Bible Study: Lessons for Leaders

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“…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13

By Kwame S. Salter

The great books of all religions are a record of what constitutes right living for their adherents. I am sure that a close of examination of the Quran or Bible would yield insightful wisdom that is still relevant today. For this discussion, I chose to look into the Bible to find something that might be applicable to working with each other in both a personal and business setting. I decided to reread 1 Corinthians 13 to

1 Corinthians 13 is often read and quoted at weddings and in sermons. Many consider this biblical verse to be sappy and preachy. Yet, upon closer examination it provides a powerful lesson for anyone who seeks to build a strong relationship with a person or group. The verse extols the power of love; ranks love above both faith and hope. Like Tina Turner, in her hit song, hardcore business leaders wonder, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” What exactly is this thing called love that a business person can get his or her head around? Typically, love is defined as a “deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness.” 

Yet, in the white hot heat of business competition, can love really be an effective strategy or tactic? For those of us in leadership positions, the question that still begs an answer is “what’s love got to do with it?” Well, part of the definition speaks to “a sense of underlying oneness.” It is this part of the definition that is operational in the following discussion. Leaders, to be effective, must create a sense of the team acting in concert—with a sense of “underlying oneness.” Therefore, in reading my explication of Corinthians 13, insert the phrase “underlying oneness” every time the word love shows up.

So, let us get on to the explication of this powerful verse section by section:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

Think about the leader who is a smooth, articulate and poised speaker. The words are magic. He/she can explain or justify anything. Walking onstage or at the lectern, their words are mesmerizing, enchanting and, almost, musical. They hit all the right notes, say all the right things, and titillate the senses. For sheer entertainment value they are without peer. Unfortunately, after the sound and fury of their motivational speech dies down, what is left is a sense of emptiness—because their day to day actions are not in line with their pulsating rhetoric. The organization is adrift and leaderless when people need them most. Listening to them is like eating the proverbial Chinese dinner—you are hungry again 30 minutes later. You are hungry for follow through and substantive decision making. You are hungry for a sign or signal that they care about the ‘little people’ who keep the organization going day to day. They are good at building speeches, but not high performance teams.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

How many times have we been blown away by the super smart leader who is able to explain the complexities we daily grapple with while displaying an unshakable confidence in his/her predictions and strategies? How many times have these geniuses failed because they sought our compliance and not our commitment? Sure, they know what to do, but they failed to realize that how it gets done goes beyond statistical modeling and personal IQ. How it gets done is in the hands of the people who they view as variables in their success equation.

In reality, the people are the constants in their equation. And, if you look down on the people because you consider them intellectually inferior, you will fail. In spite of your high IQ and confidence, you will fail. With apologies to William Arthur Ward who talked about teachers, I would say that: The mediocre leader tells; the good leader explains; the superior leader demonstrates; and, the great leader inspires. Without a committed team, you are nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud…it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Building high performance teams requires patience, respect for each team member and modesty once the task is successfully achieved. Great leaders are approachable, even keeled and fair. These leaders make sure that there is enough credit to go around. They know when things go well that they should sit down and let the team take the bows. And, on the other hand, when things sputter and go awry, the leader must stand up and take the blame. These enlightened leaders don’t need to ‘hog’ the spotlight. Most importantly, these leaders do not keep an indelible list of everything you did wrong.

Their objective is to “catch you doing something right” and reward you. They can critique your performance without diminishing you as a person. Uncontrollable temper outbursts are not part of their operating style. They want you to be successful because you will make them successful. Their philosophy can be reduced to three words, “Give, Get or Go.” In other words, give something to the collective effort, get something from your mistakes or go—but go with dignity.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth…it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

So much of the complexity that bogs down organizational effectiveness and efficiency is not in our technologies, processes or systems—but rather in us. Too often, the leader sets the wrong tone. Some leaders play individuals against one another, gossip about one employee to another employee or just outright lies about an employee’s competencies or strengths. As such, I would submit that close to 80% of the complexity that slows down a company’s march to meet its strategic objectives, comes from inauthentic relationships between people. We are encouraged to lie about forecasts, deliverables, and key performance indicators to please the bosses.

Our turnaround time is often dependent on who is requesting help. Leaders who are not authentic create inauthentic organizations and counterproductive competition between and among employees. In fact, in many organizations work is defined more by so-called personality conflicts, mind games, political posturing and power plays. Leaders sometimes forget that the definition of work is “activity that leads to a result.” Some of the behavior in today’s organizations mimic the popular and voyeuristic ‘reality shows’ that pockmark today’s television programming.

In summary, if leaders could truly grasp the concepts and teachings in 1 Corinthians 13, the workplace would become more civil and supportive—dare I say, more productive.