Magnifying Christian Values in the Corporate World
Philip Shee—Dubai, UAE
You are the light of the world.
A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put
it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the
house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works
and glorify your Father in heaven.
While this message was directed at
all Christians, it is especially relevant to those who are entrusted with
supervisory or managerial positions in the workplace. As Christians move up the
corporate ladder, it is natural that we also become more visible. Therefore, it
is not surprising that bosses are regular features of lunchtime conversations.
Just as a city set on a hill, they cannot escape from such scrutiny, especially
from their subordinates. Every little act or word may unleash a wave of
unintended perceptions. Any negative impression created may cause Christian
bosses to be stumbling blocks to their subordinates, who may be turned off by
the Christian faith. For this reason, we need to be careful not to use our
positions to push our weights around when we are promoted to higher positions.
Conversely, if we were to leverage on our visibility and manifest Christian virtues
through our good works, we could gain the respect of our subordinates and be powerful
testimonies that bring glory to God.
The corporate world often
associates position with power. When people are promoted into senior managerial
positions, they assume bigger authority, which often comes with expectations of
submission from other people.
In contrast, the Christian
philosophy for the office place is best expressed by Jesus’ words: “…You know
that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great
exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever
desires to become great among you, let him be your servant” (Mt 20:25–26). Christian
bosses can also adopt this virtue in the workplace. As our careers progress, we
must always remember that the position we hold is a responsibility we have over
staff under our management. If we care for the well-being of our subordinates,
take special interest in helping them progress and serve them by providing the
support they need for success, we will surely stand out from many others. The
fair-minded among our subordinates will see this light shining against the
darkness of bosses who are lording over their staff, raising unreasonable
expectations, and demanding their services only to fuel their own selfish
ambition and progress. Subordinates of good Christian bosses may very well
choose to reciprocate and go the extra mile to support them.
As we adopt the attitude that the
office we hold is about shouldering responsibility for our people rather than
assuming authority over them, we start to magnify our Christian virtues in the
corporate world and provide an effective alternative to successful management
One of the most common grouses in
the workplace is the lack of fairness and transparency in the reward and
recognition system. The undeserving are rewarded for the extra mile they go to socialize,
wine, dine, and golf with the bosses and not for hard work or performance. The
talented and hardworking are not recognized for their excellent performance,
just because they are not in the bosses’ inner circle. These common scenarios
often act as a catalyst to trigger dissatisfaction among employees.
As Christian bosses, we, therefore,
have another opportunity to shine and magnify Christian principles if we adopt
the guidance provided in Jesus’ parable of the minas. In the parable, a certain
nobleman entrusted his servants with one mina each and instructed them to do
business with it. When he returned, the first servant reported that he had made
ten minas from that one mina. He was praised by his master and rewarded with
authority over ten cities. The second servant reported that he had earned five
minas from the one mina. He was then rewarded with authority over five cities.
Then another servant came forward to return the same one mina to the master,
citing his fear over his master’s austerity as the reason for doing nothing.
The master then judged him because he did not even do the barest minimum of
placing the money in the bank to earn interest (Lk 19:13–26). The following
principles can be observed:
The servants who put in effort and
made positive profits were rewarded, while the servant who did not bother to
make even the barest minimum effort was judged. This was not just about the
results but the attitude. Likewise, Christian bosses need to pay attention to
incentivizing good attitudes and dis-incentivizing bad attitudes.
This is very much aligned with the
conclusion in another parable of Jesus, the parable of the talents (Mt
25:14–30). In that parable, the three servants were each given a different
number of talents. The servants given five talents and two talents each gained
another five and two talents respectively. Though the results were different,
both received similar recognition: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you
were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter
into the joy of your lord” (Mt 25:21, 23). The slight difference in this parable
is that the master rewarded both servants equally, as he was fair enough to
expect different results from the different resources he had placed with them.
However, with the servant entrusted with one talent, the conclusion was
similar, with the master rebuking him for not doing even the least by
depositing the money with the bankers to earn interest. The master likewise
concluded that he was a wicked servant and in that parable, also rebuked him
for his laziness (Mt 25:26–27).
All the servants were given the
same resources but achieved different results. The one who achieved more was
given a bigger reward. Equality does not necessarily equate to fairness. If one
had indeed put in more effort and thereby achieved more from the same
resources, it would be inconceivable that he should receive just the same
reward as another who had put in less effort and achieved less.
This principle is also supported
by the parable of the talents illustrated above, with two servants being
rewarded equally for different output because they were given different
resources to start with. The Bible also reminds us, “Masters, give your
bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in
heaven” (Col 4:1).
credit where it is due
In the workplace, it is not
uncommon to see people devote much effort to do a good job, only for the bosses
to take all the credit. There are two important principles for Christian bosses
Do Not Be Guilty of Stealing
While it is less likely for
Christians to willfully break the commandment, “You shall not steal” (Ex
20:15), we may be doing so unknowingly if, as Christian bosses, we simply take
credit for ourselves when we should have attributed credit to our team members.
