Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Leadership Lessons

Building Relationships as a Leader in the Workplace

By Kent Humphreys 

Leadership is the one thing that we talk about constantly, but yet know so little about. Most of us spend time attending seminars and reading the latest books on leadership, but few of us take the time to examine the life of the greatest leader that has ever lived – Jesus Christ. Jesus knew that leadership is all about relationships. It is not something that can be learned in a classroom, but instead is best understood through modeling. Mentoring is a lost art in our marketplace – one of the places where it is most needed! Because of the lack of mentorship CEOs seek out and receive, they may last less than two years in a given high pressure position. Also, many of those whom we consider successful in business or their professional arena have given up their marriage, family, and values in order to achieve “success”. In most cases, this could have been prevented with proper mentorship. I want to examine the foundation for all leadership and share with you what I consider to be the three indispensable qualities for any leader. So, let us get started on our journey to understanding who a leader is and how he or she builds bridges of trust with their followers.

A Crisis in My Business

The year was 1990, and I was facing one of the biggest leadership challenges of my life. My brothers and I had been running a family distribution business since 1972. After several years of failure, we finally turned the business around and were growing at a rate of 50% cumulative annually for seven years in a row. Through acquisitions, we continued to grow in a declining industry. By 1989, we thought that we had peaked. Then, we lost our largest customer – that was 30% of our business! Around that time, one brother left to go into real estate. Seven months later, the second brother left to go into sports broadcasting. I was left with the business and bought back their remaining stock over the next three to four years. We had had a tremendous run of success and had done so with great relationships between the three of us. Yet, we three brothers had really been the sole leadership team, splitting the profits and the responsibilities. The immediate financial burden caused by their departure proved to be minor compared to what further revealed itself as a leadership issue, as I struggled to lead 300 employees in 30 states.

I had to make the adjustment from going from a leadership team dominated by three equity owners to one led by me, but consisting of six senior leaders. I had been close to my brothers and my Dad whom had office space with us. We would go to lunch two or three times a week and discuss major issues. In just seven months that team was gone. I was all alone. I tended to withdraw and spend a lot of time in my office with the door closed. During that time my wife, who had not been involved in the business, became my trusted counselor. I tried to find a couple of employees which I could trust and shared the issues that I was facing. They were all great people with years in the firm, but the leadership situation had completely changed. It was at that time that I learned a major lesson in leadership. I did not realize that lesson until seven years later when I had been asked to speak to a young executive conference. At that time, I questioned my leadership team and asked them to share with me the three or four qualities that they looked for in a leader. Two of those qualities were no surprise, but the third one was a shock to me. I will share it with you in a moment, but first let us talk about relationships which are the foundation for any leader.


Relationships are the key to building a company culture. The leader sets the tone for the company’s culture. That culture is the basis for the long term success of any company. Whether you are the business owner, the CEO, an executive, or just an employee, you as an individual can build relationships regardless of the culture. The key to building relationships is the heart – one of the most popular topics in the Bible and one that Jesus repeatedly talked about. People want to know that you love them and have their best interests at heart. That love can only flow through us as the Holy Spirit helps us to put our own selfish interests behind those of the people around us. The long-term success of your organization will not be primarily determined by anyone’s talent and ability, but instead by the relationships within it. Jesus said-“I command you to love each other in the same way that I love you. And here is how to measure it — the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends.” John 15:12-14 (NLT). 

How do we learn to do this? Jesus is the best model for relationships; He uses the example of others, stories from the Bible, and His life. These relationships are the basis for sharing a common vision, valuing people and their gifts, team building, and holding people accountable.

Three Leadership Qualities

My leadership team reminded me that a good leader possesses three characteristics, all of which are learned. They are integrity, accessibility, and servant leadership. 

“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” Proverbs 11:3 (NIV). Joseph exemplified integrity time and again as he allowed the Holy Spirit to guide him in the foreign culture of Egypt. From his imprisonment to his rule, this leadership characteristic helped define him.

Accessibility was the most surprising characteristic relayed to me by my leadership team. It is the one quality that we rarely – if ever – talk about under the umbrella of leadership. I had to learn to be accessible to my team; to be available when they needed me. The rest of the time I tried to stay out of their way and let them lead in their respective area of responsibility. Paul reminds us, “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 3:12. Jesus is our example as He is readily available to us at the Father’s right hand, and King David was constantly accessible to his men.

The Psalmist reminds us, “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” Psalm 77:20 (NIV). God the Father is the example of servant leadership as is Daniel in the nation of Babylon. As we spend time with the Father, then we get to know Him. As we do that, then we will become much better leaders. A good leader provides leadership that is clear and timely. This kind of leadership is enabling, encouraging, supportive, and confidence-building. Because this kind of leader is focused on serving others, he or she sees co-workers as real people and not just assets.

The characteristics in reverse are much more obvious in poor leaders. The opposite of integrity is instability and is modeled by Saul and discussed in the first chapter of James. The opposite of accessibility is withdrawal and is shown by Elijah as he ran for his life in 1 Kings 19. The opposite of servant leadership is pride as modeled by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3. We as leaders can learn much from bad examples. God brings challenges and difficulties into our life normally through family members and workplace relationships in order to build His character and the fruits of the Spirit into our lives. If we resist the lesson that He is trying to bring into our life through one trial, then God will patiently bring another situation into our life until we learn our lesson.

I do not have time to identify for you the three characteristics that you should look for in your leadership team. You can find the entire PowerPoint presentation on our website at www.lifestyleimpact.com. Just remember that we as leaders build long-term relationships of trust in the workplace through integrity, accessibility, and servant leadership. We do this as we are real, spend time with our co-workers, and serve them, allowing them to be all that God intended.

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