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Faith in Leadership

Faith in Leadership

by Robert Banks, Kimberly Powell

Leadership based on faith in God makes for good works, fulfilled workers, and healthy organizations. In this important guide, respected leaders from diverse organizations show how faithfulness and leadership can not only comfortably coincide but successfully combine. They offer real-world examples of how authentic faithfulness supports an organization's mission,


Leadership based on faith in God makes for good works, fulfilled workers, and healthy organizations. In this important guide, respected leaders from diverse organizations show how faithfulness and leadership can not only comfortably coincide but successfully combine. They offer real-world examples of how authentic faithfulness supports an organization's mission, informs core leadership values, provides wisdom for thriving in a chaotic environment, teaches us to share power, and moves us to mentor the next generation of faithful leaders.

Sponsored by the De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Theological Seminary, Faith in Leadership skillfully merges the hands-on experiences of leaders from broadly varied fields with current research on workplace dynamics. Leaders looking for wisdom on how to live out their faith at work will find Faith in Leadership a pragmatic and inspiring guide.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"For those in leadership who want to explore the issue of faith and its impact on the way people operate in the workplace, Faith In Leadership is a must-read." (Millard Fuller, founder and president, Habitat for Humanity International)

"This book contains many interesting and practical insights that will be of great value to anyone in a position of business leadership struggling with the relevance of strong Christian convictions in a pluralistic society." (Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, international adviser, Goldman Sachs International)

"One reason I am grateful for this book is that I learned as much from it about the power of faith as I did about the challenge of leadership. But the most important reason is that it gave me a new vision of how each needs and enriches the other." (Lewis B. Smedes, professor of Christian ethics, emeritus, Fuller Theological Seminary, and author of The Art of Forgiving and Standing on the Promises)

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Disjunction Between Faith and Faithfulness

My main interest in this chapter is the responsibility of faith-based leaders in for-profit and nonprofit organizations to reintegrate faith and faithfulness in their workplaces. If I focus more in what follows on personal than on structural expressions of faithfulness, it is for reasons of space, although I will provide some examples of structural expressions. When I use the word faith, I have in mind a combination of what is covered by the terms belief, trust, and commitment, for faith involves rational, emotional, and volitional components. The classic theological understanding of faith is that it is more a gift from God than a human capacity. This understanding of the word is a far cry from the way it is used in popular speech, even among religiously minded people. In that context, it tends to refer simply to having confidence in someone or something, often when there are no grounds for such confidence, and it is regarded as more inherent in some people than in others, or as a capacity that anyone can summon up.

Movement Toward Individual Faith

Over the last two centuries, as a by-product of modernity, we have seen a steady movement toward individual faith. As the public realm (which includes work) gradually became separate from the institutional church (which was increasingly a private realm), people began to think of faith as primarily a personal matter, a shift that took place as part of the wider movement to separate private and public life. In the post-Puritan period, for example, many people began to draw a firm boundary between their work and their religious commitments; they attended to each but focused on one primarily during the week and on the other around the edges of the day and on Sunday. Voluntary associations (frequently established by religious-minded people) bridged this gap, but over time these associations, too, tended to become separated from their faith-based origins. This tendency became more pronounced with the growth of individualism and the weakening of absolutes. It resulted in the equation of faith with personal conviction, and of morality with personal values.

Shift from Vocations to Careers

There has been a profound shift from following a call or vocation to pursuing a career. Whenever someone has a strong sense of vocation, it forms a bridge between religious beliefs and public activities. This sense of vocation enables faith to be carried more fully into one's conduct at work and into workplace structures. When the emphasis shifts from calling to career, however, the link between a person's private and public worlds is weakened. Work becomes a personal expression rather than a divine commission, a means of personal achievement rather than of public obedience, an arena for individual fulfillment rather than social transformation.

Preoccupation with Gain and Results

There is a growing preoccupation with financial gain and tangible results, and especially with short-term gains rather than long-term effectiveness. Where the quest for financial success dominates everything else, it is all too easy for people to cut corners--not just moral corners but others as well, thus affecting organizational culture, the aspirations and needs of employees, and the organization's social and economic responsibility to the wider community. Concentration on the bottom line and a shortsighted view of the future frequently result in a divorce between goals and values, means and ends, people and processes, words and actions. (Of course, too little attention to the bottom line creates a different set of problems.) Just to complicate the matter, sometimes even the achievement of a competitive advantage or unexpected profits will lead a firm to shred loyalty by shedding employees.

Understanding Faithfulness

In considering how to move beyond simply having faith to being faithful, I will start with what is self-evident and move on to what is usually overlooked. Faithfulness in the workplace involves more than maintaining a consistent personal relationship with God and talking about one's faith with others. Diehl (1987) asked a number of mainline religious people in the workplace for a definition of faithfulness. Most defined it in terms of belief in or commitment to God, with the emphasis on the private dimension of the relationship; some respondents connected faithfulness with following the example or standards of Christ, or with asking what Christ would do in a given situation. If Diehl had asked a group with a more charismatic or fundamentalist orientation, he probably would have been told that being faithful entails sharing one's personal relationship with Christ with others. At any rate, few of the people that Diehl interviewed made a connection between faith in God and faithfulness to others in any broader sense. Of course, there are appropriate times and settings in the workplace for sharing something about one's faith; this is one part of being faithful, especially when such sharing arises organically out of the work that people are doing together. It is also true that asking about Christ's life or standards is a way of determining what faithfulness involves. Nevertheless, sharing our worldviews and beliefs, and focusing solely on the example of Christ, is not primarily what faithfulness involves, nor is it how faith is discerned, however great a role such sharing or such a focus may play in the workplace.

