Management is a form of ministry because it is a matter of serving people. It serves them in relation to their immediate role in the organization, helping them to become more or less effective, and it also has spillover effects into the rest of their lives.
Therefore, we ought to want our organizations to be well managed. Managing well — and developing management systems that help people be more effective — means having a correct understanding of the nature of management. This understanding must, in turn, be based on a correct understanding of people and how God made them.
A correct understanding of management means understanding at least five main guiding philosophies of management. These philosophies guide how we think about management at Next and how we have developed every management system we have, especially the specific management systems throughout this particular section. These five principles are as follows.
1. People are made in the image of God
The central question of management, in my view, is this: what does it look like to understand management in light of the supremacy of God in all things? In other words, we should ultimately understand management within a God-centered, theological context. While fleshing that out in detail is outside the scope of this brief paper, we need to begin tracing that out a bit here.
The key to understanding management within a God-centered, theological context lies in the fact that people are in the image of God. This reality has significant implications for how we ought to treat people. We cannot act as though the realm of management and organizations is segregated from the rest of life, as though the image of God has implications for personal relationships but not organizational ones.
At root, I would argue that the image of God in man implies three things for management. First, it implies the importance of respect for the individual. We need to manage in a way that treats people as humans, not factors of production.
Second, it implies that we should manage in a way that creates and supports freedom over control. We should trust people and let them do their jobs. The manager is not primarily a supervisor, but a source of help and someone who makes sure that the necessary systems and structures are in place that will enable the person to thrive.
Third, it implies that we should respect individuality. Everyone is unique, and this is a good thing. It should be respected and harnessed, not something we should work against.
2. Each person’s talents are enduring and unique
Talents are distinct from knowledge and skills. Talents are “recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that can be productively applied.” Our talents are given and innate; they probably come from a combination of nature and nurture (both through the hand of God), but whatever their secondary causes, they are mostly fixed by early in life. Consequently, our talents are enduring, fundamental features of our personality that do not change.
Because talents are enduring, the role of the manager is not to try to shape and correct how people were made. But this is exactly what conventional wisdom tries to do. As Marcus Buckingham points out, buttressed by the belief that people can change in any way they want if they just try hard enough, conventional wisdom says that “anyone can be anything they want to be if they just try hard enough. Indeed, as a manager it is your duty to direct those changes. Devise rules and policies to control your employee’s unruly inclinations. Teach them skills and competencies to fill in the traits they lack. All of your best efforts as a manager should focus on either muzzling or correcting what nature saw fit to provide.”
Instead of shaping and correcting how God made the person, instead managers should accept how He made them. They should recognize that “there is a limit to how much remolding they can do to someone” and not focus on making people into something that they are not. Further, instead of bemoaning the fact that people’s talents and fundamental personality are enduring, they should capitalize on this. That is what great managers do — they capitalize on the uniqueness of each individual rather than trying to change it.
Another implication of the fact that talent is enduring is that you need to hire people on the basis of talent (defined in this sense — not in the sense of “a very gifted individual”) rather than first skills or experience. Knowledge and skills can change and be added to; but talent cannot be changed, and therefore you have to hire it in. As with the theatre, “the secret is in the casting.”
3. Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength
This follows from the fact that talents are enduring. Conventional wisdom, on the other hand, says that we should grow by fixing our weaknesses. This belief is so prevalent that it is even built in to the language—for example, one’s weaknesses are often labeled “areas of opportunity.”
But when you realize that talents are enduring, this doesn’t make sense. Now, a person might be weak in an area simply because of lack of knowledge; the underlying talent might be there, and it just needs knowledge and skill added to be turned in to a strength. But when the underlying talent is not there, no amount of knowledge or skill will make the person strong in that area. Focusing efforts on such a weakness will yield little results compared to the effort.
Further, focusing on weakness is demotivating — it is not motivating to have to continually turn your attention to what weakens you. Focusing on a person’s strengths, however, yields great results and is motivating. To motivate a person and help them grow most effectively, you have to focus on their strengths.
4. The purpose of the manager is to unleash each employee’s talents for the performance of the organization
This follows from the fact that talent is enduring and therefore the manager must capitalize on how each individual is unique. The manager plays a catalyst role. Employees have the ability to contribute, and the organization has aims it needs to achieve. But the connection between an individual’s potential and the organization’s goals is not always automatic; and even when it is, it needs to be sped up. This is the role of the manager.
