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God as leader

As the chief human resources officer of a firm with about 20,000 employees, I often think about, observe, and coach organizational leaders. The literature on leadership is extensive and there are many generally accepted rules of thumb for leaders to be effective. As the political cycle in the US heats up we instinctively apply some of these rules of thumb to Obama and the Republican contenders: Can s/he portray a compelling vision for the future? Can s/he build consensus among constituents with differing opinions? Can s/he adapt when things don’t play out as originally planned? And does s/he take accountability when things don’t work out while motivating subordinates with praise when things do work out? The success or failure of political and commercial organizations can usually be traced to their leaders’ acuity in these leadership capabilities.

So this morning I randomly wondered: How good a leader is God, the chief executive of the universe? In every leadership capability mentioned above, God’s leadership performance evaluation is rather bleak.

Compelling vision: Great leaders evoke imagery about a future that makes their organization want to follow them. The images are clear and positive. The downside of not achieving the vision is implicit; the leader does not dwell on it. The motivation is positive. How does God do? Assuming he launched his startup 14 billion years ago, he fiddled for about 13.99995 billion years before creating the workforce we know as modern man, about 50,000 years ago. Amazingly, he then waited 44,000 years or so before laying out his first vision in the Old Testament. This vision was amended about 4,000 years later with the full Bible. And how good a vision is it? To start, it’s not terribly clear. It requires an entire industry to interpret and re-interpret it. It’s also contradictory from page to page, as are the endless interpretations. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the organization is confused. Is it motivational? It may be only my perception, but biblical sticks like the fire and brimstone of hell seem to be depicted more frequently and with far more texture than the upsides. And “progressive discipline” seems to not be something of interest to God, as virtually every act of insubordination is punishable by death.

Consensus building: Demanding that your organization kill those that have a different vision seems a rather unenlightened form of consensus building. Enough said.

Adaptation: Although numerous attempts have been made to incorporate new learning from the many disciplines of science into God’s by-laws, God still has an issue with macro issues like how old his organization is, and micro issues like who his employees are allowed to sleep with. Every now and then he creates a bit of false hope for progress, but then returns to his bunker of dogma.

Accountability: Most of us have probably worked with someone—let’s call him Newman—who lurks close to promising projects, pouncing on the ownership bandwagon when things work out well. Newman is remarkably invisible whenever things don’t work out so well. Where do all the Newmans learn this behavior? That’s easy: God. God is always there when things work out: the baby dropped from the second floor of a burning building gets caught by a fire fighter; the wide receiver makes an unbelievable catch of an incredibly thrown ball; the lottery pays off; a child is born. Praise God. When the same baby dies of smoke inhalation, the receiver receives a concussion rather than a pass, lottery tickets lose, or children die, God is mysteriously absent. He’s Newman, by the water cooler, listening with one ear but looking down to avoid association with the bad stuff.

In any other organization, God would have been put on a 30-day Performance Improvement Plan long ago. Barring marked improvement, he would have been sacked. And that’s the typical plan for a mere mortal. Given God’s infinite benevolence, omniscience, and omnipotence, we should expect even more.

It’s time for a change in leadership.



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