Leading Biblically: Seek What's Right, Part 5

Apr 03, 2008 |Bruce E. Winston

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

PART 4: Controlled Discipline »

In the first article I mentioned that I have found the Beatitudes to be in a sequence that matches the consulting problems I encountered. The fourth most common problem I find with leaders and people in organizations is that people do not focus on doing what is right, just or holy for the organization, family or friendship. This article presents the meaning of the fourth Beatitude — "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" — and shows how we might live our lives because of this principle.

What does it mean to seek what is right?

The Greek peinao and dipsao that we translate respectively for "hunger" and "thirst" connote a deep intensity that is not well communicated in English. The way to think of these two words is to think about a craving like eating something very salty and then craving water. The intensity of the Greek terms means that this hunger and thirst is all consuming — you can't do anything else but this.

To complete the thought, consider that the Greek dikaiosune. The word, which we translate "righteousness," implies that which is "right," "just" and "holy." The Greek term carries with it a sense of doing what is right in the eyes of God.

In our organizations this means that we seek what is right, just and holy for the organization. Our thoughts and actions focus on what is good for the organization and not what is good for us personally. This isn't to say that personal gain is to be avoided, just not sought. Proverbs 27:2 and 31:31 give some added insight here in that we should let our work be the base from which others praise us.

I'm not aware of any MBA program, other than our new MBA program at Regent, that includes some instruction on doing what is right in the organization. The focus of most MBA programs and the "I did it my way" speakers is that everyone should look out for himself/herself and not for others.

The USA-business mindset has increased the focus on self by reducing/eliminating the organization's concern about the individual worker. We see this in the focus on reducing costs by moving labor offshore, reducing the number of workers, reducing benefits and so on. While I'm not advocating a wholesale "give the store away" mindset, I am saying that business, in general, has moved far away from the beatific model of caring and seeking what is right, just, and holy for the employee.

Although most organizations, as a whole, may not be living up to the standard of this Beatitude, it's still the responsibility of employees to live up to this Beatitude. Employees who live their work-life according to this Beatitude would not have cause for worry if they see a "60 Minutes" television news crew waiting outside their offices, for they would know that the focus of the interview was on what was done right and not a scandal.

This Beatitude also relates to the prior Beatitude on controlled discipline in that if an employee makes an error and does not do what's right, just and holy in the workplace, the supervisor needs to spend time training and educating him/her on what is right, just and holy.

I recently had a situation in which a professor made an error in communicating with a student. The professor didn't see the problem, but the student did. In this case the professor was wrong in my opinion, and I spent time instructing the professor on what makes communication in this school right, just and holy. If his future interaction with students shows improvement, then controlled discipline occurred through the use of instructing about what is right, just and holy. Both students and the school will be well-served as a result.

In our families this means that we seek the greater good of the family and do what is needed to make sure that the household runs smoothly with a balanced workload among family members and that all of our actions are seen by outsiders as reflecting well on the family as a whole.

People who live their lives according to this Beatitude would never be concerned if what they did each day was reported to their parents or grandparents. People who live their lives by this Beatitude would be good stewards of the family's resources and would use an inheritance to benefit the family across generations and not squander the inheritance on themselves. This is not to say that well-made investments would not return to the trustee a well-earned profit, but it means that the investment would be made knowing that generations to come would be benefited.

While conflict occurs in any family, this Beatitude says that resolution of conflict is focused on doing what is right, just and holy for all parties — not a "win-lose" strategy. A solution that blesses but one party should be ignored and new solutions sought until a resolution occurs that's good for all.

In our friendships this means that we seek what is right, just and holy for both parties in the relationship. For a marriage, this is the base for the vow of a husband doing what's right for the wife. This doesn't mean that one party of the relationship should entirely forsake himself/herself, but that the focus is on doing what is right for the other party.

There's a reciprocity issue here in that both parties in the relationship should do what is right, just and holy for the other. If both parties in a relationship think of the goodwill of the other and base actions accordingly, the relationship should grow. This presumes that the first Beatitude is at work in that both members of the organization have adopted a humble and teachable attitude and first seeks to know what the other person considers to be right, just and holy.

I hope that you're beginning to see that the Beatitudes are not only presented in a sequence but are inter-related into a whole model of how we should live our lives.

What are the benefits of seeking what is right?

The benefits mentioned above are augmented through the efficiency of actions in that when one does what is right, just and holy, one does not have to redo the behaviors, participate in investigations, spend extra time or cover oneself with extra memos, files and so on. There's an old saying that when you tell the truth, you don't have to keep track of the lies. This is part of this Beatitude. Do what's right, and you don't have worry about your "wrongs" catching up with you.

For our organizations there's an added benefit in that there is less "due diligence" needed to show that fraud or embezzlement is not occurring. While this may not settle well with a lot of people who are used to and want to see safeguards, keep in mind that the reason we had to put safeguards in place was because people did not live by this Beatitude.

We have a concept in organizational leadership called "Agency Theory" that says people in authority will tend to do what is good for themselves and not what is good for the organizations, and as such the organization must add checks and balances to prevent the "agent" from defrauding the rest of the people.

When leadership researchers Donaldson, Schoorman and Davis encountered leaders who didn't fit the norm of an "agent," they determined that there needed to be a different category of leadership that they called "Stewardship." Leaders that fit the stewardship theory seem to act according to this Beatitude in that these leaders do the right, just, holy things in the organizations and do not seek their own personal gain.

This isn't to say that these leaders turn down personal reward for doing their jobs well, but they do what is right for the organization and accept what is offered to them. These leaders demonstrate a level of altruism, trust and service that we don't see in Agency Theory leaders. The benefit to the organization is higher productivity with less oversight costs.

Simply put, the Beatitude shows the benefit to those who seek what is righteous, is that they find it.

Are you seeking what is right?

How are you doing? Do you seek what's good for the organization, the family or the relationship? Or are you seeking what's in it for you? Do you do what's right just because it is right (altruistic)? Or, do you seek to only do what helps you?

As a supervisor in an organization do you spend time explaining to others what it means to be right, just and holy in the organization? If you are seeking what is right you'll help others understand what's right as well. When the boss calls you, do you wonder what you did wrong? Or do you wonder if what you did wrong has been found out?

Are you ready to start seeking what is right?

The steps are simple: If you haven't been seeking what is right, just start by telling yourself that the good of the organization is more important than your own personal good. As you go about your day-to-day activities, always operate on the basis that all of your behaviors will be made public and know that you will take the consequences for all of your actions.

If you don't know what the organization, the family or the other person in a relationship considers to be right, just and holy — just ask. Keep asking until you know what to do. I recall when I began a new job at Regent I met with my new boss and simply asked him, "What do you consider right and just for this job and what do you consider wrong and unjust?"

He talked for 45 minutes, and at the end I had a clear list of what to do and what not to do. As the first few months progressed, I made mistakes, and each time I heard from my boss I was able to add to the right and the wrong columns. To start the process all I had to do was to seek, and I easily found it — just like the Beatitude states.

PART 6: Be Merciful »

Copyright 2008 Bruce E. Winston. All rights reserved.

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