Thursday, January 31, 2013

3 ways to deal with unethical leadership

And the men of David said to him, "Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, "Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you." Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul's robe. And afterward David's heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul's robe. He said to his men, "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord's anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord's anointed."I Samuel 24:1-6

This is one of the more counter-cultural scenes in Scripture. Saul is doing everything in his power to destroy David.

For David, King Saul represents the ultimate enemy and he literally runs for his life in order to survive. One day, David catches Saul in a vulnerable state. Saul enters the very cave where David and his renegade band of soldiers are hiding.

The men encourage David to seize the moment; kill Saul; do to him exactly what he is trying to do you. Kill him and be done with him and your life will be better.

David, being one hundred percent human, succumbs to their kill or be killed advice. He sneaks up on his enemy, but instead of killing him, pulls out his knife and cuts away a portion of his clothing. David would later use this as evidence that even though he had King Saul in his hand, he did not kill him.

Strangely, David takes no pleasure in what he did. He had violated an unwritten code of conduct regarding honoring and respecting leadership.

Deep in his heart David knew he had done wrong. Saul was not a good leader. He was deeply unethical, insecure, petty, emotionally immature, and for the most part ineffective, all that's true, but David knew that Saul was still God's appointed leader; and this alone demands respect for God’s leader. Respect for the person, respect for his office and by respecting Saul, David was honoring God.

Notice what he said, God forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord's anointed.

I don't know the challenges you are facing at work, in your home or in your church. But one thing is certain: in all walks of life we will face good leaders and we will encounter bad leaders.

Working with good, compassionate, visionary, and highly ethical leadership is a joy. That’s easy!

But what about working with people who lack decency, who are out to get you and undermine your work? What about those leaders who make your life and work conditions a living hell? What do you do?

First, I sympathize with you. Working in such conditions is never easy. But the last thing you want is for your attitude and behavior to be shaped by those who hate you.

Jesus said the most counter-cultural thing ever:
"You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:43-45

So what do you do when faced with an unethical leader? Here are some godly possibilities:

1. Protect your heart. Don't allow the behavior of this person to transform you and squeeze you into their mold or ways of behaving. Don't allow this person to push your buttons. As Jesus said, let love and compassion push your buttons. The Croatian theologian, Miroslav Volf had this to say: 
To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one. The first victory happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second victory, when evil is returned. After the first victory, evil would die if the second victory did not infuse it with new life.
 2. Show respect. While you may not respect the person, you are called by the Lord to respect their authority and their position. So if you are given an assignment, the fact that the leader is unethical does not give you the right to ignore their leadership, undermine or otherwise devalue their authority in your life. I know, this is hard. But with Christ, who knew how to submit even to his enemies, all things are possible.

3. Pray for this person. One of the most subversive acts in the face of evil is to actually pray for the evil person. Instead of returning blow for blow, or an eye for an eye, as David's companions urged him, you are granted through the power of prayer and the Spirit, the ability to walk in love even toward this unethical person.

In the end, God will be glorified and the power of the resurrected Christ to supplant evil in the world will be seen.

What other advice would you offer when living and working with unethical people?