What is it about religion that produces such a profound and lasting effect on followers, and commands a level of loyalty and dedication any leader would dream of aspiring to? I say there are 10 things, and if leaders internalize them, we will have a strong foundation for moving ourselves, our peers, our team, and our organization forward. Check them out.
The 10 (Leadership) Commandments
1. Religion has a unifying message with broad appeal that people rally around (indeed, the message is so appealing wars are fought over it). What is your personal message (or your organizational message)? What is inspiring about it? What are the priorities you (or your company) stand behind? What is the vision you and your followers should be striving for?
2. Religion advocates a clear reward for effort and conformity. If you live a good life, you go to Heaven. The reward is commensurate to the effort required to achieve it (if you live your whole life in conformance to the rules of the religion, then you get keys to the Pearly Gates and experience infinite joy). If your company believes the reward for work done well is you get to keep your job, you lose. If your organization believes the reward for work done well is more work (that probably belongs to someone else who was not pulling their weight), guess what? You lose. If your organization believes the reward for work done well over two decades is dinner and a nice watch… you lose. If this sounds like your company, I hope your leaders wake up because you are having your ass handed to you by companies who understand the reward for work done well is not more work. It is, instead, more freedom and greater autonomy (after all, what is Heaven all about? The gold streets are nice but not so important; the freedom to live forever in peace is what really counts…).
3. Religion provides simple, clearly stated, immutable rules to govern behavior and actions. These rules, or commandments, are minimal (there are only 10), not convoluted, and not filled with sub-clauses or exceptions. How do your company’s Human Resources policies compare? Do you need to fit them on more than 1 page? Is your dress code more than one sentence (“Dress sensibly.”)? HR representatives may be losing their minds as they read this, but here is the quick and dirty version to treating people like Humans and leveraging them as Resources: if you treat employees like adults, by and large they will act like adults. If you manage to the exceptions instead of the rule, you lose. If you do not believe this, it is simply because you have not tried it. How do I know? Somehow you and every other employee muddle through the rest of your lives outside of the office without needing a 40-page manual of policies, codes, guidelines, and other infantilizing documents. Consider that. 10 commandments are plenty. More than 10 is silly.
4. Religion has simple, clearly stated, repercussions for choosing not to follow the rules. I hear Hell is pretty warm this time of year… Notice the Bible, Qu’Ran, and Tora do not have progressive disciplinary policies. Company rules should be equally simple. If you produce results, you are part of the team. If you spend your time instead trying to derail the company’s mission or kissing up to the boss, you can be part of another company’s team. Face time and presence at a desk or in an office do not equal results. The new rule is this: move the team forward or get out.
5. Religion is filled with charismatic leaders who believe in their mission more than anyone else, and model the rules of behavior perfectly (for example, Jesus, Moses, Jim Bakker…). Does your company preach jargon like empowerment, trust, and innovation… but then reject new ideas, punish employees who buck the status quo, and force management into a role of permission-granting and law enforcement? That is the equivalent of being a Jim Bakker, of holding up a facade that looks like leadership. Looking like you are leading is not the same as leading. Jesus talked a good game, sure, but what set him apart from others is he did not stop at the words.
6. Religious leaders are visionary and approachable. They are also revolutionary. Perhaps in contrast to the number two leadership commandment (clear rewards for effort and conformity), great leaders provide clear rewards for conforming to their vision, but themselves are not seen as conformist. This is an important distinction. If the executives at your company are perceived as mouthpieces for the CEO or ownership, then they are not leading; they are following. Religious leaders believe fully in the message from their leader and they enroll others in their mission, but they are also seen as individual, autonomous thinkers by their own right. They are seen as people who strive to set the status quo where it is misaligned, not as (sometimes frustrated but ultimately powerless) enforcers of the status quo.
7. Religious leaders often heal, but never harm or directly punish their followers and supporters. Jesus was unbelievably forgiving; He even forgave the people committed to killing him, modeling to the end, the proper behavior he wished to see perpetuated. HR departments are sorely dysfunctional at many companies because (among other reasons) HR is intended to be the place employees go to find support and address their concerns, yet it is often also the entity that designs the methods and severity of punishment for wrongdoings. Human Resources, in effect, has become the abusive husband who beats his family, but lets them know it is for their own good and that he would not hit them if he did not love them. Choose NOT to be the leader who walks around carrying a big stick. Choose, instead, to be the proverbial old master—the Mr. Miyagi—who allows students to learn lessons on their own, but instructs them wisely and guides them to their goals.
8. In Religion, empowerment occurs through “free-will”, rather than “command-and-conquer”. Leaders that employ “I lead; you follow” or caste-system ideologies always lose in the Holy script (consider the Pharaohs…). By contrast, leaders that offer great vision and encourage participation, without punishing those who choose to walk away, always win (consider Moses, Jesus, and Saint Thomas Aquinas). The more freedom to be adults you offer employees, the more likely they are to follow you. Some executives have a hard time accepting this, but it is really no more complicated than stated here. Try it. It works.
9. Religious leaders achieve success through positive reinforcement, praise, and by rewarding perseverance. The “Land of Milk and Honey” came only after the hardship of crossing the desert—again, a reward commensurate to the effort. Leaders achieve success by also asking their firmest supporters to spread the vision and message, thus enrolling others (as Jesus enrolled the Disciples and they, in turn, spread His message by enrolling others). Jesus gave regular sermons speaking of Peace and Heaven (positive reinforcement for hardships faced in the present). Jesus gave praise to both his “Leader” (God) and his followers (the Apostles). Jesus healed the sick, thus rewarding perseverance and dedication to His cause. How does your company reward perseverance, success, and longevity? Are the rewards commensurate to the effort?
10. Religious leaders share, and regularly reaffirm the mission, vision, and goals-to-focus-on now. Religious leaders do this regularly—at least every Sunday. In some companies, the leader gives a quarterly status update. I do not know if there is a magic number for the right amount of vocally re-committing to your (or your company’s) goals. Hourly is clearly over the top and I suspect quarterly is not enough. My advice here is this needs to be an ongoing conversation, and it needs to start every time a new employee, team member, or follower, joins the team or movement.
Praying for Your Success
Being placed in a leadership position without proper leadership training is unfair to both the leader and the team he or she is charged with. A leader in that predicament is short-changed because he does not have the requisite skills or understanding of how his decisions affect the lives, attitudes, and livelihoods of the people being led. The team suffers by feeling lost (personally or professionally) and having little or no desire to drive the leader’s goals.
The result is a company in constant struggle, caught in a malaise of indifference toward work. There is ambivalence when results are achieved because goals in a dysfunctional company are won through abuse of power rather than through individual passion and collaboration.To succeed as an organization, you must create your personal “leadership religion” (or your “organizational religion”, or both) and figure out how best to preach it to your “masses”. BUT, all 10 things must be in place to be effective (the “9” commandments would not have worked if, say, “Thou shalt not kill” was left out).
One last thing to note, which should be obvious now, is that no less than 5 of the 10 Commandments to Success center around Leadership. If you are not on board already, it is time to see the Light and repent your former ways.
What do you need to do, to bring a “religion of success” to your organization? For extra credit, review the Leadership Commandments for your personal life, as well.