The four pillars

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Building a reputation for accountability   
By Kenneth G. Hodder, Commissioner –
Robert Burns’ classic poem, “To a Louse” (1786), tells of an upper-class woman in church. She wears fine clothes and displays all the manners and attitudes of noble birth. But as the woman sits proudly in her pew, the poet suddenly notices a small insect running around the edge of her enormous bonnet. Of course, if the woman knew that this was happening, she would be horrified. But in the meantime, the sight of that little creature scampering around the headwear of someone who considers herself better than others gives the entire congregation cause for silent mirth. All of her pretensions amount to nothing. Half-pitying the woman, Burns writes:
And would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us
And even devotion!
Leaders can fall prey to the same fate as that woman. If we knew how our words and actions are actually received and understood by those whom we lead, we too might be humbled and speak and act quite differently. That is why a wise leader will never mistake deference for respect. The former is easy, a product of position. The latter must be earned.

Definitions of accountability are legion. For purposes of this article, we will define it as “actions perceived to be consistent with scriptural values. Beyond the obvious reliance upon a scriptural standard, this definition has three distinct advantages.
First, it reminds us that accountability is primarily about people, and only secondarily about rules and regulations. Institutional structures and procedures are important, and The Salvation Army is blessed to have a system of checks and balances second to none. There is also no question that an intellectual understanding of what accountability means from a theological and organizational perspective is highly instructive. But ultimately these are not solutions to our problem, because human nature will trump system every time. So if we are to be known as accountable leaders, we must focus first and foremost upon character.
The second advantage of this definition is that it makes no distinction between the big and small things in life. A leader’s reputation for accountability will certainly depend upon avoiding even the appearance of corruption in major contracts and large property transactions, but it will depend even more upon such seemingly small issues as the correct use of office supplies and refunding the Army for gas consumed while on personal business. It is the small decisions we make that have an outsized impact upon our reputations.
This leads us to the third advantage. In terms of those we lead, accountability is about perceptions, and while we can never fully control how we are viewed, as leaders we must be prepared to take extraordinary measures to ensure that we are known as people who practice honesty, fairness and a respect for others. For example, refusing to meet alone with a member of the opposite sex is one step that leaders can take, not only to protect the Army but their integrity as well. Another might be refusing to accept sealed envelopes or, depending upon the circumstances, immediately taking the time to open such envelopes while in the presence of others. We can never forget that if ethics are applied holiness, then accountability is visible ethics.
It is critical that leaders are able to build a strong reputation for accountability, and I believe that there are four essential elements to doing so. They can be likened to pillars that sustain the structure of our leadership. All four can be found throughout Scripture, but we will focus here upon the apostle Paul, whose transformation from a feared persecutor to a fearless defender was among the most dramatic in the history of the Church.
Paul’s writings make it clear that while he always remained fully cognizant of his heritage, education and experience, he never imagined that those things made him a leader. In fact, he refers to those dimensions of his life as “garbage” (Phil. 3:8). He freely admitted that he had weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:7). In frustration, he complained that he would do all the things he did not want to do, and not do the things he wanted to do (Rom. 7:15). In fact, in admitting that he had his faults, Paul even went on to say that all of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things (Phil. 3:15; see also Rom. 12:3).
The first pillar, then, is self-awareness. We must take stock of our strengths and our weaknesses. As the Delphic oracle advised, it is vital for every individual to “know thyself.” We should identify areas in which we excel and those in which we need improvement. Simply put, we must be brutally honest with ourselves. However gifted or skilled we think we are, the sad fact is that we are all amply endowed with faults. We all have little bugs running around our hats. No leader is perfect.
One simple example of the need for self-awareness can be found in our ability (or inability) to complete work assignments on time. Are deadlines important to us, or do we give them less attention than they deserve? And what does our behavior in this regard teach those around us? If we are not completing our responsibilities in a timely manner, how can we expect anything else from others?
Taking this a step further, how do we respond to constructive criticism? Are we defensive and unwilling to admit that there are ways in which we can improve, or do we welcome the opportunity to hear, even from subordinates, that there are steps we could take to improve the quality and impact of our leadership?
Paul’s letters reflect his deep concern for the quality of the testimony given by followers of Christ, and so he consistently reminds them of their various strengths and weaknesses. This kept the Early Church on course with the gospel, and it should be no surprise that the same kind of self-awareness is required of us today.
The second pillar is self-discipline. As one comes to recognize the areas of life that need improvement, accountable leaders will discipline themselves to make the necessary adjustments. Nothing is off the table.
Paul did this “in spades.” He compared spiritual development with athletic training (2 Tim. 2:5), urging Christ’s followers to strive continually for a fuller expression of the gospel. In 1 Cor. 9:25, he wrote that everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever.
Consequently, the leader who seeks a reputation for accountability has no choice but to pursue greater self-discipline. Illustrations of this abound. In any argument, for example, it’s the person who can keep control of his or her emotions who wins. Minimizing impulsive behavior and avoiding unreasonable reactions to daily challenges are critical to building both a leader’s reputation and that of the organization one represents.
