Grace

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 “…each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. “These men who were last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”  Matthew 20:1-15

The concept of grace is an important one in Christianity because it allows everyone to be accepted into God’s kingdom regardless of their situation. Sinners and saints alike are welcome. Grace is unmerited favor. No one earns it.

Grace trumps a works theology – the idea that you can earn your way to heaven through good works. That’s not what grace is about.  Most understand the theology of grace where we are accepted into the kingdom by faith.

What is more difficult is how we adopt grace into our own lives. Becoming a disciple of Christ means that you strive to be more like Him. Jesus said to his disciples “Follow Me!” It is not a linear path, and there are lots of places where you can stumble.

So, the question becomes: How do you exhibit grace in your life to those in the world or your workplace?  If you are a leader, the question is: How do you create a grace environment?

At MentorLink, we hold the value of grace as one of the five transformational values of leading like Jesus. In my post on Leadership a couple of weeks ago, I suggested that I might unpack kingdom leadership values that are important to leaders in any venue.  One of them is grace – specifically, building a grace environment.

Timothy O. Olonade in his book Nuggets of Life puts it this way: “A gifted but graceless life will become a disgrace in spite of its giftedness. To avoid becoming a spent force in your calling, arm yourself with the gift to function and the grace to serve.”

When you ask people what type of leader Jesus was, you get a pretty consistent answer: “He was a “servant leader”. But if you ask what that looks like in action, most are unable to give specifics.

This post will explore the critical differences between leaders creating a grace environment versus one lacking grace.

To begin, I start with the biblical story of the rich landowner in Matthew 22 who hires people to work in his fields. He successively hires workers throughout the day. The landowner pays all of them the same amount which brought grumbling from those that worked the longest.

To one accustomed to a performance-based economy, the landowner’s generosity seems out-of-place. In the business world, one gets paid a days’ wages for a days’ work. Had I been the worker who toiled all day, I might have complained, too.

The landowner replies that the day-worker agreed to work for the wages he received. Nothing unfair about that.  Yet, grace is often perceived as unfair, and can lead to hostility and misunderstanding. Note, that all the workers had his daily needs met and the landowner treated all of them graciously.

This passage is one picture of grace in the workplace. The landowner was a leader – bestowing grace on all who worked for him, paying them fair wages regardless of how long they actually worked.

This is one example of grace versus a performance-based environment. But grace extends beyond generosity.  It extends to the very attitude of the employer.  Is he or she a person that wears a mask, keeping his own failures and feelings inside? Moses wore a veil in Exodus which hid the fading glory of the Lord from others.

In the business world, the leader who wears a mask is perceived as not being authentic, honest or real, and it leads others to do likewise. Instead of being able to collaborate freely and with transparency, it retards open discussion. The result is obvious: none of the collective wisdom gets shared or discussed.

Paul nailed this concept when he wrote 2 Corinthians 3:7-18: “we are not like Moses.” Paul urges us to boldly lead with unveiled faces. Leading with an unveiled face means being accountable for ones’ own shortcomings or mistakes. A leader’s “unveiled face” starts with a leader recognizing his own inadequacies.

Unfortunately, we see the world’s leadership model leaning toward wearing a mask – one modeled by Moses. An environment without masks is one where free and open discourse can exist with transparency. One can share their true thoughts and feelings without fear of whether or not they are accepted.

Van VanAntwerp, formerly the head of the US Army Corps of Engineers, continues to do leadership consulting to Boards of Directors and companies today. He did a leadership seminar at our church which introduced me to different levels of leadership espoused by Jim Collins.

Collins developed the concept of five levels of leadership in any organization. Level 5 is at the top. Collins notes that it is difficult to become a great leader without the characteristics of a Level 5 leader. Very few leaders make it to this level. It is rarefied air at the top.

Ironically, what makes a leader a Level 5 leader is humility. No, that’s not a misprint. A Level 5 leader has humility and a fierce resolve. I find it interesting that the biblical value of humility tops the chart of what it takes to be a great leader.

Having a strong will and being humble might seem a paradox, and perhaps they are. It’s described as the Stockdale Paradox, named after Admiral James Stockdale, who survived 7 years of POW camp in Vietnam by adhering to what would seem to be contradictory beliefs.

Good-to-great leaders confront the most brutal facts of their current reality, yet simultaneously maintain [..] absolute faith that they will prevail in the end.”

A Level 5 Leader holds “both disciplines – faith and facts – at the same time, all the time.” So, what does this humility look like in practice?  Well, the Level 5 leader tends to be modest and they don’t talk about their own accomplishments. They would rather talk about the accomplishments of others.

They empower others to become better as opposed to hogging the spotlight. They recognize their own shortcomings and realize that their success was based on the contributions of others. They surround themselves with a team that compliments them and often provides expertise in areas that are not their strength.

They know that those that surround them have shortcomings, too. But they also recognize that success is a team sport, and that they are not able to do it all on their own.  They need a team that believes in them because they are authentic and humble.

Why are grace and humility important leadership values in today’s culture?  According to Tim Elmore: “…more people want to be a servant-leaders among the two youngest generations than among the older generations. Generations Y and Z clearly perceive leadership as a legitimate place to make a difference and to improve the community in which they lead.”

The difficulty is that there are few models out there in the corporate world for them to see what a servant leader looks like, how one acts and what one actually does. One of the highest values of the millennials is authenticity. That means a level of transparency by others, and if they find it in a leader, they are willing to follow.

Unfortunately, most current leadership training employs the corporate model which is a power based model.   With few exceptions, most leadership models espouse a “CEO” or model where transparency may be perceived as a weakness.

That line of leadership does not connect with the next generation.  They seek authenticity and transparency. They want their voice to count and be heard and validated. They will thrive in an environment of grace where their input is solicited and welcomed.

I feel like I have just touched the surface with this topic – there is more to say, but I plan to cover other aspects of kingdom values at work in leaders in later posts.

Our challenge here is to guide the next generation to biblical leadership values. It starts with us. We must exhibit grace, authenticity and transparency.  While we may not be a Level 5 leader at the top of an organization, we can learn from the best as to what it takes. These are best practices.  Living a life full of grace and humility pays dividends to all around us.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Your mentees who seek servant leadership are looking for models to follow. You can help them start by being authentic and exhibiting grace and humility in your own life.

FURTHER STUDY: A PDF of a presentation of a Level 5 leader: http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/unssc/unpan021788.pdf

An article on Can you grow into a Level 5 Leader? by Jim Collins: http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/can-you-grow-into-level-5.html

Nuggets for Life – Insights for Daily Living by Timothy Olonade is published in Nigeria by God’s Global Glory Publishers (email: eglf.info@gmail.com). It has a Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Elrehoboth/posts/?ref=page_internal

WORSHIP:  Listen to Matt Redman sing “Help from Heaven” where the lyrics  describe that you can get help when the world is on your shoulders:

https://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=Y7PKLGNX

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.

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