Leaders Who Serve

The Christian work ethic begins at creation, when Adam was given work to do in the Garden of Eden. And when Jesus came as the Second Adam, He worked as well. Christ was born as a laborer, a carpenter in Nazareth. From there He went on to become a great leader and teacher. Beginning with 12 humble fishermen, his followers are now on every continent and in every country. Our society makes celebrities of its leaders. If Christ were among us today, we would probably insist on giving him a driver and an assistant to keep people from bothering him. But Christ said, "He who would lead, first let him serve." Let me tell you the story of one man today who followed that principle. Byron Oliver is president of the Group Pension Division in a large insurance company. For three months out of every year, during pre-tax season, the work load mushrooms as the company pulls together mountains of documents for its clients' taxes. The burden of that work falls on the non-management employees--the secretaries and customer service representatives who sit hunched over their desks until late into the evening and come in on weekends. Last year, Byron decided he would no longer sit on his hands while his employees worked. He figured the least management could do during those three "monster" months was to show the workers more support. So he announced to his secretary that he was going to serve refreshments in the production areas. Great, she said, and picked up the phone to call a catering service. Byron stopped her. "We're going to serve them," he said. "You, me, the vice presidents, the senior account managers." Over the next several weeks, Byron and his division's top management donned aprons and pushed coffee carts between cubicles. It was a marvelous morale booster for the troops, a concrete demonstration that management cared about the extra work they were doing. But management learned something as well. Sitting down over a cup of coffee was a good way to find out what workers really thought. After they got over being startled by the shirt sleeves and aprons, that is. At one work station, a customer service worker told Byron about an inefficient approval process while Byron stirred cream into her coffee. Another employee suggested a cost-free way to reduce the error rate in customer statements. Byron was struck by how wrong the standard division is between management as the thinkers and labor as the doers. He decided that from now on the primary role of management was to provide the structure for the front lines to do the thinking. That was a pretty radical idea. But it worked. A staggering 15 percent error rate on returns was reduced to one-tenth of one percent. America needs new ideas about leadership in the workplace if our economy is to regain its competitive edge. We need a leadership style that can rekindle a strong work ethic in employees. Byron Oliver has discovered that style. It's leadership willing to serve workers--not only with a cup of coffee and a tray of donuts but with structures that encourage them to participate in the thinking, creative part of work. Now, there's a new definition of leadership. Or maybe it's not so new. It sounds remarkably similar to the model of leadership Jesus gave us 2000 years ago.


Chuck Colson



  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary