“I have two teachers that I really want to keep in touch with.”
This was a statement made to an administrator by one of my World Religions students who recently graduated from Whitworth University. It is encouraging to me that of all the teachers she had during her undergraduate program, I was one that she singled out.
I also received an encouragement from Ghana this week. One of the participants in a training event I led in Tamale last June asked me to review a business plan he wrote. He is implementing the things we taught a year later!
To be honest, it is difficult for me to even remember the class and workshop that impacted these people. They seem like a long time ago. Nevertheless, the investment is still bearing fruit. These two anecdotal glimpses into the results of what I did last year encourages me to press on this year.
At least in this life, we will not know the full impact of our lives. Sometimes, words of encouragement are few and far between. However, we must press on in our struggle to do good and to add value to the world around us. We follow the example of Christ and his disciples who have gone before us in giving ourselves for the betterment of others.
The Apostle Paul knew this self-sacrificing was not easy. However, he exhorts us,
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, …” Galatians 6:9
Whether or not we are aware of our positive contributions, we should continue serving others. However, when we do hear encouraging words like I experienced this week, let us be grateful. I am grateful!
“My sense of your visits was that they were divinely appointed, though initially I didn’t know why. From my perspective you were part of an answer to prayer about going global.” From one of my new friends in Zimbabwe in this morning’s email.
Mark is an entrepreneur that I visited a couple times. We have spent formal and informal time together discussing his business and dreams. Mark is launching his business at great personal cost and with significant risks. He could loose everything! However, he remains good-natured and generous. He trusts God, loves people, and desires to be part of a rebounding Zimbabwean economy. He is not looking for a handout. All he wants is a fair shake. Often it seems that all circumstances are stacked against his success. So, when someone comes along who is on his side he embraces that person and soaks up all the encouragement, knowledge, and wisdom available.
Like Mark, initially I was unsure how I could help him. I don’t have any personal experience in his industry and I certainly don’t have any inside knowledge about the direction of the Zimbabwean government. I do have management experience, so I helped him with some organizational structure and human resource issues. Nevertheless, it was not immediately obvious how my time with his organization was worth me traveling all the way there.
We have continued to communicate since I returned home and it is evident that my greatest contribution is encouragement. Mark needs someone credible to believe in him. Even with my lack of experience in his industry, I have been able to encourage him to make some organizational changes and to dream bigger. He had hit a bit of a wall, but now he is moving forward again.
Even if I play only a small part in the success of Mark’s business, my investment will have been worth it. Mark’s success will enable a growing number of Zimbabwean breadwinners to feed their families, which will encourage Zimbabwean agriculture, which will ripple through the entire economy. Of course, many small businesses like Mark’s must succeed for there to be a large-scale economic renewal. Mark is a start.
I now have four adult children in the work force. They often talk to me about their bosses. I am a bit surprised at how much time they spend analyzing their bosses’ leadership styles. It is a bit intimidating to me to realize that I probably have been similarly studied and evaluated by people reporting to me during my more than three decades in management. Nevertheless, I am delighted to talk to my family members. Their perspectives are enlightening and instructive.
Currently, one is discontent with an autocratic boss. This manager has a clear sense of what he wants done and how he wants it done. He clearly communicates his expectations to his reports and uses threats and demeaning language to gain their compliance. I am not sure if this boss is obsessed with power and delusional or if he genuinely believes the best way to “motivate” people is to tightly control them and punish them whenever they step out of line. He is so deliberate with his leadership actions, that I tend to think he believes he is doing what is best for his direct reports and for his organization. Unfortunately, based on the response of at least one of his reports, his efforts are not working. This employee does not respect him, confesses that he has more to offer than the organization is receiving, and is actively looking for a way out.
A second adult-child is delighted with a boss whose leadership style is paternalistic. This leader also maintains tight control over his organization, but he does it without abuse. Instead, he is generous with his direct reports. Rather than focusing on punishment, he is more likely to motivate with expressions of personal interest and words of encouragement. He expects and accepts a certain degree of error and chooses to reward positive behaviors and results. His employee respects him, dreams about ways to make the organization better, and demonstrates a high degree of loyalty.
Situational Leadership theory has convinced most people who study management that the best managers adjust their style to fit the situation — the follower’s readiness in particular. Both of these managers are dealing with young employees who lack experience. One manager is doing a good job and is getting a large return from his employee. The other one is doing a poor job that is costing his organization dearly.
How are you doing in your management roles? Are you creating an environment where your people are offering their best? What can you do to become more of a servant leader?