The Parable of the Executive VP from Samaria—My Tips for Christians in Business

by Mark Klages , Christian Examiner Contributor |

(PHOTO: NIGEL TADYANEHONDO/UNSPLASH)

In the book of Luke, the physician recounts a parable Jesus taught about a wounded man who is passed on by men we would expect to help, only to be aided by a Samaritan of the lowest class at the time (Luke 10:25-37). That story, called "The Parable of the Good Samaritan," is retold countless times a year in schools and churches with varying degrees of emphasis from the improper actions by the Priest and Levite to the unexpected but righteous deed of the Samaritan. The story implies that those public figures with high social standing were more concerned with their own reputations than with doing the right thing. Frankly, the parable is frequently taught to us Samaritans as a reminder that we can make a difference even with our limited earthly power. Simply put, through the story, Jesus taught that the heavenly reward for doing the right thing surpassed the corporeal penalties associated with it.

In life, we have choices. To most of us, those choices are rarely as clear cut as the story of the Samaritan, but that is the true nature of the story. We say that nothing in today's complicated world is ever truly black and white; there are thousands of shades of gray. But if we look closely, with untainted eyes, everything is that simple. We complicate life because we look at it from the perspective of the Priest or the Levite, not the perspective of the Samaritan.

The story of the Good Samaritan is seen condescendingly as a great tool for kids and young adults. But believe me when I say it is also a great tool for well-educated, experienced, adults in positions of authority. Frankly, those empowered adults were the intended audience of Jesus' original tale. While Jesus frequently taught masses of common people, His message always carried meaning for the leadership skulking around the edges.

In business, rarely have I heard a Vice President or a General Manager use the story of the Good Samaritan when describing how he attained his position or how she wants her division to run. They talk about ethical business practices, employee care, and recordable incident rate or safety numbers as they recount strategies used to meet profit goals and mitigate losses. But I postulate it is in those losses where we discover the true nature of our leaders—are they Priests or are they Samaritans?

"Now hold on, Mark, you can't possibly expect an executive in today's fast-paced, dog eat dog world to live the Samaritan's life. That's how billion-dollar businesses become million-dollar businesses."

Not true, and I'm sorry you feel that way, Levite. Successful Christian business leaders know the Samaritan's tale holds unbounded truth in developing servant leaders who will ultimately benefit the business. True servant leaders understand their responsibility to build more strong leaders. "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." And in my personal experience, a workforce is never so effective as when the workers want to serve their leaders, when they desire to do good work, and when they are empowered to do good work.

Still, we have all sat in boardrooms and action meetings where the executive in the lead points his or her proverbial finger and says, "This loss is on you. As the Program Manager of record it was your responsibility to make the right decisions." Executives around the table spend the next minutes and hours throwing accusations at each other and pointing out failures in each other's departments. Over the next month they develop elaborate defensive strategies to insulate themselves from the loss rather than actually learning anything from the loss. And God forbid anyone actually take responsibility—that's the guy carrying his possessions out in a cardboard box in the middle of the day on a Friday. In the meantime, the most capable Samaritans go on doing their work or just leave for another company, hoping to find a more effective atmosphere, while the rest of the Samaritans seek cover to avoid executive backlash. Worse yet, sometimes a poor Samaritan gets stuck between two warring Levites throwing rocks and pointing fingers.

As a Christian in the business world, how do we reconcile the worldly strategy of stepping on the backs and fingers of those around us to climb the ladder, with God's divine command to treat those around us with love and respect? Especially when it is our backs and fingers that are usually getting bloodied in the fracas?

Be a Servant Leader: Rather than taking the opportunity to tear down subordinates and pass the buck, become a true servant leader and ask, "How did I fail you? What could I have done to help you make better decisions?" Showing a little vulnerability and soliciting feedback from those in the trenches validates an employee's hard work. It also gives employees the sense that their contributions matter to leadership.

Be Honest: Trust me when I say everyone already knows who is responsible for wins, losses, solid performances, and lackluster results. Workers respect a leader who can admit when he makes a mistake or when she contributed to the failure. Honest introspection that encourages worker feedback is akin to the express lane—it fast tracks recovery and encourages the workforce to improve performance to support their supportive leader.

Be Involved: Swooping in at the last minute and making changes or failing to provide substantive input when needed is no substitute for timely, effective engagement. You are a leader because you are experienced and successful. Leveraging that experience to improve your team benefits everyone. The company prospers when the whole team is firing on all cylinders.

Look Down and In, not Up and Out: Finally, the real, important opinions come from those with "no power." Jesus did not say, "If anyone causes one of these senior executives to miss profit margin." No, He said, "If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matt 18:6, NIV).

–Mark Klages is an influential contributor, a former US Marine and a lifelong teacher who focuses on applying a Christian worldview to everyday events. Mark blogs at https://maklagesl3.wixsite.com/website under the title "God Provides where Hate Divides," with a heart to heal social, political, relational, and intellectual wounds through God's divine love and grace. Mark can also be found on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-klages-04b42511/.