As discussed in Part 1 of 2, we looked at the Greek word teleios to better understand how we, as Christians in the workforce, can be perfect through maturity. We can be complete, with nothing else needed, by walking as Jesus walked. In fact, we are called to do just that. Let’s now take a look at how maturity, perfection, is the sign of strong leadership through two practical philosophies.
“Of course leaders are mature,“ you might think, “They are older and have been around for a while and have much experience…mature.”
And yet it is not experience or longevity that makes a corporate professional mature. I know plenty of older colleagues who act in childish ways, experienced managers who behave irresponsibly.
“Maybe that’s it…responsibility. That’s a sure sign of maturity right?” Perhaps – yes; and yet someone might be capable of delivering medication or proofing a book or entering accounting data into a large database or guarding a military base while still being immature, foolish and of course, worldly. No, being responsible and being perfect in Christ are not interdependent.
I recently heard from a friend in a well-known media enterprise concerning a high level manager. This leader runs the regional team of journalists. She just couldn’t help being derisive, condescending and outright vengeful if you didn’t precisely follow her instruction. These are not the attitudes and actions of a mature individual, let alone someone who follows Christ. In fact, they sound a lot like how children might act when they don’t get their way. The signs of maturity may not be obvious, but when someone responds with maturity in an embarrassing or humbling or awkward or tense situation, it’s hard not to notice their character.
There are two philosophies of maturity that will increase our awareness and light the path for career growth.
Maturity is the ability to defer gratification
You may have heard of the Stanford Marshmallow experiment. A psychologist tested the ability of children to defer gratification by giving them an opportunity to take one marshmallow now or wait and have two marshmallows once the proctor returned, up to 15 minutes later. It was originally reported this experiment measured the child’s ability for strategic thinking. Recent studies proves otherwise. The experiment actually shows the measure of their self-control, the ability to defer gratification, their maturity.
We see this principle at work in those who eat healthy. They defer the lure of rich foods, sugary sweets and fatty delights knowing their reward will come from a long and healthy life. We see it again with students who are adept at saying no to parties, focusing instead on learning, exchanging short term “fun” for long term academic success. Those who decide to save their money to purchase a car, instead of going into debt today, further illustrates the point: deferring gratification has great reward.
Jesus himself is the perfect example. He endured great pain even though he held the power to stop it. He instead faced the cross, suffered the shame of being put to death as a criminal, all for the future glory of building a highway to heaven for his lost sheep.
How does this apply to career growth? Think about the present-day sacrifice you make for long term advancement. You work hard now, putting in long hours, sacrificing your Saturdays and weeknights, all to make an impact on your company or department or team. Conversely, some professionals make it to a certain point in their career then coast along, leaving work early (or right at the stroke of five) avoiding more responsibility altogether. A mature leader gives up the brief pleasures of shorter work days and predictable schedules for the chance of making the most of his career, taking on bigger challenges, working harder to achieve greater outcomes and ways to glorify God with his career.
Another way of deferring gratification is workplace forgiveness. We mostly all have the innate desire to retaliate. We just want to fight back. A co-worker acts unprofessionally toward us, a manager is curt, or a customer condescends and we get that flash of vengeance. It’s easy to even-the-score and our minds give us plenty of reasons too. Holding our tongue today, however, will pay great dividends tomorrow. Truth is, when tomorrow comes, we probably won’t feel like striking back. This is a sign of maturity and those who can master it will be favored for promotion.
It’s more obvious to see this principle at work when just getting started in our careers. We take entry level jobs for the chance to grow into larger roles, sacrificing low pay for future opportunities. We are willing to take more “abuse” because we are new. As we get older in our careers we are more tempted to slow down progress in exchange for reliable pay and predictable schedules. We are more tempted to think we should be respected now, that we’ve somehow earned it. God may be calling you to higher responsibility or greater humility. Consider where you may be able to defer gratification for the chance to be more and do more for Christ, to shine a brighter light, to become that city on a hill.
Maturity is the ability to endure uncertainty
The Center for Creative Leadership conducted a study to determine the top reasons why executives derail their careers. Ranking number one in the study, not surprisingly, was the inability to handle change.
With change comes uncertainty, and it is surely difficult facing the unknown. Yet the ability to do so with poise and strength, level headedness and calm, is one of the most important aspects of great leadership.
Consider what emerges when a person is unable to handle “not knowing”. On the least damaging end of the spectrum would be nervousness, frustration, anxiety, an overall lack of confidence, hasty decision making. As we move along the continuum we might see it turn into subtle manipulation, trying to take control of a situation, distress and anger. In the extreme it can lead to backstabbing, outright lying, bullying and varying levels of paranoia. Of course, none of these traits are desirable leadership qualities either to have or to follow. They are certainly not traits of the mature.
In high pressure scenarios where much is at stake, be it reputation or money, intense behaviors tend to emerge. When the risks decrease, so do the odds for undesirable actions. As Christians we constantly strive to be set apart from the world keeping Jesus front of mind. And for the sake of this article, the content will address the lesser evils. That’s not to say we all aren’t capable of the greater ones, but we will assume those are extremely rare, and we will focus instead on the common.
One way to briefly analyze our own ability to endure uncertainty is found in self-reflection. Consider these questions:
- What hasty decisions do I make when fearful of the unknown?
- Where does uncertainty most affect my career today?
- When I am uncertain, what feelings tend to come up?
- When was I last confused at work about the future?
- How did I handle myself in that scenario?
Answering the questions above may be as easy as thinking through your last corporate restructuring or a time when your manager quit and a new one was hired or your customer called to complain about you to your boss or you interviewed for a position and found yourself waiting for a return call. There are myriad scenarios that cause us to sit and wait in uncertainty. And as you take on greater responsibility at work, the ability to endure it will become greater still.
Those who are immature allow their fears to control them. Those who are mature strive to maintain peace through fearful times. So, how can you overcome the temptation to get anxious or worrisome when doubt exists? The answer may be simple enough yet so easy to forget:Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7
This is the answer to the perfection question, how to being mature, complete, perfect. As we draw near to God he will draw near to us. The more time we connect with God while at work, the more balanced and fulfilled we are. We fear less when God Almighty is at hand. This casting of anxiety onto God is something worth practicing and practicing again. The more we can remember that God is there for us, caring for us, ready to listen and take away the fear, the more we live in the moment and maintain that mature demeanor of great leaders. We have nothing to fear when God is near.The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. -Deuteronomy 31:8 Shawn Sommerkamp is a motivational speaker and Executive Coach with 20+ years of Fortune 100 leadership experience. He founded Motivationeer™ to coach Christian professionals how to bring the power of Christ’s word, as the foundation of career success, into corporate and small business America.