Stakeholder Collaboration/Executive Led: A Biblical Perspective on Leadership of Faculty and Staff

Last month, a colleague detailed for me how a surprise edict had come down from administration to his department that outlined a new procedure his department was to follow. “Bart, no one saw this coming. It gives us much more work, without any increase in resources. We don’t even know what problem we are supposed to be solving. You know, it makes me feel like I must be an incompetent teacher who doesn’t know much about what I’m doing.” This colleague is a recognized leader in his field who has traveled the nation giving seminars on his subject area!

Do you see yourself anywhere in this scenario? Which part? I, unfortunately, have been on each side at one time or another. In this blog, I am going to Daniel Pink’s book Drive, and Richard Rohr’s The Divine Dance, to identify some underlying principles I believe are in play here that may provide us some guidance.

In Drive, Pink uses research to identify what motivates human beings. According to Pink, the vast majority of us (about 85 percent) are intrinsically motivated, what the author calls Type I behavior. “Type I behavior concerns itself less with the external rewards an activity brings and more with the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself” (Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us). Of course, we all know members of the 15 percent crowd, but why would we build our authority and management structures around them?

There are at least three aspects that foster intrinsic motivation (Type I behavior). The first is autonomy, or self-direction. According to Pink, for most of us “our default setting is to be autonomous and self-directed.” Ideally, this self-direction includes autonomy over task (the what), time (the when), technique (the how), and team (the who with). The second aspect is mastery, or becoming better at something that matters. Pink says this “turns out to be the single most motivating aspect of many jobs.” Finally, there is purpose. “Humans, by their nature, seek purpose— to make a contribution and to be part of a cause greater and more enduring than themselves” (Pink).

Is Pink on to something here? Are autonomy, mastery, and purpose consistent with humans being made in the image of God? I have no idea what Pink’s religious views are, and Drive is certainly not a “Christian” book. To me, this makes his research and observations even more compelling. But for now, which of these three principles were violated in the first paragraph’s scenario?

In The Divine Dance, Rohr writes the following (what I believe to be the fundamental premise of his book): “Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three—a circle dance of love.” A quick look at Genesis 1:26-28 further illustrates aspects of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

God is already a “perfect communion” of “radical relatedness” when he creates humans. And he creates humans in that very image. If so, we humans are hard-wired for collaboration within community. Taken as a whole from the creation story, our operating software also includes creativity, the ability to make decisions and choices, mastery over meaningful work, and purposeful living. Which of these principles were violated in the first paragraph’s scenario?

How would we describe a biblically based perspective on leadership?

I offer the “Stakeholder Collaboration/Executive Led” model as consistent with both Pink’s research and Rohr’s view of God as Trinity and humans being created in that image.

“Stakeholder” is relevant because seeking input from members on issues important to their contribution within the organization honors their need for autonomy and purpose and also promotes mastery. Importantly, such collaboration generally leads to better decisions and higher job satisfaction, as well as faculty ownership of decisions. (I have found that stakeholders most appreciate being heard on an issue, even if they judge the final decision unfavorably.)

However, “executive led” is also vital. Although the leader seeks input from stakeholders, he or she is ultimately responsible for the implementation and the results of the decision. The leader’s authority is held in trust from God himself. Final authority for any decision under the leader’s purview must remain with the leader.

– Bart Den Boer, worldview specialist

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