In a similar vein, the Bible reminds us, “You shall not cheat your neighbor,
nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night
until morning” (Lev 19:13). “Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let
the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry
out against you to the Lord, and
it be sin to you” (Deut 24:15). “Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed
your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the
reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth” (Jas 5:4). It is
noteworthy that withholding wages from workers is equated with cheating,
robbery, and fraud. Though these verses are directly applicable to monetary
wages, this principle is equally applicable as a reminder to Christian bosses
not to withhold credit from our teams.
Christian bosses must recognize
that workers are worthy of the credit due to them. “You must not muzzle an ox
while it treads out the grain” (Deut 25:4). Indeed, it would be completely
unreasonable to expect an ox to continue working while putting a muzzle on it
and denying it from simultaneously grazing or eating. Paul subsequently used
this principle to remind the church that it was not oxen that God was concerned
about when this law was written (1 Cor 9:9). Rather, this principle was about
being fair in rendering to God’s workers the material needs that they deserved
for their work (1 Cor 9:6–12). Later on, this was used again to reinforce the
respect and honor that elders in the church deserve if they rule well,
especially those who labor in work and doctrine (1 Tim 5:17–18). God also gave
a stern warning against the injustice of denying what workers deserve, “Woe to
him who builds his house by unrighteousness [a]nd his chambers by injustice,
[w]ho uses his neighbor’s service without wages [a]nd gives him nothing for his
work” (Jer 22:13).
The importance of this teaching
was played out in the episode between Laban and Jacob when Laban cheated Jacob
and changed his wages ten times. God was displeased with Laban and intervened
to ensure that Jacob received that which was due to him (Gen 31:6–12; 40–42).
As bosses naturally front the work of their teams with their superiors, it is
both easy and tempting to ride on this work to gain advancement and
recognition. However, for Christian bosses, this is another opportunity to
stand out, to be fair and just, and to attribute credit to whom it is due.
“And you, masters, do the same
things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in
heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.” (Eph 6:9)
It is natural for people to
somewhat fear those in positions of authority. For this reason, Christian
bosses should heed the Bible’s instruction to “give up threatening” to portray
an image of kindness and reason, which is more aligned with Christian values.
Boaz has left a wonderful
reference for us in the way he interacted with his workers. When he met with
his workers, he started off with a blessing, “The Lord be with you!” This gesture would have set his workers at
ease, and they responded with a blessing for him as well. This good
relationship between Boaz and his workers was clearly not built upon fear, but
rather, care from the boss and both respect and love from the workers. Boaz
further displayed his kindness towards Ruth when he allowed her to glean in his
field and to drink from what his workers had drawn. He also spoke kindly with
her, comforted her, and blessed her for all she had done for Naomi. In
addition, he specifically instructed his men to deliberately let grain fall
from the bundle so that Ruth might glean (Ruth 2:4–16).
Subordinates often fear their
bosses either because they have an unpleasant nature, or because they are
volatile and unpredictable. For Boaz, his kindness as witnessed by his workers
would have won him respect. Likewise, Christian bosses should seek to earn the
respect of their subordinates rather than instill fear in them. In this way,
Christian bosses will be living testimonies of Christian virtues and bring
glory to the name of the Lord.
There are numerous management
books written about corporate leadership and management theories. While they
may be useful references for the MBA student, what remains a critical
foundation for Christian bosses are the principles in the Bible on how
Christians should treat others. The following are questions about our behavior
that we can reflect upon:
Do we show partiality and treat
our workers shabbily simply because they work for us, while we treat others
less beholden to us with more dignity and respect?
Do we take advantage of our
workers simply because we have the upper hand?
Do we simply issue orders but not
render support to help our team members accomplish the work?
Do we withhold reward and credit
due to our teams but mete out disincentives even quicker when things go wrong?
Are we only interested in the
tasks and not the people?
The proof of a successful boss in
the world may often only be the achievement of the task. But for Christian
bosses, the achievement of the task is a given. Besides and more importantly,
we need to test our success by using additional criteria:
Do our workers see good Christian
values displayed in us such that glory is given to God?
While others may be quick to bring
management concepts into the church, have we actually done it the right way
round, i.e., bring the church into the world by displaying Christian virtues in
the workplace so we can reach out to people through our good conduct?
Are our workers submissive simply
because of fear or out of respect?
If our workers had a choice, would
they still choose to stay on and work with us?
If our workers should walk into
church one day and see us there as an active member, will their first reaction
be one of bewilderment at our hypocrisy or will it be a smile of enlightenment
as to the secret of our good behavior?
These questions can continue. But
more importantly, can we stand before God and declare that we have made the
best of the position He has blessed us with to glorify Him?