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The Priorities and Practices of Christian Leaders
By Michael Zigarelli
From Regent Business Review
What do Christian managers do on Monday morning? There are plenty of resources that tell us what these managers should be doing. Resources that cull and apply managerial principles from Scripture. Resources that use the life of some Biblical figure as normative for our day. Resources that offer theological frameworks for management and leadership. Many of these are great. Others seem like mere musings from some guy with a word processor and a publishing contract.
There is some information available about what Christian managers actually do, though. For example, we can glean an assortment of answers from anecdotal books by CEOs like Bill Pollard (The Soul of the Firm), John Beckett (Loving Monday) and Truett Cathy (Eat Mor Chikin: Inspire More People). From such books, we gain insight into how the faith is implemented in individual companies. If we want to look across companies, one of the few books to date has been Laura Nash's Believers in Business, an incisive study of the challenges faced by 75 evangelical CEOs who seek to apply their faith in the marketplace.
Wanting fuller answers, we at Regent University took a more far-reaching approach to the question, soliciting detailed surveys from over 300 committed Christians in managerial positions ("committed" is measured by their membership in one or more of the many organizations for Christians in management). More than half of those we surveyed (59%) are in top management positions (VP or higher), and most (63%) work in the for-profit sector. They average 45 years of age, 28 years as a Christian, and 15 years of management experience. From the data these managers so generously proffered, we reached several conclusions about how Christians manage on Monday morning. This is what we found.
They Are Highly Customer-Focused
Christian managers know that identifying and meeting customer needs is elemental to the survival and growth of an organization. In fact, when we asked our managers to rank the importance of various stakeholder needs, "customer needs" ranked a clear first, followed by the needs of employees, one's own boss, the shareholders, the local community, suppliers, and creditors. Almost two out of every three (63%) ranked customer needs first, with another twenty-five percent giving customers the silver medal.
There are many practices manifest by this customer focus, including diligent customer service and careful measurement of customer satisfaction, but foremost among these practices is the avoidance of misrepresentation or false advertising. Almost all agree that they avoid overselling what their product or service can do, with a full two-thirds of Christian managers in "strong" agreement.
They Are Stewards of Their Finances at Work
The Bible teaches that Christians are to act as stewards, not owners, of the financial resources at their disposal. In a workplace setting, this would mean that they are to be stewards of their budget, stewards of the firm's profits, stewards of charitable contributions, stewards of the congregation's tithes, and so on.
The Christian managers we surveyed seem to understand and embrace this theology, with six in ten strongly agreeing that: "At work, I consider all the financial resources at my disposal to really be God's resources," and another 22% in moderate agreement. In practice, this translates into among other things, significant sensitivity to budgetary constraints and a meticulous attention to on-time payment of work-related bills.
They Are Diverse When It Comes to Evangelism
How much of a priority is verbal witnessing for Christian managers? For some, it's a significant one. About one in four of those we surveyed "strongly agree" that witnessing is a priority for them at work. Another two in four also agree-but with less enthusiasm-that it's a priority. So overall, this group of managers (most of whom are from the evangelical tradition) appear to embrace the idea of "everyday evangelism," viewing witnessing as something they should do on a regular basis.
That's not to say that they embrace "evangelism everyday," though. Of those who say that they do witness at work, the frequency of that witnessing varies tremendously, from daily to less than once a month. Approximately one in seven witnesses verbally on a daily basis-about the same ratio as those who witness once a week, once a month, and less than once a month.
They Usually Make Employee Needs a Priority
Many Christian managers genuinely do care about their employees. As noted above, when these managers were asked to rank the importance of various stakeholder needs, "employee needs" ranked second. Delving a little further into that attitude, we found that a majority of these managers (55%) say they "strongly agree" with the statement: "It is a high priority for me to serve the needs of my employees," and another 33% report "moderate" agreement with this statement. All told, that's about nine out of ten (88%) agreeing that serving employees is a "high priority."
