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Surrendering Territory

It is said that bureaucratic programs are easy to create but impossible to destroy. It is said that they develop a life of their own. There is some truth to this. As I have written before, when decision making becomes ‘policy,’ it becomes unowned—no one has responsibility for the decisions and their consequences anymore, they are ‘just following procedure.’

This also occurs because egos of those involved can feel failure if the program they created, manage or are part of is no longer needed, so they seek to justify its existence.

Paradoxically, programs and policies live on because no one wants to risk sticking their neck out to take responsibility for a potentially unpopular decision or other display of true leadership. Sometimes it happens out of a desire to save their careers because they don’t want to expend the energy to search for a new opportunity or are fearful of losing the security they have in their current position.

In both cases, the root cause is fear. Fear of losing prestige, a job, authority, influence and so on. Fear of taking a risk and making a mistake. Fear of making others angry or unhappy.

The motivation has switched from achieving a goal to self-preservation. This results in innovation becoming stagnation, and leadership degenerating into management.

Christ has called us to something even higher than mere leadership—servanthood. When a person is acting as a true servant, they have committed to their master’s cause and have left worries for self behind. Notice they have not left self behind, but worries for self. There is a critical difference here. Their selfhood is in the service of the master’s business, not subsumed by it, but contributing to it.

When one serves fully, innovation and leadership result. Pursuing the goal becomes more important than preserving process for process’ sake.

For example:  in the parable of the talents, two of the servants innovate and produce gain for the master, while one preserves process and is punished. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and Levite let the rules of their office prevent them from truly honoring God (following their Master) and seeking the betterment and health of one in need. The Samaritan understood and pursued the big picture, abandoning the cultural mores for the sake of serving another.

The heroes of these stories serve without concern for self, but giving of self and lead to transformation. The losers of these stories acted out of fear and thus hid in the safety of policy.

We all have masters, and many such masters are policies and institutions and programs themselves. But our true Master is God—we are to work as unto the Lord. Thus, the programs in which we work are merely the vehicles in which we have the opportunity to serve, and thus transform, innovate and lead.

Yeah, we might incur the displeasure of some of those around us, but typically they are the ones who have surrendered to a mindset of fear. But true service lifts others up, as everyone who has had a pleasant customer service experience understands.

A true servant recognizes when their current role or task comes to an end, gracefully surrendering that territory of authority or security, in order that they may be ready for the next, and that the overall mission continues forward rather than stagnating or moving backwards.

The questions that remain are:  have we as faculty internalized this mindset and act accordingly in our campus assignments, and do we instill this spirit of servanthood, innovation and leadership in our students?

PS--It is interesting to note that my spell checker doesn’t even recognize ‘servanthood’ as a word—a sign of how rare this concept is in our culture.


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