Friday, December 17, 2004

Responsibility in Management

Some goings on at my other place of employment (yes I am bi-vocational) have prompted me to consider what leadership is in terms of management. Perhaps the best biblical passage to reflect on is the Parable of the Talents in Matt. 25:14-30(
There is a lot to like about the parable in terms of understanding management. Each of the slaves was "entrusted" with money. Being entrusted like that means basically being made a steward or a manager of the money.

Regarding management as a trust though is very different from how a lot of people see it. I know people who regard management as a chance to flex some authority muscles. They don't tend to make great managers in my opinion. They remind me of the type of person that we hear about in the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matt. 18:23-35 ( You may know the type: they forget how they were once in no better a position than you, are in fact no better than you, just blessed, but have no appreciation for the blessing they've received. The way they treat you is not all that pleasant.

There are other people who see management as an excuse to avoid doing work; all they have to do is make sure someone else does the work. That is so not how Jesus did things. If you read the gospels you can see that Jesus demonstrated by his actions first, and never asked his disciples to do anything he had not already done. Jesus said that he came to serve, not to be served (see Mark 10:35-45). That turns the idea of management from one based on authority to one based on responsibility.

That however is exactly how I think management needs to be understood. Leadership, stewardship, management... It all starts with the idea of responsibility, seeing your work as an opportunity for service. As the manager, you are the servant of all the people who are ostensibly beneath you. You are responsible to your master, but for your employees. A good manager keeps both those responsibilities in mind.

That leads me to the next thing about the parable of the talents that I like. It describes the responsibility given as being doled out according to each person's ability to handle it. That means that being given the role of steward or manager is a recognition of your ability. How does one respond to that? Well recognition is hard to come by, so we had better respond positively. Two of the slaves in the parable did that. They went out and did something with what they were given, and they were rewarded for it. It takes a lot of work to double your money, so you can imagine that these managers did not look at their roles as allowing them to just let others do the work. Indeed, there is no provision in what the master said to even delegate! The responsibility was theirs, and theirs alone. They were given an opportunity and they rose to the occasion.

The other manager though did not. He just kept things to the bare minimum standard, or so he thought. He actually did nothing. The slave probably figured that while he wasn't gaining any money, at least he wasn't losing any. But management is not the same thing as maintenance, and the master saw things differently. The master scolded this slave for not at least getting some interest on what he had been given. The master thought that the slave had indeed lost him money, money that he could have made by just depositing what he had been given with the banks. It seems that God sees lost opportunities, not just lost money, as being an issue.

The opportunity that gets wasted in the parable though is not just the opportunity to build wealth, but the opportunity to build character. Remember, the money given to that slave was according to his ability to handle it. But he did not live up to his own ability. That speaks to character. The lazy slave lacked it. That's why, when it comes to choosing managers or leaders, I look for character, intangibles, things you can't teach but will enable a person to succeed in executing responsibility. Things like technical knowledge and familiarity with systems and procedures can be taught. Character cannot be taught.

Character can however be developed. But you can't be lazy and develop character. More to the point, you can't be lazy about character development. You can be hard working in a lot of areas, but if you are lazy in that area, you will never grow into being a good or great manager. Great management seeks personal improvement, not just professional development.

If anyone wonders what I worry about, or who I worry about, in the management team I work under at my other job, now you know why.

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