Servant Leadership and Reputation

(This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

“It’s not about Russ; it’s about us.”

I say this every once in a while to my Operations team.  One context where I say this is when I am sharing a personal story from my own experience.  I want to emphasize that the purpose of the story is not to put the spotlight on me.  My intent is to provide mentorship and to develop these future leaders for the greater good of our team, our customers, our superiors, and the organization we serve.

It is well-known that the one word that epitomizes a distinctly Christlike approach to managing others is “servant” leadership.  I lead in order to serve.  I have been entrusted with this huge responsibility to manage a small team, to care for and train individuals on my team, to provide all the resources they need to be successful, and to ensure that the team works well together so that we can function well.

I have found over the past thirteen years in this great job that I hold now, that as I have served my team, my customers, and my superiors well, I have built and maintained a solid reputation of trust.  This not only reflects on me, but more importantly, it reflects well on my organization and its leaders.

Before I dive in to my practical focus and share some wisdom regarding the benefits of building a solid reputation, I would be remiss if I did not touch on a few relevant Scriptures to this topic.

What does Scripture have to say?

In Prov. 3:3-4, Solomon exhorts his son to not forget the teachings of Yahweh, and to be a loving and faithful man.  If he does this, he will win the respect of others and will develop a good reputation.

The verse I most often think of when I think of the word reputation is Prov. 22:1, which states, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  The Theology of Work Bible Commentary (vol. 2) summarizes this key verse in this way: “In particular, the wise care more about their honest reputations than about their bank accounts.”  Well said. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes, which may have been Solomon also, expresses in Eccl. 7:1 a similar concept about the lasting value of a solid reputation.  He states that it is better than fine perfume. 

Serving my team

I have heard it said that all leaders bring joy to their workplace.  Some leaders do it when they step into the office.  Other leaders do it when they leave the office.  I know which one I want to strive to be.  I do want people to feel good about working on my team.  It is not about winning a popularity contest.  It is about creating a positive work environment where every one of my employees are treated with dignity and respect.  (I invite you to read an article I wrote on this critical topic here.)

With all my faults, I know that I do some things right.  I genuinely care for my people.  I take an interest in their personal lives, their families, their health, and their careers.  I take time to ask how people are doing; I really want to know.  I make an honest attempt to listen and care when needed.

When they leave the unit, I want to ensure each member of my team remembers how they were cared for so they know what right looks like.   When they go to their next unit, they can go and do likewise.

Serving my customers

I am not quite sure why I get all these calls, but I often receive phone calls requesting information (i.e., a publication, a point of contact, a phone number, etc.).  I do what I can to assist; it does not matter who it is.  I treat a phone call or email request for information from a Sergeant in the Army National Guard with the same dignity and respect as a full-bird Colonel working at the Pentagon.

Here’s why this is so important.  If I fail to assist them in a timely and professional manner, they will not necessarily remember my name when they complain to someone.  They will attribute the lack of support to the organization.  However, if I do assist them well, the organization will get all the credit.

Ultimately, what I do or fail to do will directly impact people’s impression of my organization.  As I perform my duties and responsibilities, my personal reputation will directly impact the reputation of my organization.  If I am trustworthy, they will trust my unit.  If I fail to earn that trust, they won’t trust the organization.  Once again, it has come full circle.  It’s really not about Russ; it’s about us.

Serving my superiors

I have shared a little of why and how I have showed a servant spirit to my team and to my customers.  Lastly, I need to discuss how I serve my bosses.  For me, this is probably the most difficult of the three groups of people to focus on.  (I have reflected on this in a previous article on my blog here.)

Let me share some of my challenges.  In the Army school headquarters where I serve, the officers and NCOs rotate in and out of positions every year or two.  Just when I get them trained, it’s time for them to go.  I say that facetiously, but there is some truth to it.  My role is to provide continuity. 

Every time I get a new supervisor, it usually takes several months to earn their trust and to develop a good working relationship with them.  Sometimes, it happens sooner than that.  Sometimes, it just does not happen.  Unfortunately, it is not always possible to be at peace with all.  (See Rom. 12:18.)

However, I found that when I work as unto the Lord, humbly submit to their authority, anticipate what they (and their bosses) might need, and go the extra mile to try to meet their high standards and expectations, they begin to learn to trust me, knowing that I am there to set them up for success.

My challenge

I do not know what your situation is like at work.  I do not know what kind of reputation you have with your team, your customers, or your superiors.  However, I do know that if needed, you can begin today by serving them all in a Christ-like manner with humility, diligence, and grace by meeting their needs on a consistent basis.  As you do this good work, not to be seen by others, but to serve God wholeheartedly, your excellent reputation will increase, and will bring glory your Father in heaven.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 110 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

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