Harnessed or Unleashed!
Empowerment is the goal of many leadership initiatives today. We are encouraged to find potential leaders, equip them to lead, give them authority, and then turn them loose to achieve. “The best executive,” Theodore Roosevelt noted, “is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
Henry Ford’s Model T changed the face of twentieth-century American life. By 1914, Ford was producing nearly 50% of all cars in the U.S. But by the early 1930s Ford’s share of the market had shrunk to 28%, and the company was losing a million dollars a day (big bucks, then!). The reason an American success story went south? Henry Ford. The antithesis of an empowering leader, Ford micromanaged his subordinates and undermined the authority of any executive he viewed as a threat to his control.
Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, observed the principle of empowerment as consistently as Henry Ford violated it. During the Civil War, Lincoln continued to give his commanding generals power and freedom to act, even when this strategy had failed with their predecessors. Eventually, of course, the wisdom of this approach proved itself, Lincoln finding in Grant a recipient worthy of his confidence. As leadership guru John Maxwell points out, “Only empowered people can reach their full potential.”
So how do we select worthy candidates to empower? Proverbs 17:2 speaks to this issue: A wise servant will rule over a disgraceful son, and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers.” He says that the most important qualification for empowerment is not connections, credentials, charm or confidence, but character (“A wise servant”).
Makes sense doesn’t it. The obvious danger in empowering somebody is that they will abuse their power. So when it’s time to promote, men and women of character always get the nod, right? My guess is, unfortunately, leaders often do what the Bible character Samuel did.
When God commissioned Samuel to inform one of Jesse’s eight sons that God had decided to empower him to become Israel’s next king–and going in Samuel didn’t know which son it was–Samuel was naturally drawn to the photogenic son, the proven warrior, the one with experience. But God said, “Wrong choice, Sam. It’s the boy out tending the sheep, the one they call David, that I’ve chosen. You see, he’s a man after my own heart.” How readily we, like Samuel, are tempted to empower folks based on outward stuff, instead of what’s on the inside. So Proverbs 17:2 reminds us to focus on character when it comes to empowerment.
A final point on empowerment, also a principle that illuminates a key distinction between the Christian faith and “religion.” Some people mistake Christianity for a system in which a cosmic killjoy God simply tells people to do this and not to do that. The truth, per the Bible, is that Christianity is a lot more about empowerment than it is about rules and regulations. It says that God is passionate about us joining him in a personal relationship by exercising trust in his son. Through this relationship, God empowers us to change on the inside, working to fashion in us the integrity that is indispensable to good leadership.
By Jim Furr