You may know me from church, the blog, or the podcast, but I also have a “day job.” I am a technical writer and corporate trainer at a scientific research company with locations here in Austin and all over the country. As a corporate trainer, I’m called to “practice what I preach” and maintain a certain level of professional development, going to webinars and other educational events to stay on top of the “latest and greatest” methodologies in my field.
Monday morning, I attended a webinar called “Elevating your Leaders from ‘Meh’ to Making Magic.” During the webcast, Dr. Ryan Gottfredson and Dr. Kumaran Rajaram described how a leader’s mindset affects the experience of those they lead, as well as the overall success of their endeavors. What is mindset? Oxford Languages defines it as “the established set of attitudes held by someone.”
Drs. Gottfredson and Rajaram discussed three mindsets that leaders tend to embrace. First, leaders may operate in “preservation mode.” These leaders seek safety, comfort, and belonging and tend to be dependent thinkers. Next is “reward mode,” wherein the leader looks to stand out, advance, and be seen as valuable. These leaders are independent thinkers who tend to push back against those who disagree with them. The final mindset is “contribution mode.” This is the rarest mindset, both for leaders and the general population, yet is the most effective. These leaders are interdependent thinkers who seek to be valuable, contribute to the sucess of the team, and elevate others.
What is the point of all this business-ese? When I attended the webinar on Monday, I was struck by the similarities in the “contribution mode” description and the mindset Paul displays in his writings. A contribution-mode leader is visionary, other-focused, and encouraging. Check out this passage:
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.Philippians 1:2-8 (NKJV)
The very first thing Paul does in this letter is describe his affection and gratefulness for the people of the church at Philippi. He’s not shaking in his boots, like a preservation-mode leader would be. He’s not putting others down to elevate himself. He’s other-focused, and he’s encouraging the church. He’s willing to lay down his own life – both physical life and social/financial/political life – for the sake of the mission. After describing his longing to be with Christ, Paul says:
Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.Philippians 1:24-26
He’s setting aside his own needs and desires, choosing to serve the people of the Church instead.
Jesus, of course, is the ultimate example of a leader who operated in contribution mode. His entire ministry was about leading others by example and putting himself at risk for the sake of His “team.” He wasn’t afraid to get His hands dirty. I used to hate the phrase, “what would Jesus do?”, considering it just another trite saying that became meaningless after a while. But there are cases where no other saying works.
Millions of dollars are invested every year in think tanks and academic research into how to be a great leader. Monday, I was struck by the parallels between Sunday’s sermon and a leadership webinar. To be a great leader, one must embrace change, welcome challenge, and serve others. These characteristics are embodied so clearly by Biblical leaders (when they’re behaving) that I had to laugh. “Wow, I wish I could bill my company for time at church, because I learned just as much about leadership by listening to the sermon!”
Living in the modern world, people tend to look back on what happened in Biblical times and think it irrelevant. We read a passage about how Biblical figures handled their problems, and we might say, “Yeah, but that would never work nowadays.” Yet almost every time I attend a corporate training course about “soft skills” – that is, attitude, personality, interpersonal relationships, communication, etc. – the research presented says, “Be more like Jesus.”
A while back, Jurie talked about the secular/spiritual divide, and he concluded that either everything is spiritual, or nothing is. He commissioned us to go into the world as writers, or trainers, or caregivers, or lawyers, or doctors, or teachers… and to co-labor with Christ in those spaces. What you do is worthy work, so long as you’re bringing glory to God. A few weeks later, Brian Alarid spoke about increasing our favor with God and other people. He outlined several traits that increase favor, including intimacy, faithfulness, excellence, wisdom, integrity, and forgiveness. Translated into business-ese, these words are “open-door policy”, reliability, excellence, good problem solving, integrity, and willingness to repair relationships and defuse conflict.
The Bible isn’t irrelevant. Its guidance isn’t impractical. And with all the money we’ve spent figuring out leadership, we find that research even supports its principles.
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.Hebrews 4:12, NKJV
Y’all, we don’t say, “read your Bible every day” as a punishment, or as a box to check, or as just another religious practice. Read your Bible because it is living and powerful. No amount of time spent in professional development courses is worth more than even a little while spent in the Word of God.
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