It is so easy, especially in turbulent economic times such as those we are in now, to get focused on efficiency and cost cutting. And those things do have their place.
But they are not the main thing. They are not what’s most important. And leadership should be diligent to never succumb to the temptation to let them usurp what is most important.
After a God-centered passion, two of the most important principles for any leader are respect and generosity.
Generosity — not efficiency. And respect — not efficiency.
Efficiency can, and often does, undermine both. That’s why you have to make it second, not first.
There are few (if any) promises in the Bible to prosper the “efficient” man or woman. But there is an abundance of promises to the generous person.
We know this from the Bible. But often we think that “business thinking” is different. That somehow the realm of running non-profits and businesses and other organizations plays by different rules.
But it doesn’t.
To be sure, people often think it does, and act like it does. That’s why we need to be careful about saying “non-profits need to be run more like businesses” and so forth — not because the principles for running an effective business are always different (though sometimes they are), but because there are many wrong business principles being used to run businesses, and we don’t want to let those infect the non-profit sector as well.
But the things that are ultimately required for running a business and non-profit well are ultimately the same things necessary for living a good life. And generosity and respect are two of those overarching principles.
And we aren’t left simply looking at the Bible to see this (though that should be enough). The best business and leadership thinkers have always acknowledged this.
Take Peter Drucker. At the end of his book The Effective Executive, he points out that his emphasis on making strengths productive “is fundamentally respect for the person — one’s own as well as others. It is a value system of action.” Drucker isn’t detaching executive effectiveness from the realm of morality and decency and sheer humanity. Rather, he sees them as utterly intertwined. A focus on strengths is ultimately a respect for the individual.
Likewise, he points out that the practice of “putting first things first” is not simply an issue of effectiveness, but character. “What is being developed here is not information, but chracter: foresight, self-reliance, courage. What is being developed here, in other words, is leadership — not the leadership of brilliance and genius, to be sure, but hte much more modest yet more enduring leadership of dedication, determination, and serious purpose.”
Drucker does not abstract effectiveness, even in large organizations, from character. They are utterly intertwined such that the core practices of effectiveness are actually manifestations of (and means of developing) character and respect for others.
Likewise, when I was at the Global Leadership Summit the year before this one, Jack Welch made a very significant comment. He said “Top people have a generosity of spirit. They get a kick out of giving bonuses, for example. They don’t have envy. They love helping people grow.” There’s character once again, and generosity. Top people are generous. Generosity is not just something for our personal lives and personal finances; we are to have a generosity of spirit in the way we go about our work. That is biblical, but what we see is that it is also borne out by the experience of the most effective business leaders and thinkers of our time.
So, how do you lead? Do you care first about generosity, or efficiency? About respect — and thus it’s corollary of positioning people according to their strengths — or efficiency?
I’m not playing these things off against efficiency, rightly understood. For ultimately, the best way to be efficient is to value generosity and respect before efficiency.