truly loves others more than self. In other words, leaders must be altruistic in nature.
Following the impetus of Jesus’ command in the book of Matthew and Paul’s exhortation in Romans, Christian leaders must shift their mindset. There must be a radical departure from self-centered leadership decisions and actions. Instead, the Christian leader should take a position serving others through decisions that empower and bless the wellbeing of others. This results in a leader who will be blessed when they love and care for others. Consider Paul’s words of encouragement in Galatians 6:7-10. He reminds believers of the importance of putting others first, to not grow weary, and to understand that their efforts will be blessed. Paul was combatting the same self-centered, aggrandizing, narcissistic culture that modern society faces today. For many people, their lives are geared around how much people like them or follow their social media posts, or how much personal confirmation they receive in their videos, all in an effort to boost their shallow self-worth and self-esteem. How strikingly different then is the Christian who blazes a bold and narrow path away from this lifestyle, discarding the societal push to achieve the proper online presence, beauty standards, or take the correct stance on issues of the day, and instead pursue the Lord first, and their neighbor second.
When this happens, self becomes a very distant third. In fact, it becomes so distant because the entire impetus and drive of a Christian becomes consumed with the thought of serving others: the Lord and other people. This is only possible with a foundation of love which results in altruistic behavior. This heavenly design is further corroborated in the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus tells his disciples “[f]or even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,” (Mark 10:45a).
Through it all, this notion of love and humility is difficult to attain and maintain. It goes against human nature. In fact, Nouwen wrote, especially in light of leadership, that power and authority is an “easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life,” (Nouwen, 1989, p. 77). His succinct words remind the Christian of the challenging task that is the narrow path of faith and service in Christ’s name. Yet, despite the challenge, the Lord is faithful to provide the strength, encouragement, and wisdom to live in this unique, counter-culture way.
The benefit of living and leading in such a drastic way, by being altruistic and leading with love, grace, and wisdom, is that it provides the opportunity to be an example to the unbeliever. J. Oswald Sanders explained that when a “Christian leader full of high ideals lives a holy and joyful life in front of unbelievers, they often want to cultivate a similar experience,” (Sanders, 2007, p. 41).
Ultimately, building a healthy and productive environment within an organization absolutely requires the influence and impact of a strong leader, i.e., someone who puts the needs of their team members before their own. When a leader serves in an altruistic, loving way, the leader has the opportunity to build stronger relationships with their team members. It’s not about control, rather compassion and engagement. Research proves this point. Northouse, a preeminent leadership scholar said “that organizations stand to gain much from having leaders who can create good working relationships. When leaders and followers have good exchanges, they feel better and accomplish more, and the organization prospers” (Northouse, 2019, p. 143).
Not only can leaders today benefit from the wisdom of Christ and the encouraging words of Paul, but also from decades of study and research that further confirm what the Bible has taught for millennia. This notion of loving your neighbor is more than just a platitude, it is a way of life, and by exemplifying this characteristic a leader has the opportunity to make a profound impact on the lives of those they lead. Imagine a world where people actually appreciate their boss, so much more could be accomplished. Imagine a world where Christians exemplified Christ-like love, so many more people would be enticed by a Gospel-driven lifestyle.
It should be clear that Christians leaders need to love. They must love their neighbor, their team members, their own boss. With this in mind they will live an altruistic life, focused on helping and bettering others. This will result in stronger relationships which improves organizational success and effectiveness. Let all Christians remember Paul’s reminder in 1 Corinthians 10:24, “[l]et no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.” This is only possible when believers wholeheartedly live out Jesus’s command to love the Lord and love their neighbor. Without this foundation the Christian’s thoughts and actions would be no different from the world. Instead, Christian leaders need to love.
Jason D. Bland is the founder of Signet Leadership, an organizational leadership consulting and coaching firm. He lives outside Annapolis, Maryland. Jason writes about Christian leadership and its impact on society, as well as providing social and political commentary from a Christ-centered worldview. To connect with Jason he can be reached via email, LinkedIn, or via Twitter.