Faithful Leadership in Action

Just as institutions, situations, and problems differ, so do courses of action. Confronted with the challenge of exhibiting faithfulness, a company in a relatively homogeneous culture can respond in ways that a large corporation in a multicultural environment cannot. An organization, whether large or small, that is still family-owned, and that resonates with its founders' values, provides opportunities and challenges that are different from those found in a company that has been set up primarily on more pragmatic grounds, by people who have formed a pact to work together for certain limited ends. An organization providing customer service as a unified package over several years is in a different position from one that deals with discrete products and that has rapid turnover in customers. A consultancy that challenges organizations to undertake a paradigm shift in how they operate is under a greater obligation than its counterparts to model, through its own governance and practices, what it is advocating. Despite these differences, however, there are a number of areas in which leaders and institutions can exhibit similar forms of faithfulness.

Organizational Mission

Every organization has a mission. Sometimes an organization's mission statement is in writing, and sometimes it is not. Sometimes it is clear, and sometimes it is confused. Sometimes it is clear from the beginning; sometimes it requires time for experiment and feedback.


Over a period of time, the leaders of organizations will tend to make a range of promises to those who work with and for them. These promises may be large or small, explicit or implicit, personal or collective, strong or weak. Like many politicians' promises, these may be met with skepticism; as many cultural critics have lamented, there seems to be a growing disparity, in private as well as public life, between the promises that leaders and institutions make and the promises that they keep. This disparity is due in part to the changing definition of what a promise is: nowadays, most people seem to regard a promise as the expression of a hope rather than as the creation of an obligation. The disparity is also due to the move away from a principle-based ethic and toward a situational, fulfillment-oriented one whereby it is enough, in order to break a promise, to say that external circumstances or personal aspirations have changed. According to De Pree (1997, p. 127), "At the heart of fidelity lies ... promise keeping." This statement applies as much to a leader's external relations with providers, partners, agents, customers, and the wider community as it does to his or her internal relations with stockholders, superiors, peers, subordinates, and their families.


We all make mistakes. The best leaders know this, factor it in to their calculations, and get on with the business of doing the best they can. This does not mean, however, that they overlook others' mistakes and fail to hold them accountable. As De Pree comments (1997, p. 127), "truth-telling" is at the heart of faithfulness in the workplace, and sometimes telling the truth means that a leader must circumspectly identify unwelcome realities, which some may not want made public.

Job Security

Once upon a time, mostly as an unwritten understanding, it was possible for some organizations to hire people for life. In a more stable society, with less emphasis on individualism and a stronger sense of class, lifelong employment by the firm and lifelong loyalty to the firm were common. But times have changed, and this arrangement is now the rare exception. The number of jobs that the average person will cycle through in the course of a lifetime keeps growing. Job shift has replaced job security. Serial relationships with several firms are the rule rather than a permanent arrangement.

Nurturing Faithful Leadership

Faithful leadership does not come merely from gaining knowledge about it. You cannot acquire it by taking a set of seminars or a course (although these certainly may help you toward a better understanding of what is involved).

Indirect Approach

A few years ago, a well-known national figure was talking about the kind of leadership that will be required in the next century. This sort of leadership, he said, will not come from those who operate on the basis of institutional power or formal qualifications. Some of its most important characteristics and capacities will require would-be leaders to place themselves into settings (such as voluntary associations) where, initially, they will hold no positions, where their qualifications will not matter, and where there will be few tangible rewards. In those settings, they will generally only begin to earn others' respect and trust, by serving the associations' aims and purposes faithfully over a period of time. This will be one way for people to learn and cultivate some of the qualities involved in faithful leadership.

Direct Approach

The opportunity to observe how a more experienced leader handles issues related to faithfulness is a wonderful asset, especially if such a leader is willing to invest time in younger or emerging leaders. We can also learn from our peers who seek to practice faithfulness, and we should not forget what we might gain from observing how subordinates in positions of leadership handle this challenge; sometimes they know more about consistency and loyalty than those to whom they are responsible. We can also learn from other role models whose stories we come across in books, journals, and magazines.


I have argued that leaders should take faithfulness as well as faith more seriously and seek to integrate them more completely in the workplace. Doing so will increase their capacity to live by faith, and to be faithful as well as full of faith. It will also bring with it a decided individual advantage: not only does it develop a greater degree of integration and integrity, it also creates an advantage for others in the organization; it leads to a clearer understanding of organizational goals and values, a better sense of morale, a higher degree of trust, and a higher rate of retention. As De Pree says (1997, pp. 127, 129), "Trust grows when people see leaders translate their personal integrity into organizational fidelity" and when followers see "that leaders can be depended on to do the right thing."

Meet the Author

ROBERT BANKS is senior international fellow of the De Pree Leadership Center and academic director and CEO of the Macquarie Christian Studies Institute in Sydney, Australia. KIMBERLY POWELL The former manager of marketing and communication for the De Pree Leadership Center, Kimberly Powell is a resident chaplain at the Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

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