What’s your preference: to have a nice boss or a mean boss?
Ever had a nice boss? Not many demands. Lots of smiling. Doesn’t make you uncomfortable or press you about your performance.
Probably you’ve had one of those. And likely you’ve a mean boss, too: overbearing, negative, and generally made life stink. Bosses like that remind me of an experience I had at the art museum: My 5-year-old son and I were looking at painting, when, as we moved closer to the piece, a gruff voice behind croaked, “No sir! Step away.” Kinda spoiled the moment. Kinda spoiled the rest of the tour. It’s hard to enjoy a beautiful moment when you feel like you’re being judged.
When you see one of us, your teachers and mentors, we don’t want you to suddenly feel tense or anxious, like you now need to perform or perish. We don’t want to evoke dread when we walk into the room.
On the other hand, we don’t want you to feel nothing.
In an article on BBC.com, Professor Sydney Finkelstein at Dartmouth College identifies the kind of feelings we wish to provoke in you: “profound respect, loyalty, even love.” Good leaders elicit such a response because they are “not afraid to lay down the law.” They demand excellence, and, says Finkelstein, “their toughness, accompanied by their adherence to their unique and inspiring visions, often generates more esteem among their reports, not less.”
I like to think of this kind of person as a “kingly” leader: they bear a majesty in their manner, like a crown on their brow, and just being in their presence evokes reverence. Nice bosses, contrarily, garner little respect because they fall victim to “Nice Boss Syndrome.”
Consider our Lord, the King of Kings, or the Boss of Bosses, if you will. Was Jesus a nice boss?
Our Lord is compassionate, kind, and merciful, but not nice. “He’s not a tame lion.” Nor is he “safe.”
“But he is good.” He’s a rock you can cling to, or break yourself to pieces on. As a good king, Jesus dearly loves his subjects (to the death), while at the same time demanding their best.
A truly Christian boss mirrors Christ by joining in himself two seemingly opposed qualities: an unrelenting drive for excellence and an inexhaustible source of encouragement. He or she must be able to call people to do hard things in a way that motivates them out of excitement, joy, and passion, not anxiety or fearfulness.
To grow in “kingliness”:
- Admit you have room to grow as a leader. Ask God for help, and intentionally open your heart and mind to learning.
- Envision the “kingdom” you’re responsible for. It might be your family, ministry team, small group, or work crew. What will that realm look like when it reaches its full potential of thriving?
- What changes need to happen for your kingdom to flourish? If you aren’t aware, ask your people, and seek counsel from wise leaders outside your kingdom. Be ready to receive criticism without trying to defend yourself.
- In partnership with co-leaders (e.g., spouse, coworker), craft a strategy for change, and start implementing it today. Review your strategy and get new feedback regularly. Make modifications as needed.
- Lastly, to be a better leader, learn to be a good follower. For more on that, see Michael Hyatt’s “Why the Best Leaders are Great Followers: 5 Hidden Attributes that Command Respect.”
We don’t assume that we’ve arrived as Christ-like leaders, and you have permission to call us out when we falter. But this is our goal, and we expect—we demand—that if you wish to follow us as we follow Christ, you will seek after Christ-like leadership and become good, kingly (but not nice) bosses.
Shoulder to Shoulder,
The 3:14 Team