Further, his catalyst role of the manager — speeding up the reaction between the employee’s talents and the organization’s goals — is essential in powering the performance of the organization. Therefore, the role of the manager is critically important. It is not the case that “it is the work of leadership” that really matters, and that managers are simply mini-executives waiting for the truly important work of leadership to be thrust upon them. Rather, the roles of the manager and leader are different and both are critical. We need effective leaders and effective managers. And while it is possible for the same person to excel in both, it is not necessary. Managers do not need to feel the pressure to be leaders, and leaders do not need to feel bad if they are not strong at the management role.
5. This catalyst role of the manager is played most effectively by turning four keys
These four keys are: selecting for talent rather than just experience and skills, setting expectations by defining the right outcomes rather than detailing the steps, motivating by focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses, and developing people by finding the right fit rather than simply the next rung on the ladder.
These four keys correspond to four systems that we develop in other documents in this section:
- Strengths-based hiring [link]
- Strengths-based quarterly performance planning [link]
- Annual strengths interview [link]
- Career discovery [link] and role tweaking [link]
 Note: I am not saying that moral change and sanctification is not possible, of course. I am talking about the non-moral features of our personality. These features can be used for sin or righteousness, of course, but in themselves are simply basic, good features of creation. And this insight that talents are recurring is not unique to Buckingham and the Gallup study they did. Lloyd-Jones himself said “when we become Christians, the fundamental features of our personality do not change.” Our values, goals, and treasure changes; but the features that God designed in do not—they are not intended to.
 First, Break All the Rules, 56.
 These second and third principles are articulated best in Marcus Buckingham’s book Now, Discover Your Strengths, pp. 5-10.
 Marcus Buckingham has some excellent words on this that are worth quoting at length: “Conventional wisdom tells us that the manager role is no longer very important. Apparently managers are now an impediment to speed, flexibility, and agility. Today’s agile companies can no longer afford to employ armies of managers to shuffle papers, sign approvals, and monitor performance. They need self-reliant, self-motivated, self-directed work times. No wonder managers were first against the wall when the reengineering revolution came.
“Besides, continues conventional wisdom, every ‘manager’ should be a ‘leader.’ He must seize opportunity, using his smarts and impatience to exert his will over a fickle world. In this world, the staid little manager is a misfit. It is too quick for him, too exciting, too dangerous. He had better stay out of the way. He might get hurt.
“Conventional wisdom has led us all astray. Yes, today’s business pressures are more intense, the changes neck-snappingly fast. Yes, companies need self-reliant employees and aggressive leaders. But all this does not diminish the importance of managers. On the contrary, in turbulent times the manager is more important than ever.
“Why? Because managers play a vital and distinct role, a role that charismatic leaders and self-directed teams are incapable of playing. The manager role is to reach inside each employee and release his unique talents into performance. This role is best played one employee at a time: one manager asking questions of, listening to, and working with one employee. Multiplied a thousandfold, this one-by-one-by-one role is the company’s power supply. In times of great change it is this role that makes the company robust—robust enough to stay focused when needed, yet robust enough to flex without breaking” (First, Break All the Rules, pp. 58-59).
 Marcus Buckingham does a good job explaining the main difference between the role of the manager and of the leader in his book The One Thing You Need to Know. He notes that the role of the manager is to turn talent into performance. He does this by recognizing what is unique about each individual and capitalizing on it. The role of the leader, on the other hand, is to rally people to a better future. The leader does this by recognizing what is universal to everybody and capitalizing on that. The functions of managers and leaders also differ, as John Kotter has explained very effectively in his article “What Leaders Really Do.” Managers decide what needs to be done by planning and budgeting. Leaders, on the other hand, decide what needs to be done by setting direction. Managers develop the capacity to achieve by staffing and organizing. Leaders develop the capacity to achieve by aligning people. And finally, managers ensure that things have been done by monitoring and controlling (in the sense of comparing results to actual, not in the negative sense of control), whereas leaders do this by motivating people to persevere through obstacles. The role of the leader is looser, whereas the role of the manager is tighter and more directly involved.