The Power of Faith in Leadership

May 07, 2020 14 Min Read
My relationship with God changed that very day. I once was only a follower. That day, I became abeliever.

Leadership is influence

My father was a banker. He was stern, strict and proper. I remember how he would get ready for work every morning – crisp shirt, perfect tie, shoes polished and briefcase in hand. I used to role-play at home, putting on his tie and jacket and carrying his old briefcase. 

My mother was a teacher who taught classes on home economics, art, English, and was also a discipline teacher at one point. She would plan her lessons diligently and mark student papers carefully. A bonus was when she brought home dishes from her class for us to sample. 

Born into a Christian family, I was raised as a follower. I went to church and Sunday School (programme for children) every week. I was an obedient boy (most of the time). I did as I was told. 

My faith then was no different. I followed all the rituals in church as I observed others, not fully appreciating nor understanding them. I did as I was told. I was a good follower.

Then, a significant shift took place when I was in secondary school.

My mother was taken ill with two medically incurable diseases – psoriasis and arthritis. She was in a semi-paralysed state. Our family sought all kinds of treatment. From western to traditional medicine, from natural to spiritual. Instead of family trips and holidays, my early teenage years were filled with visits to clinics, specialist centres, hospitals and many Christian healing services. My family and I were desperate to see my mother get well.

The Day – 12 July 1991

It was about 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon. A group of church friends came over to pray for my mother. Such visits were a regular occurrence by now. Yet, this day was different. I don’t know why, but as they were praying for her in the living room, the 15-year-old me cried out in my bedroom. 

Lying in bed, I earnestly prayed, “God, if You are who my Sunday School teachers say You are, come and heal my mother now and my life is all Yours”. Those were my exact words, which sounded helpless rather than faith-filled. Still, in His mercy, God responded! The next thing I knew, my mother was running around the house. I am not exaggerating, it was a miracle!

Editor’s note: Thanks for making me smile, Bernard. May your mum have a long and healthy life.

Our family and friends had witnessed and experienced the humanly impossible. Doctors could not explain the healing. Blood test results didn’t make any sense. From a semi-paralysed state, my mom was able to walk and run. People around could not recognise her, let alone understand the miracle that happened. 

The reality is, neither could our family. All we knew was that my mother was once very sick, and now she is very healthy and well. I can’t explain and I don’t need an explanation. My heart was filled with gratitude to God. I began to live more intentionally and with greater purpose. My relationship with God changed that very day. I once was only a follower. That day, I became a follower who believes – a believer.

Throughout my life, my faith has continued to influence my leadership lens

Relationships – it’s all about people

My faith tells me that God came to Earth for us. God does not force His ways on us. He gave us the free will to decide. When we know God’s heart, we willingly submit ourselves to His ways. To know God’s heart, as a believer, I needed to intentionally cultivate and develop a relationship with God.

Leadership is about people – influencing and impacting lives in a positive way. To be an effective leader, one needs to have a genuine desire to serve others. We need Servant Leaders in our world today – leadership that models and prioritizes the needs of the people before self. Whether you are a religious leader, corporate leader or political leader, the needs and wellbeing of the people must be your foremost concern. 

We have seen in recent days, how leaders around the world responded to the pandemic crisis. The spectrum of responses is wide, to say the least. We watch how some political leaders criticise each other, religious leaders offer comfort and hope, and corporate leaders exercise their corporate social responsibility, to name a few. In some instances, the behaviour of these leadership figures has been almost counter-culture, but have demonstrated important traits of a leader. We see emerging leaders, compassionate leaders and responsible leaders have one thing in common – they put people first above their own selfish ambitions and desires. 

Leadership is not about dominion over large groups of people. Neither is it about a set of laws and obligations for people to follow. Instead, leadership is about having a sincere passion and compassion for people.

While leadership is about the people, we can never please everyone. I recall having to make many difficult decisions as a leader. Some calls were more well-received, while murmurings could be heard for others. Regardless, as a leader, we cannot afford to be paralysed by indecisiveness.

Leadership is not about dominion over large groups of people. Neither is it about a set of laws and obligations for people to follow. Instead, leadership is about having a sincere passion and compassion for people. Arne Sorenson (Marriott Hotels and Resorts) recently gave a very real and moving address to Marriott associates around the world. His message spoke of the stewardship responsibility that leaders have. Just as how board members are seen as stewards of companies, leaders must exercise caution and care – especially when it involves large groups of people. 

