What Is Real Leadership?

I love teaching in Warner Pacific’s Adult Degree Program (ADP). My Monday class ended last night. It was a finance class, and I think it went pretty well. At least I think it did, the students filled out evaluations, which means I’ll find out later what they thought. One of the students made a comment at the end of the class that I found interesting. She said that after this class she found herself “reading things through new eyes and understanding.” This comment illustrates how I read articles and books through an interpretive framework of leadership.

This framework tells me that Assad is a self serving power monger who does not care about the Syrian people. I wonder how the Russians feel now that Assad has blown them off in his abuse of his people. This frame work tells me that Goldman Sachs leadership is only in it for the money that they are able to receive from their muppets. This framework also tells me there are leaders that serve their stakeholders in a manner that makes all better. An example of this was Ray Anderson, now deceased.

Richard Branson in his book “Screw Business As Usual” tells the Ray Anderson story well. I first ran into this event in a movie called “The Corporation.” I show either that movie or “Capitalism: A Love Story” by Michael Moore in my Economics class. The reason I show these movies is to challenge my business students to think larger than just a bottom-line. Ray Anderson is an excellent example of someone who thinks larger than just profits.

“After being in business for over twenty-years, Ray Anderson’s carpet tile company, Interface Inc issued its first Sustainability Report in 1998.” With its production processes at the time Interface Anderson learned that it produced 10,500 tons of solid waste and over 600 million gallons of polluted water, 700 tons of toxic gases, and 63,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. Interface is a billion dollar company, but Anderson decided, along with the shareholders, that this wasn’t the right way to do business. This was reinforced by its customers who started raising questions about recycling, etc. that led him to realize that the production processes needed to be changed.

Someone gave him a book entitled “The Ecology of Commerce,” and the rest is history, or so they say. This book change his outlook on manufacturing. After reading this book he stated he had an epiphany. “It was like the point of the spear, and as I read on and came to the central point of the book, the spear just went deeper and deeper.” The point of Paul Hawken’s book is the biosphere is in decline. Anderson’s response was that he did not want to pass on to his grandchildren something worse that what he received. This truly is leadership.

Richard Niebuhr’s classic work “Christ in Culture” recognizes five ways we as Christians can respond to the culture around us. Christ against culture, where we decide to get out and have nothing to do with the culture around us. Christ of culture, where we blend in and live within the culture. Christ above culture, where we live an enlightened life as an example to others. Christ and culture in paradox, where we live in constant tension with the culture around us. And lastly, Christ the transformer of culture. This is where we recognize the culture around is corrupt, but we work to redeem the culture within which we live. In other words leave the world a better place because we were here.

I don’t know if Ray Anderson was a Christian, but he definitely stood on the premise of making the culture better because he was there. As Christian leaders in business that is what we are called to do, not just make as much money as we can.

And that is my thought for the day!

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