The same is true when dealing with subordinates. A wise man once told me that when your people do well, you are happy. But when they have failed, you just hold another meeting. That, it seems to me, is the essence of self-discipline. After all, the alternatives—to scream or pout or complain—are neither scriptural nor wise. Such reactions will simultaneously shut down the lines of communication and encourage subordinate leaders to do the same. Everyone loses.
The Early Church faced a multitude of challenges, but it also found strength in the example of Paul and the other apostles. In the same way, when a Salvation Army leader can demonstrate self-control in the midst of trying circumstances, officers and soldiers alike will draw from that person a rich supply of reassurance and confidence.
The third pillar in building a reputation for accountability is self-motivation. Achievements are sought for their own sake and not for the plaudits that they might bring. Accountable leaders will be possessed by a relentless passion to improve their corps or center, and they will become its greatest advocate.
The apostle Paul did not look to anyone for motivation. He simply understood that, having been entrusted with the gospel, he was expected to prove faithful (1 Cor. 4:2). The inherent worth of the gospel was enough incentive for Paul to travel long distances, battle against the deep-seated misunderstanding of other believers and endure harsh persecution. As he wrote in 1 Cor. 4:3-4, I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself … It is the Lord who judges me.
Self-motivation means that leaders will consistently manifest an unquenchable optimism, knowing that their faith in the future is a force multiplier. They know that if the leader cannot demonstrate a firm confidence in both the truth of the gospel and the Army’s continuing role in its proclamation, we cannot expect our people to do likewise.
Self-motivation also means that accountable leaders will accept responsibility for the mistakes of others. All good results are the product of a team effort, but any failures will be their responsibility alone. Leaders must have the capacity to identify the problem, calmly help their people address it, and then move on. They will resolve to learn from every situation and intentionally develop their ability to inspire others. Accountable leaders will build teams, not because they do not trust a particular individual to complete a task, but because they know that when properly motivated, the result of a team effort will always be greater than the sum of its parts.
As part of the personal report that is required for every reserved appointment proposal, leaders are asked about the individual’s “commitment to mission.” An officer who is self-motivated is one who has that commitment.
The first three pillars of accountability are character traits often hidden from public view. A leader’s self-awareness, self-discipline and self-motivation are largely private issues, closely-held outcomes of his relationship with the Lord. By contrast, the fourth and final pillar can be understood as the expression of those personal qualities. Responsiveness is the crucial ability of a leader to adapt to changing circumstances, to apply scriptural standards in matters large and small and use social skills effectively for mission. It’s what many refer to as empathy, and it is a critical skill for any leader who seeks a reputation for accountability.
Responsiveness is not just completing a task, but letting your leader know it’s done. It’s not just handling a situation, but handling it in a way that minimizes damage to others and advances the values of the gospel. It includes persuasiveness, but it is not simply diplomacy. It means that one can be firm without being hard, consistent without being rigid. It’s the ability to put people above strategy, whether they are your superiors, peers or subordinates. When a leader at any level can resolve an issue or achieve a goal in a manner that all those involved can admire, he has developed responsiveness. In sum, responsiveness is the difference between a good leader and a great leader.
Paul was such a leader. In addition to humility, personal discipline and unquestioned commitment to the gospel, Paul had the ability to adapt, becoming “all things to all people” in order to save some (1 Cor. 9:22). He was able to work in harmony with other apostles, both when they feared him (Acts 9:26) and when he disagreed with them (Acts 15:1-2). He was adamant that love was at the heart of both Christ’s message (1 Cor. 13:1) and his own instructions (1 Tim. 1:5), but he refused to work with those whom he viewed as having deserted the gospel (Acts 15:38). His actions were always appropriate to the moment, and he consequently became a model for what we now refer to as a spiritual leader.
When these four pillars are raised in the life of leaders, their words and actions will be consistent with scriptural standards and perceived as such. To those whom they lead, they become accountable leaders. But the results are even greater than that. When a leader establishes a reputation for accountability, the pillars themselves provide a framework for building the Church. Always careful to keep Christ as the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:19-22), the accountable leader becomes a living example of Christian principles, bringing personal holiness into the realm of possibility.
There is one final thing to remember. While it is true that a reputation for accountability must be earned, the good news is that accountability can be learned. As an individual’s commitment to holiness grows, the four pillars are progressively raised in his or her life, character and judgment mature, and the sense of what is needed to be a fully accountable leader is sharpened.
If the wealthy woman in Robert Burns’ poem had been made aware of the louse in her bonnet, she would have done everything possible to get rid of it. In the same way, as God steadily reveals elements of our character that need to be conformed to the example of Christ, the accountable leader will be moved to do the same.

From The Officer

Comments 2

  1. This is a very good material to read, learn and practice in being part of The Salvation Army as well as life itself. Thank you for the good message. God Bless you in all you do!

  2. This is a very good material to read, learn and practice in being part of The Salvation Army as well as life itself. Thank you for the good message. God Bless you in all you do!

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