As countries across the world reopen their economies, a major struggle is when and how to do that. We know the economy is bleeding badly. We know lockdowns are not meant to truly kill the virus. And yet we know we can’t be staying in our homes forever. So, when is the right time to reopen? 

Many would argue that economies are opening too soon and people’s lives are at stake. A Chief Minister was quoted saying "we can revive the economy, but we can’t revive the lives of people when they are dead". From another perspective, saving lives is important but what about saving people’s livelihoods?

I’m not suggesting either (open or keep things closed), but I do know it’s a heavy responsibility. At the heart of it, leaders must see people as people, and not a resource. 

There was a time when I was often asked to make decisions that involved large groups of people. This was never easy. There were tensions seen and unseen. I had to constantly remind myself of my role as a steward and the responsibility (and burden) of leadership. That perspective continues to be a navigational compass for me

Leaders take time to know their people. They make intentional time and effort to care for people, to know what matters to them and be present whenever possible. Leaders are interested in what is happening in the lives of people. While it may appear to be an enormous if not impossible task, Robert Iger (Disney), Howard Shultz (Starbucks), Horst Schulze (The Ritz-Carlton Hotel) and many more, are examples of leaders who have made time for their people. They understand the principle of taking care of their people, and letting people take care of their business. 

I love theRitz-Carlton Credo– ‘We are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen’. When a team is treated with dignity and respect, they reciprocate and demonstrate that behaviour in their service toward hotel guests. If you see a grumpy, disengaged and unmotivated team, take a look at their leader. I’m pretty sure he/she is not too different. 

I have made a habit of slotting catch-up sessions with people. I rotate through the people on my list and circle back to them at regular intervals. That is one way that has helped me to stay connected with people.

My faith journey was transformed because there is now a relationship. In the past, God was part of my life, but only on Sundays. Now, God is in every part of my life every single day, through the good times and not so good times. I learned to cultivate and nurture my relationship with God. Spending time, growing and understanding God’s ways. I find myself translating these principles into my leadership with people.

Being real – it’s all about authenticity

God knows my innermost being, my motives and intentions. Nothing is hidden. Being authentic doesn’t give me the permission or excuse to be ‘bad’. But being authentic does keep me away from a‘holier than thou’mentality. No one is too good for God and neither is anyone too bad for God. I do not need to be perfect to approach God. I am a work-in-progress. And that is just fine.

Leaders need to be honest, transparent and truthful with their people. As I watched Arne share his heart with his team, I could feel the struggle and sincerity of words in trying to reach his staff around the world. Being authentic also means having the wisdom of knowing what to communicate, when to communicate and to whom. It does not mean telling everyone everything all the time

While something may be true, it may not be helpful. We must check our motives. What is the intent and purpose of the message? Is it done in a manner that edifies or does it bring destruction. We have seen in recent times, fake news circulating every other day. There seems to be no end to this irresponsible sharing. Contrary to popular belief, sharing is not always caring. Regardless, leaders need the wisdom to study the situation before they take action. 

Being authentic means knowing how and when to say “I don’t know. I’m not sure”. Such admissions may make us feel vulnerable. Still, I would rather appear ‘weak’ than to lie my way through. 

You need one lie to cover the truth. Then another lie to cover that lie to cover the truth…then another on and so forth. One principle I’ve always held on to– nothing to hide, nothing to lose and nothing to prove. That’s being real and authentic.

Leaders need to live consistent lives. Leaders walk the talk. Their lives and actions must be consistent. That’s what integrity is all about. There is no ‘on/off’ switch as a leader. We hear of many political, religious, and corporate scandals around the world today. Sadly, these leaders were driven by greed and personal gratification, resulting in damaged lives and livelihood of countless people. I think of our foreign workers who sacrificed time away from their families to find work in our country. How we treat them is a reflection of our leadership. 

As a leader, there is no ‘private life’ and ‘public life’. We live integrated lives. Just one. The same one whether I’m in the boardroom with clients, or at home with my family. 

Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. There were many times where I felt really bad (and ashamed) of myself–at the way I spoke to a person, or the thoughts I had towards a colleague or client. I knew deep in my heart that my walk was not consistent with my talk. It doesn’t matter if others didn’t know, I knew. That mattered. My faith keeps me accountable.

