#206 – Leading Faithfully from the Middle

Integriosity® is about faithful leaders leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing.  In describing the organizational heart-change needed for business a better way, we are usually focused on organizational culture change that is initiated from leadership at the top.  Heart-change is easiest when a business owner or CEO can lead faithfully to align the purpose, values and culture of the entire organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.

Most faithful leaders are not CEOs or business owners–they are leading from somewhere in the middle, whether they are leading a division, department, business unit, team or project, supervising many people or one person, or simply leading by example as part of a team.  But God’s call to faithful leadership and faithful integrity is not limited to owners and CEOs, and the principles of Integriosity and leading with faithful integrity are not just for small organizations, privately-held organizations or organizations in which the top leadership are faithful leaders.

Faithful leadership can happen from the middle even in a large, secular, publicly-owned institution–and the middle is very broad.  This post is about faithful leadership from the middle.

Faithful Leadership from the Middle: An Inspiring Example

This post was inspired by a real life–a real leader who led faithfully from the middle of a very large, secular, publicly-owned institution.  His name was Tom Cole, and he left his earthly life unexpectedly on Christmas Day.

When he retired less than two years ago, Tom was the Co-Head of Leveraged Finance at Citigroup.  Tom was also a leader in the New Canaan Society (NCS).  After his passing, an NCS member posted the following on LinkedIn:

I remember sitting in the lobby of Citi’s Headquarters in New York with Tom. I realized then how big of a deal he was, as hundreds of people in our time together tried to get his attention and for him to notice them. What impressed me immediately about Tom was that as people tried to engage him, he knew them by name. He knew their families. He knew details about them and deeply cared for them. He made them feel important. He was a great leader and I knew from that first time we spent time together that I wanted to be more like Tom. When people think of Tom, they often will think of him being a visionary leader in the world of finance, which he was. When I think of him, I am reminded of a Servant Leader who was focused on building into the lives of others (specifically Christian men).

Tom Cole had a big role, but he did not run Citigroup.  He did not have the authority or ability to align the purpose, values and culture of Citigroup with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  He did not have the authority or ability to change its mission statement, revise its corporate values, or hire corporate chaplains. What Tom Cole did have the authority and ability to do was:

• To lead faithfully and with humility from the platform and position God had given him.

• To live out at work Imago Dei, recognizing the value of each person he encountered and treating them with dignity and respect.

• To live out at work the Golden Rule and the greatest commandments to love God and love your neighbor.

• To pursue through his own work and human interactions the bigger WHY of Biblical flourishing we believe should be the heart of every organization of humans–to Humanize People, Beautify the World and Glorify God.

Like every person in the middle of an organization, Tom had the ability to be what James Hunter calls in his book To Change the World a “faithful presence”.

Faithful Leadership from the Middle: Faithful Presence

We have mentioned James Hunter and his book To Change the World in many past posts.  In To Change the World, Hunter introduces a concept he calls faithful presence.  After concluding that the various ways in which the Evangelical church has been engaging culture in America is doomed to fail, Hunter proposes faithful presence as an alternative theology.  He describes it as follows:

A theology of faithful presence calls Christians to enact the shalom of God in the circumstances in which God has placed them and to actively seek it on behalf of others. . . . What this means is that where and to the extent that we are able, faithful presence commits us to do what we can to create conditions in the structures of social life we inhabit that are conducive to the flourishing of all.

Faithful presence is a way of living out love your neighbor in our daily life–even while working or leading “in the middle” of an organization.  Let’s look at some key ideas in Hunter’s description:

• Enact the Shalom of God.  “Shalom” does not just mean “peace”.   Dr. Anne Bradley defines Shalom as: “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight, representing the way things ought to be.”   We define Shalom as “an environment in which truth, beauty and goodness are valued and people and institutional cultures flourish by doing what God designed them to do in the way God designed them to do it—assisting in God’s restorative plan for His Kingdom by adding to its beauty“.  This ties to Part 4 of the BIGGER GOSPEL we discussed in post #190 (First Things-Kingdom)–it is what the world will be like when Restoration is complete.  Enacting Shalom is, in the words of NT Wright, “building for God’s Kingdom“.

• Where God Has Placed You.   Faithful presence and loving your neighbor do not require you to go on a mission trip to a developing nation or volunteer at a soup kitchen (though you may well choose to do those worthwhile things as a way of loving your neighbor).  In fact, faithful presence is much more demanding!  It is one thing to do a once-per-year (or once-in-a-lifetime) “mission vacation” and feel like you have checked off love your neighbor, but it is quite another to begin living it out EVERY DAY where God has placed you–in your neighborhood, in your school, in your community, at work, in the marketplace, and even in the middle of an organization that may have a culture hostile to Biblical faith.

• Actively Seek It on Behalf of Others.  Faithful presence is not about creating our own personal paradise of Shalom.  It is derived from love your neighbor, which means it is about creating environments of Shalom that benefit everyone, whether or not they share your faith.

• Create Conditions in the Structure of Social Life.  Faithful presence is not just about loving individuals.  It is about transforming social structures, which includes organizations, businesses, departments, working groups.  In To Change the World, Hunter argues that cultures change through institutions more than through individuals.  Where God has given you influence over or in a social structure such as a business, love your neighbor commands you to do what you can to move it toward Shalom.

• Conducive To the Flourishing of All.  Faithful presence and Shalom are about human flourishing, and they are about promoting and facilitating flourishing for EVERYONE in the social structures you or your organization touch.

While it is easy to think about how to love your neighbor when it comes to being kind to people or helping an individual or a people group in need, James Hunter’s faithful presence is the best tool we know for understanding what it means to love your neighbor through the culture of social structures such as organizations and businesses.

The goals of faithful presenceShalom and flourishing–are central to what we believe are the three BIGGER purposes of work and business as ways to operate with faithful integrity.

• Humanize:  People are more “fully human” and able to flourish when engaged in meaningful work that unleashes their God-given productivity and creativity and creates economic prosperity in a culture of Shalom built on Biblical principles of relationships, community and human dignity.

• Beautify:  An organization adds to the beauty of the world and assists in God’s restorative plan for His Kingdom by creating opportunities, economic prosperity, goods and services, and by solving problems and “repairing” the world, in ways that help families and communities to flourish and by extending its culture of Shalom to all people it touches.  In the process, the work of the organization takes on deeper meaning for its own people.

• Glorify:  An organization glorifies God and loves its neighbors principally through serving people–by providing opportunities for individuals to express aspects of their God-given identities in creative and meaningful work, by providing opportunities, economic prosperity, goods and services, and by solving problems and “repairing” the world, in ways that enable families and communities to flourish and by creating a culture of Shalom conducive to the flourishing of all people it touches.

Faithful Leadership from the Middle: The Importance of Humility

Back in post #196 (First Things–Humility), we explored in-depth the importance of humility to leading with faithful integrity.  Humility is critical to faithful leadership, whether leading from the top or from the middle.   We encourage you to read (or reread) that post, but one aspect of humility particularly relevant to leading faithfully from the middle is that humility is the HOW of loving others,

Humility in loving others flows from knowing who we are in relation to others. The link between Humility and loving others can be seen in Philippians 2:3:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Humility sheds light on the HOW of loving others by focusing us on the WHY behind our actions. Humility requires us to see the value in other people, which should lead us to treat them with dignity, respect and kindness because of WHO they are.

Its roots must be in understanding and embracing Imago Dei–that all people are created in the image of God as “very good”. Without Humility, our “love” and “kindness” may be born of our own ambitions and desires and be tools of manipulation rather than gestures of loving others.

Loving others from the wrong motivations is the difference between business as usual and business a better way. It is the difference between treating people well because you have determined that “kindness” is good for your career and treating people well because you recognize the importance of the commandment to love your neighbor and you recognize the need to Humanize, Beautify and Glorify.

Humility in loving others also flows from understanding WHO we are–imperfect humans who are in no position to judge others for their imperfections.  Humility allows us to love others by showing grace for their mistakes by being honest about ourselves–recognizing the imperfection in our own humanity.

Who you are where you are is more important than where you are. (Dr. R. Bruce Bickel)

Leading Faithfully from the Middle: Some Ideas

Dr. R. Bruce Bickel is a retired Naval officer who exemplified “leading faithfully from the middle” in the way he led a department of The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.  Before retiring, Bruce served as senior vice president and managing director of PNC’s Private Foundation Management Services.  Bruce faithfully led his department in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities, while in the middle of a large, secular financial institution, and the extraordinary performance of his department was recognized.  We think Bruce effectively summed up leading faithfully from the middle and faithful presence with the phrase:

Who you are where you are is more important than where you are.

Faithful presence is about “who you are where you are”.  Wherever you are in an organization, you can impact the culture by the way you work and the way you treat others.  You can change the climate within your sphere of influence, however small it may be.  And people outside your sphere of influence just might notice, which can expand your sphere.

You can lead with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing even if you only lead one other person.

If you are ready to begin leading faithfully from the middle, here are a dozen prior posts that offer some practical ideas for creating an environment of Shalom “where you are”.

#133 (Integrity Idea 007: Personal Prayer):  “Personal Prayer” is about a leader praying privately for the organization, for its owners, employees, customers, vendors and community, and for wisdom and guidance in every decision.

