Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Gospel and Authentic Leadership

It can hardly be called a groundswell, but over the past couple of years, there has been an increasing appreciation for authenticity in leadership.    Harvard Business School professor, Bill George has been at the forefront of this discussion.   His book, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership promotes the idea that effective leaders are first and foremost, authentic leaders.  Leaders with character, rather than simply charisma.   In this HBS podcast interview, he discusses some of the concepts in his book.  

I think Bill George is absolutely correct about the importance of authentic leadership.   However, I'd like to extend the discussion in a specific way by suggesting that it is the gospel that truly and ultimately brings authenticity into our lives and hence into our leadership.  

The lack of authenticity in life or leadership stems from our fallen nature.   We seek to obscure who we are, consciously or otherwise, because we find it difficult to confront our own fallen state.   As David says in Psalm 51 - "For I know my transgression, and my sin is ever before me... Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me"

Without the remedy of the gospel, we have no recourse.   But in the gospel, we discover the both the gravity of our moral failure and the power of God's gracious love for us.    We are freed to love and serve others rather than to live for ourselves.    We are freed to lead, based on what is right rather than what is popular.   We are freed to fight injustice at great cost to ourselves because we have a eternal treasure in Christ that transcends our experience in this life.   Most importantly, when we fail, perhaps even in being honest or authentic, we can dispel guilt by remembering the work of Christ on our behalf.

For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.    (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Here's the point - authenticity means being who you were really meant be.   The effect of Christ's saving work restores us to our Maker and frees us to be, exactly who we were created to be.   Want to be an authentic leader?  You might want to start by believing and applying the gospel daily.


bradley j moore said...

Although this is a genuine issue worthy of discussion, I think it is a bit over the top to say that leaders can only be authentic if they become Christians. In fact I know plenty of Christian leaders who are not at all authentic. They are simply shallow, or caught up a narrow and self-centered view of their world, or emotionally limited.

Very interesting discussion!

Every Square Inch said...


Thanks for your comment. I'm not actually saying that leaders can ONLY be authentic if they become Christians. That wouldn't be true.

What I am saying is that the gospel is the key to ultimate authenticity and to the extent that we believe the gospel, we will be more authentic. I do believe that the most authentic of non-Christian leaders will still be limited in their authenticity because authenticity is measured in reference to who you were intended to be. If you do have a relationship with your Maker, I'm not sure how you have an accurate perception of that

Christian leaders who are not authentic are not functioning in the truth of the gospel...and like you, I've seen plenty of those, unfortunately.

Now why couldn't I just have said that in my post? :-)

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good post and comments. This reminds me that in being restored into the image of God through Christ we are actually becoming more human, and more what the goal of humanity truly is.

I am kind of leary of leadership books. They usually have some good in them, maybe even a lot of good, yet are fatally flawed if you buy them completely. Because unless our relationship to God, to ourselves, to each other, and to God's world is redeemed through Christ, something is fatally flawed in our lives.

Good food for thought here, ESI. Thanks.

L.L. Barkat said...

the gravity of our moral failure...

ah, yes.

Every Square Inch said...

Ted - thanks. I agree with you - much of effective leadership starts with understanding yourself and those around you. Having a relationship with your Maker would appear to be key to that.

LL - authenticity is just one casualty of our moral failure

James H. Gilmore said...

I agree with the overall tone of the post. However, with regard to the summary point, "authenticity means being who you were really meant be" -- such might be better understood as obedience, contentment or simply faithfulness.

Too often -- in an age that seeks to be authentic -- we thrust the concept upon that which would be better understood in other, indeed more biblical, terms.

Why speak in terms of "ultimate authenticity" when we can point to the Way, the Truth, and the Life?

See Jud Wilhite's excellent take-away from his interaction with me on this point, available as pint #3at:

Every Square Inch said...

James - thanks for your thoughts. When I say that "true authenticity is actually being who you were created to be" - I don't just mean obedience, etc...

Actually, the point I'm making is this - what does it mean for us to be authentic? It's more than just being "sincere" or "culturally genuine" - it means fulfilling what we were meant to be - image bearers for an eternal God. That's why without coming to know and restored to our Maker, we cannot be "ultimately authentic"