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Leading Biblically: Controlled Discipline, Part 4

The meek shall indeed inherit the earth.

PART 3: Good Mourning »

In the introduction to this series I mentioned that I’ve found the Beatitudes to be in a sequence that matches the consulting problems I’ve encountered. The first has to do with humility, being “poor in spirit.” The second most common problem I find with leaders and people in organizations is that people don’t care about other people.

The third most common problem I find with leaders and people in organizations is that people do not control their discipline and react in ways that damage people. This article presents the meaning of the Beatitude “Blessed are meek for they shall inherit the earth” and show how we should live our lives because of this principle.

What does it mean to have controlled discipline?

The Greek word Praus that we translate “meek” implies a sense of self-control similar to how a domesticated animal controls itself. By this I’m not implying that we are somehow to be like horses, pigs, dogs, etc., but rather that as a domesticated animal learns to control its behavior so should we learn to control our behavior.

Have you ever witnessed a supervisor’s tirade at an employee who did something wrong? Was the employee benefited in the process? Probably not.

Jesus’ behavior in the John 2:15-16 account of Jesus chasing the vendors out of the temple shows His controlled discipline. Jesus, being all powerful, could have made the oxen, doves, money, and so on just vanish. But instead He merely drove the oxen out of the temple — the oxen were still useable; He turned over the money tables and scattered the coins — the coins were still useable; He ordered people to pick up the cages of birds and take the birds out of the temple. Had he chased the birds out the birds would have flown away — in His behavior the birds were still usable. Jesus controlled His discipline.

As I studied this Beatitude a decade ago I encountered many opportunities to control my discipline — in the beginning I didn’t do very well, but over time and with the reminding of those that worked with me I got better. I still have a long way to go, but more often than not now I recognize that most problems are a matter of a lack of understanding or a lack of training/education. When I see a problem now I explain what I want and why I don’t want what just happened.

Don’t get me wrong: I still get angry, but I find that if I yell and scream in the car on the way to work or grumble to myself while looking at an e-mail message, I can then, after a deep breath, control my actions and ask questions and then instruct others on what I want.

I’ve noticed that when a new employee joins us who had a bad experience with an uncontrolled supervisor that it takes months, if not years, to see the employee relax and enjoy work. Discipline is a necessary part of supervising, parenting, and being a friend — the Beatitude doesn’t say blessed are the non-disciplining — but, it focuses on controlled behavior. Parents need to be controlled in their discipline and instruct/guide children rather than just punish. Improvement comes from understanding how and why — not from a fear of what might occur.

Discipline is a regular function of supervisors but should focus on helping employees learn what to do and how to think. We can see this in a study of Nomos, the Biblical-Greek term from which we get “law.” There are three progressive levels of Nomos:

  1. doing what is written in the policies/edicts
  2. doing what is logical
  3. doing what is determined by love

It would take another article or two to go into detail, but for this article consider that discipline for supervisors, parents, and friends is to help others first know what the rules are, then to know what is logical for the organization, family, or relationship, and finally to understand what it means to “love” in the organization, family or relationship.

There are times when discipline has to include termination from the organization. In the previous article I mentioned that most of the significant problems with employees are caused by a poor person-organization fit. This applies here as well. Sometimes discipline has to include the decision for an employee to find another place to work. The controlled manner in which we do this is to first help the employee see that finding a new job is the best result for them and, second, to help the employee get the new job or provide time with pay for the employee to locate a new job.

What are the benefits of controlled discipline?

The Beatitude says that those who are meek (controlled in their discipline) will inherit the earth. It’s interesting that only the controlled-disciplined people will be entrusted with earth, yet it’s logical: God’s message here seems to be that people are too important to be entrusted to the non-disciplined.

In the organization, the benefit is a group of people that feels safe in the workplace knowing that discipline will occur, but that it will be “just” and “controlled” in measure. A result of feeling safe is the willingness to take measured risks and try new things. If there is a fear of reprisal, then the safe thing to do is nothing. If there is no fear of reprisal, then it’s worth trying something new. People know that mistakes will happen and that discipline, when needed, is designed to inform and improve the employees.

In the family, controlled discipline results in family members who are willing to speak their mind in family settings and willing to explore activities that fit each individual’s gifts and talents. In a friendship we see that controlled discipline results in a sense of comfort, honesty, and openness. Discipline occurs and is focused on improving the relationship — not punishment or retribution.

Later on in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks of turning the other cheek. This action is related to this Beatitude in that controlled discipline in a relationship does not result in escalation of conflict but in calm resolution of conflict. The evidence of uncontrolled discipline and escalated conflict is prolific in our world news reports. How different it might be if our world leaders followed the Beatitudes! People who know that their supervisors, parents, and friends demonstrate controlled discipline are more willing to hear negative evaluations that, in turn, leads to faster resolution of conflict and stronger relationships.

Are you controlled in your discipline?

How’s your track record? Do you see a problem with an employee, family member, or friend and “let them have it”? Or, do you see a problem and seek to first understand and then train/educate? When something goes wrong at work do you emulate the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland and shout “Off with their heads!” Or do you think first about what you may have done to contribute to the problem.

If I asked your fellow workers what you’re like, would I hear words like calm, collected, controlled or, would I hear some thing else? Are you more interested in helping people become better at what they do, or would you rather show everyone that you are “right”?

The people that I’ve interviewed who are controlled in their discipline don’t talk much about how right they were but talk about how they appreciate the skills and abilities of those who work with them. The focus seems to be on how everyone gets to know the organization and how to work together. In leadership theory we refer to this type of leader as a transformational leader since the focus is on the organization and getting everyone to work together for the greater good of the whole.

Are you ready to start being controlled in your discipline?

The steps are simple, but hard for some of us — or at least the steps were hard for me. The first step is to refer back to the first Beatitude and recognize that a measure of humility is to be teachable and learn why someone did what he or she did rather than jump to conclusions. The second step is to follow the second Beatitude and know that it is preferable to show concern for others, which should reduce the behavioral choices for you to those behaviors that will not create long-term pain and discomfort for the person you need to discipline.

The second step is to realize that most of the problems in the workplace or the family are caused or contributed to by the supervisor or parent, in that there may be unclear instructions, limits, expectations, etc.

For a seminar on problem solving that I offer, I hand a little plastic case out to the participants and on the outside it says “the first step in problem solving.” When the participant opens up the case there’s a little mirror inside and the participant is looking at the first solution — himself or herself. When we see ourselves as the cause of many of the problems in the workplace or home we realize that we have to control our actions — we are the ones that need to be disciplined!

The third step is to recognize that improving the long term relationship is better than showing that you are right. This also ties back to the first Beatitude and requires that we recognize the value of those around us.

The next time you find yourself starting to get angry at what someone else did, stop and ask yourself what the principles of Praus and Nomos mean to you in that situation. Is this about knowing the rules of conduct, understanding the logic of how reasoning occurs in the organization or family, or knowing how to love those in the organization or family?

The answer will guide you in what you need to do to be controlled in your discipline.

PART 5: Seek What’s Right »

Copyright 2008 Bruce E. Winston. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Bruce E. Winston

Bruce E. Winston, Ph.D. is the dean of Regent University’s School of Global Leadership and Entrepreneurship. His research writing interests include scripturally-based leadership, servant leadership and entrepreneurship. He has lectured and consulted in the USA, Canada and South Africa. He is the author of Be a Leader for God’s Sake. More of his work can be found in the Regent University School of Global Leadership and Entrepreneurship’s publication website.

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