#134 (Integrity Idea 008: Group Prayer): “Group Prayer” is about a leader organizing or facilitating groups of people in an organization to pray for the organization, for its owners, leaders, employees, customers, vendors and community, and for wisdom and guidance in decisions.

#142 (Integrity Idea 012: Hire the Unhireable):  “Hire the Unhireable” is about a leader being intentional about hiring people who have a difficult time getting hired because of an employment challenge, such as the formerly incarcerated, recovering addicts, the homeless, the under-educated, and the developmentally disabled.

#147 (Integrity Idea 015: Remember the Fourth): “Remember the Fourth” is about remembering the Fourth Commandment to keep, and facilitate others keeping, a Sabbath.

#148 (Integrity Idea 016: Pick the Right “Peter Principle”): “Pick the Right Peter Principle” is about providing coaching and mentoring for employees, particularly those in supervisory positions.

#149 (Integrity Idea 017: Listen to a Life): “Listen to a Life” is about taking the time to listen to the life “story” of a work colleague (particularly direct reports), customer or vendor.

#156 (Integrity Idea 019: Banish Bribery): “Banish Bribery” is about prohibiting the receipt or payment of “bribes”, whether or not “legal”, which goes way beyond envelopes of cash passed under the table.

#163 (Integrity Idea 021: Cancel Cursing): “Cancel Cursing” is about avoiding, and discouraging employees from engaging in, communications and behavior that slander, disrespect, malign, dishonor, humiliate, or disparage other employees (e.g., gossip).

#177 (Integrity Idea 026: Keep Your Word): “Keep Your Word” is about cultivating an organizational culture that prioritizes keeping its promises, fulfilling its contracts and honoring its commitments, whether or not legally required to do so and even if it is costly or inconvenient.

#184 (Integrity Idea 029: Create a Team “Humanbook”): “Create a Team Humanbook” is about creating a directory of team members that recognizes the unique humanity of each person by including personal details that help people feel known, affirmed and connected.

#186 (Integrity Idea 031: Catalyze “Kindness”): “Catalyze Kindness” is about cultivating an organizational culture in which people are encouraged to engage in acts of “kindness” toward co-workers, customers, suppliers and the community.

#198 (Integrity Idea 035: Tear Down Those Walls): “Tear Down Those Walls” is about taking steps to identify and dismantle the barriers to information and wisdom “flow” that can exist within an organization.

Leading faithfully by being a faithful presence does not require an office in the C-Suite.  Wherever you are in the structure or hierarchy of an organization, you can change the climate.  Ron Hutchcraft wisely observes:

You are either a thermometer or you’re a thermostat. Thermometer people tend to reflect the temperature of the people around them. . . .  Thermostat people [someone who controls the temperature] are rare and valuable. . . . When you know you belong to [God], you can be a thermostat instead of a thermometer because you know you have an identity and a security that is rooted in something you can’t lose.

If you are ready to begin leading faithfully from the middle, remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM):   Tom Cole was a good friend, and it was a shock to hear that he died of a heart attack at the age of 63 on Christmas Day.  It was not his first.  His first heart attack changed him, and it inspired him to write a book to his children sharing lessons he had learned along the journey of his life.  The book is called The Narrow Gate: Fatherly Advice for Navigating the Pathway to Your Best Life.  Tom only had a small batch printed, which he shared with family and friends (I hope it is now made more widely available).  I witnessed Tom grow in his faith as we journeyed and served together in the New Canaan Society.

His most recent talk to NCS New Canaan, the founding chapter of the New Canaan Society, was on April 29, 2022.  You can listen to it here. With amazing wisdom and humility gained on life’s journey, Tom shares the ups and downs that have allowed God to shape him, as well as the role the New Canaan Society and the friendships he has found in NCS brothers have played in his story. He reveals with tremendous vulnerability how his greatest personal growth came through the hardest moments of life.  I encourage you to listen.  I am confident Tom has gone home to the very best place–our loss was heaven’s gain–but he left a wide wake and basket full of wisdom.

ESSENCE:  Most faithful leaders are not CEOs or business owners–they are leading from somewhere in the middle, whether they are leading a division, department, business unit, team or project, supervising many people or one person, or simply leading by example as part of a team.  But God’s call to faithful leadership and faithful integrity is not limited to owners and CEOs.  This post is about faithful leadership from the middle.  Every person of faith has the authority, ability and responsibility to be what James Hunter calls a faithful presence–leading faithfully and with humility from the platform and position God has given them, living out at work Imago Dei, living out at work the Golden Rule and the greatest commandments to love God and love your neighbor, and pursuing through their own work and human interactions the bigger WHY of Biblical flourishing we believe should be the heart of every organization of humans–Humanizing People, Beautifying the World and Glorifying God.

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Photo Credit: Original photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash
(photo cropped)