Biblical Leadership
1/6/11 at 07:49 AM 0 Comments

Leaders need to threaten at times

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"Law is commands joined to threats of punishment."
– John Austin

Lamentations deals with the apparent contradiction between the biblical principles of harsh punishment and gentleness and love. In this chapter, we'll look at how to live out this leadership paradox without alienating our people.

Jeremiah, the author of this book, was considered a threat by the people he so dearly wanted to save. When his long-ignored warnings finally came true, Jeremiah witnessed the nation's destruction with deep sorrow. God simply did what he said he would do, even though "He does not enjoy bringing affliction or suffering on mankind" (Lam. 3:33).

The biblical definition of integrity is not just doing the right thing, or doing what you say you will do. It is both rewarding and punishing at the proper times. God himself often couples blessings and threats.

Let's look closer at God's discipline/reward management process:
1) He establishes rules
2) Warns of the consequences for disobedience
3) Pleads with those who disobey
4) Disciplines when the rules are broken
5) Restores relationships through forgiveness and reconciliation

The most overlooked step in today's organizations is #3: if you lead, at times you need to plead.

Through Jeremiah, God implored his people to repent. He gave them ample time to turn from their ways to avoid judgment. Though he did not enjoy it, his character compelled him to follow through on his threats.

One way to enhance our own reputations as leaders is to bind ourselves to our threats. Jeremiah did this by declaring God's promises in public.

In a Harvard Business School article, "Six Steps for Making Your Threat Credible," author Deepak Malhotra advises leaders to increase their negotiating power by visibly restricting their ability to retreat. "A public commitment makes it difficult for a negotiator to back down from a threat.... There is no better way to make your threat credible than to ensure that you can't go back on your word."

Threats are heard louder and clearer when the leader has the guts to address a group head-on, rather than keeping it to one-on-one admonitions.

An existing reputation as a threat-keeper reduces the likelihood the leader will have to make good on them. Of course, we must make realistic threats of punishment – unlike the angry parent who threatens to turn the car around, then has to threaten again when the back-seat squabbling continues. On the other extreme, unreasonable punishment demotivates. What's the use in trying to please the leader anymore, when he's left us lying bloody in the dirt?

The power of principle also lends weight to threats. I know a leader that is so fanatical about "the principle of the matter" that he will devote hours of personal time and energy to right a wrong, regardless of the cost. The return on his investment comes in the form of influence. No one wants him to find out they've done something wrong.

Is your reputation what you want it to be? Your personal leadership brand is what everyone thinks everyone else thinks about you. In other words, if someone says to a rebellious coworker, "Bill won't allow that," different employees may interpret that differently: "Bill is an ethical leader," "Bill isn't afraid to lead with conviction," or "I'm going to stop fighting Bill on this – he has too many allies." Reputational leadership is like having your own mini prophets speaking for you. Not only does it make you more effective, but it is a huge timesaver.

When our people both fear and love us, the stage is set for stellar performance, which leads to job satisfaction and further results. This cycle is fed by the dual-natured leader who isn't afraid to inflict tough love and appropriate pressure.

Robert Rosen, author of Just Enough Anxiety, says a healthy level of anxiety can be an asset. "Be constructive and impatient at the same time. Being constructive involves creating a safe work environment; being impatient involves stretching beyond what seems possible."

A love/hate relationship is the antithesis of God's perfect love/fear leadership style. In the divine model, a lot of love, mixed with some fear, yields long-term, healthy results. When the Lord disciplines, he grieves. When he punishes, he laments.

And when his people obey, he blesses them.

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Tom Harper is president of NetWorld Alliance, which publishes www.churchcentral.com and several online news portals in the retail, banking, technology and restaurant industries.

He is author of Leading from the Lions' Den: Leadership Principles from Every Book of the Bible, (B&H Publishing, 2010). His Twitter account is @TomRHarper.

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