What does that mean on Monday morning? Several things. For starters, more than four out of five moderately or strongly agree that:
It's their job to reduce the work-related stress of employees (82%)
It's their job to resolve conflict among their employees quickly (83%)
It's their job to develop their employees' careers (84%)
And beyond creating a low-stress, high-development work environment, the primacy of employee needs also translates into being approachable, soliciting input from employees, and recognizing employees for their efforts. However, it does not translate into factoring personal or family needs into pay raises. Let's briefly unpack each of these practices.
They Are Approachable
Overall, Christian managers are reasonably approachable at work. On average, they "moderately agree" with the statement: "My employees would say that they can talk to me about almost anything," and almost four in ten (37%) "strongly agree." Female managers tend to be a little better at this than are men: more than half of the female respondents "strongly agree" that their employees can talk to them about anything, whereas only about one-third of the male respondents "strongly agree."
They Often Solicit Advice from Others
Solomon advised us about advice: "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors, they succeed" (Proverbs 15:22). So we asked about the extent to which managers solicit input from their employees and by and large, it appears that Christian managers have adopted the proverbial wisdom. Forty percent claim to seek employee input on a daily basis for decision-making, and another forty percent say they seek input "every few days."
They Deliver Praise Regularly
Throughout Scripture, Christians are called to be encouragers of those around them (see, for example, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Proverbs 15:23, Proverbs 31:31). In the context of the workplace, this means that it is the responsibility of the Christian manager to recognize and affirm employees for their efforts-to pat them on the back for a job well done, to commend and publicize their successes, and to actively support their continued effort on behalf of the organization.
Accordingly, we asked our managers how often they deliver some sort of praise to an employee and found the average answer to be about every three or four days. Looking a little closer at these results, we found that more than one in three managers (35%) claim to praise employees every day. As with approachability, most of these habitual affirmers are female. Fifty percent of the women surveyed, as compared with about one-third of men (32%), report delivering praise daily.
They Raise Pay Based on Performance and Effort, But Not Need
Compensation is one area where Christian managers tend to subordinate employee needs to traditional business concerns. We asked our managers to rank the following five criteria for giving a raise: the employee's performance, the effort of the employee, the family need of the employee, the retention of the employee, and the inflation rate. Like many of their secular counterparts, Christian managers accord the greatest weight to the employee's performance. A whopping 75% ranked performance the number one consideration, with another 22% ranking it second.
Lest we think that Christian managers are too business-like when rewarding employees, we should note that "employee effort" ranked a clear second among the five pay raise criteria. Apparently, trying hard really does count if you ask Christian managers. It's not just results that matter.
Rounding out this analysis, we found that "employee retention" ranked third when giving a raise, ahead of family need and the inflation rate, which are statistically tied for last place. This latter finding is noteworthy. When juxtaposed with managers' magnanimous practices in the "cost-free" areas of employee management (e.g., praising others, soliciting advice, being approachable), this resistance to considering "employee family needs" in raising pay is telling. It may be the case that Christian managers seek to meet employee needs only to the point where organizational needs (like cost containment) are not compromised.
A Quick Recap
What do Christian managers do on Monday morning? The answers are important because they help to develop us as Christian leaders, yielding us creative ideas and providing us with benchmarks against which we can evaluate our current practices. Moreover, the answers assist us in discipling people to do God's work at work.
Clearly there is more we can learn about what it means to be salt and light in the workplace, but we are now starting to develop a profile of Christian management in practice: the typical committed Christian is customer-focused, a steward of finances, an evangelist in word and deed, and paternalistic to employees.
That profile is simply an outgrowth of their divine perspective at work: 83 percent strongly agree that: "At work, God is my ultimate boss." The One who is adored on Sunday is not ignored on Monday. And it shows.
Michael Zigarelli, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Management at the Regent University Graduate School of Business and the editor of the Regent Business Review. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2003, Regent Business Review (www.regent.edu/review). Used by permission.
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