Leaders understand people are also a ‘work-in-progress’. As someone who is a work-in-progress myself, I need mutual support and encouragement along this journey of life. Leaders recognise leadership development does not happen at an event or through one individual alone. It takes a village to grow a child. The same can be said of leadership development. It takes a lifetime to grow a leader! 

As a leader, there is no ‘private life’ and ‘public life’. We live integrated lives. Just one. The same one whether I’m in the boardroom with clients, or at home with my family. 

Leaders recognise learning opportunities and leverage on these experiences to broaden their perspectives and expand their vision. This growth mindset and desire for lifelong learning that sets leaders apart from the rest. Whether you call it coaching or mentoring, or simply ‘doing life together’, these engagements of lives bring holistic development.

I am so thankful for the many people and experiences that have been part of my leadership development journey. From the formative years at home with my parents, to people at work and church, to speakers and authors, they have all contributed to shaping my thoughts and being. 

My faith is real. As real as it can be to me. Not some mental image or idol, but a living God who has a real relationship with me. Because of that, I can be real. The real me. I can be real in leading others.

Rewarding – it’s about purpose

My journey through faith has been very rewarding. Not in a materialistic way but one that grants fulfillment, peace and joy that wells from within. I struggle to describe this with words, but I hope and pray you catch the spirit of what I’m saying. 

My faith tells me that God has a purpose for me and since becoming a believer, I have been on a journey of discovery. Slowly but surely, my purpose is becoming clearer as the years go by. 

Leaders understand thatnot everything is measured through immediate and tangible outcomes. Many times, the fruit of our labour is not seen in the short-term. Leaders work patiently behind the scenes. Leaders do all that is necessary to lay the foundation for people and organisations to be successful. 

In our current pandemic situation, we see government leaders making decisions that can be difficult for the general public to appreciate, let alone understand. Leaders themselves are hoping for the best outcome as they move forward into unknown territory. I too am always nervous when making such decisions. Whenever possible, I seek counsel and input from others, but it never guarantees an outcome. Sometimes these decisions appear to be a poor or bad decision in the moment, but in hindsight, it wasn’t all that bad after all.

Because my relationship with God is real, I am reminded always to fix my eyes on eternal things that matter – the lives of people.

Leaders recognise seasons. They know how to optimise and maximise their efforts for that season. They are equipped with the appropriate tools and they put into practice what they know and skills they have. Leaders understand the principle of sowing and reaping – when to prepare the ground and when to harvest. 

Not too long ago, I went through a very stormy season. Life was upside down and it was challenging maintaining clarity of vision and focus. Adapting and transforming myself, I gingerly navigated through. Unable to do some of the things I love, and having to give up on dreams was a painful experience to say the least. Nevertheless, my heart is full as I repurposed myself. The sight of calm(er) waters ahead is assuring. 

I have had the privilege of leading large groups of people and together we successfully completed many small and large projects. I have watched new members of the team grow to become experienced individuals knowing their roles and flawless in their execution. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen all the time. When it doesn’t, as a leader, I learn to bridge the gap because ultimately, their success is our success. We always celebrate together.

My faith tells me all things come from God. My possessions, success and achievements are but merely temporal. Because my relationship with God is real, I am reminded always to fix my eyes on eternal things that matter – the lives of people. My own leadership purpose to create value for others by helping them connect to their purpose. 

Faith and leadership

My faith has shaped me into the person I am today. My worldview is influenced by my faith. I consider myself blessed to have come this far in the journey. Whether a mountain-top experience or the valley of disappointments, through it all God has been good. I’m grateful for the promise that you’ll never walk alone.

*Insert Led Zepellin reference here*

My leadership journey started as a follower. Today, I am a follower who believes. I am still learning to lead others. Truth be told, we will never know how far and wide our influence grows. In all things, I am consciously leading higher to enable people and organisations to become the employer of choice, provider of choice, investor of choice and citizen of choice.

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Tags: Foundational Leadership

Bernard is the Founder of Invigorate Consulting, a firm seeking to connect people and organisations to their purpose. He has over 20 years of management consulting and corporate experience with global organisations. He is also a seasoned facilitator. He enjoys travelling and is excited about the second half of life.

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