Great Leaders Use Climbing Ropes, Do You?
Seeing your people as ends and not means
This is our fifth week looking at icons, simple objects that connect us to deep Biblical truths. We started with a jar of dirt to remind us that ‘It’s All His!’ We moved on to a paddle, to remind us that He is in control, and then to an apple to help us remember we are called to bear God’s fruit not just produce our own. Last week it was a mirror that helped us see ourselves as beloved children of God.
This week we consider a simple piece of rope. More specifically, a climbing rope hikers would use to tether themselves together so one could stop the other from sliding off a cliff if they should fall. For leaders, this is a reminder of how God would have us see the people who work for us and with us.
Simply put, there are two ways we can manage relationships with those with whom we work and serve. Owner leaders are tempted to view others as means to their own ends. Remember, if we ‘own’ our job and tie our identity to our position, then our agenda will dominate our relationships. That is, others must perform to achieve the success we need to bolster our reputation and protect our self-image. The dark side of owner-leader management is manipulation, and while this may sound harsh, we see it in every organization that is led by an owner-leader. It is the inevitable result of a culture of ownership and self-promotion.
The alternative is the steward leader who finds their identity in Christ and is set free to lift others up. Such leaders equip, encourage and empower the people around them. They are not threatened when others have great ideas or get recognition for outstanding performance. They are free to deflect praise to their team and champion the people they serve. Steward leaders see the people around them as fellow travelers on the same journey. Because they are moving toward the same goal, steward leaders gladly tether themselves with their people and journey with them, ensuring that everyone arrives at the summit together. In this way, steward leaders see others as ends in themselves.
Here is how Barry, our mentor in The Seventh Key, explains it to Jack, the struggling executive.
“This fifth key has to do with our relationship with the people around us.”
“Yeah, I’m tracking with you.”
“Great. So let’s talk about means and ends. Remember how these keys all build on each other? That’s especially true with this fifth one, where we move on to our love for our neighbor.”
Jack nodded. “There’s that verse about loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself, is that what were talking about?”
Barry smiled back at him. “Yes, exactly. We can’t understand what it means to love our neighbor if we’re still chained in the first two areas. It’s out of the freedom of our love for God and our acceptance and love for who we are that we really have a chance to love our neighbor the way God called us to. And for me, it’s a whole lot harder than it sounds.”
Jack furled his brow. “Why’s that?”
“Well, it’s the old sin of my pride getting in the way. Or maybe I should say it’s my agenda that gets in the way. You see, when I start my day focused on what I need to accomplish in order to be successful, I see the relationships in my life as means to that end. People I run into or work with either help me accomplish my agenda or hinder me. I discovered my relationships were based more on what I was getting from others than anything else. I know that sounds kind of harsh. But when I looked in my heart, I had to admit I saw most of relationships in this way. Even my marriage, I’m sorry to say. I realized how often I saw Katie as the person who would meet my needs, as the means to achieve my own idea of what marriage was supposed to be. It’s hard to admit, but really everyone around me fit into that category.”
Jack took a sip of coffee from the oversized, emerald-green mug and looked out the window for a moment. “I guess I’m trying to think of what the alternative is. We need people to get things done, don’t we? We count on people to accomplish things so that we can meet our goals and accomplish tasks. Help me to see where you’re going with this, Barry.”
“Well, you see the problem, Jack. Everything in our culture seems to point to this understanding of relationships as the acceptable way. We have agendas, goals, and expectations put on us, and we need people to help us accomplish them. So we use people to get what we want. Again, it’s kind of a harsh way of putting it, but really isn’t that what it comes down to? We can be good managers, congenial colleagues and even friends, but if deep inside our ultimate agenda requires us to use the people around us to accomplish it, then they’ll always be treated as means to something bigger that serves us.”
Ouch. That hit home. “Okay, guilty as charged. But again, what’s the alternative?”
“Take a look out the window for a minute, at all the traffic on Interstate 5. All those people down there, and those here in the restaurant, and everyone we encounter– they’re all on the same journey we’re on, Jack. God is at work in everyone’s lives, whether they acknowledge it or not. We know from Scripture that he has a deep desire that every person on earth comes to know him personally, love him and follow him. It’s really a perspective thing.”
“OK, maybe I’m following you. Can you give me an example?”
“Sure. Take our server. If I see her through the eyes of my agenda, then what I need from her is efficient service so I can have my meal, get an accurate bill, and be on my way. She is a means to my end. But if I see her as a fellow traveler on this journey, and I consider that today, for just this brief moment that I’m in this restaurant, my journey intersects with hers, it causes me to ask a different question. Instead of asking how she can serve me in meeting my agenda, I can instead ask God to show me how he can use me to help her move closer to him in her own journey. Suddenly she goes from being a means, to being an end in herself. My role in her journey is the end.”
Jack leaned forward. This was going to be a tough one.
I get so frustrated with people, have such a short fuse. When I think about it, I guess it’s because they’re not living up to my expectations, not doing the things I need them to do to meet my needs. So yeah…I get it.
He squinted at Barry. “So what exactly does this key unlock?”
“It unlocks our need to manipulate others to get what we need. It takes our agendas out of the center and gives us the freedom to walk with people and ask God to use us however he wants to help them in their journey. Again, our definition of success in relationships can only be described as faithfulness. This challenged the way I look at people. I had to—well, I still have to—pray every day that God will help me see people like he sees them.”
“What exactly does that mean?”
The server came to the table, and Jack found himself wondering, as she refilled Barry’s coffee, about her. Her life, her struggles, her journey. Had he ever considered that about a server before?
Barry sipped his coffee, then continued. “I think Scripture teaches that God considers everyone in the context of this lifelong journey to know him more deeply. Jesus never treated people as a means to an end. Another way of putting it is he never saw them in a static moment, that is, apart from the bigger perspective of their lives. That was my problem, I treated everyone—well, most people–in the static moment. Instead of wondering what was going on in their life, asking God to help me bless them in their journey, I only considered what was happening in my interaction with them at that moment. I was shocked at how different all my relationships looked when I asked God to give me that bigger perspective. That’s what it means to see people like God does.”
How do you see the people with whom you live, work and serve? My prayer is that you ask God to give you the eyes to see then as He sees them, and the heart to embrace them as fellow travelers. When you make their success your priority, you have taken on the mantle of the steward leader set free!
 R. Scott Rodin, The Seventh Key. Kingdom Life Publishing, 2015, p. 101-104.