The Art of Diplomatic Leadership

As leaders encounter entirely new kinds of challenges and responsibilities, they find that they have the strength and resources to meet these challenges. For example, some first-time leaders ultimately learn that they have a gift for leading and inspiring others. Others find that they’re especially talented at gauging others’ motivations and values. Each time you make something happen as a leader—whether it’s shaping your group’s culture in positive ways, helping someone master a new task, or assembling a top-notch team—leaders expand their abilities. They become more seasoned, experienced, and confident leaders, and have a sharper awareness of their own strengths and areas for improvement. Not only do they learn more about themselves as they progress in a leadership role; they also learn more about organizational life in general.

The command and control techniques of previous generations are increasingly ineffective. Today’s leaders must be forward thinking, possess moral courage, and skilled in the art of diplomacy. As a Trustee, I can recall several joint board meetings when the Pastor wasn’t present and it was difficult to keep everyone on task. I experienced similar instances onboard ship when the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer were ashore. The changing structure of organizations, the growth of alliances between organizations, and the changing nature of work itself calls for new approaches to leadership. Paul suggested a new approach in Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith…” By faith, Paul refers to something more than the knowledge of the earthly life of Jesus. He means a commitment of an individual to the way of life Jesus exemplified. This approach has less to do with formal authority and the power to control, and more to do with using situational, strategic, and ethical leadership skills to keep groups of people who may not report to you aligned with an overarching purpose.

The most Important Ingredient: Ethics

Ethical Leadership includes a variety of elements. Beliefs regarding ethics involves taking into account the purpose of the action taken, the consequences to self and others, and the moral standard by which the action is measured. This doesn’t mean ignoring profit and loss, productions costs, and so forth but rather concern for the rational measures of performance coupled with the recognition of the importance of treating people right every day. “Moral leadership is about distinguishing right from wrong and doing right, seeking the just, the honest, the good, and the right conduct in its practice” (Daft, 1999, p. 369).

Whether it involves judgment based on character or legal infractions, ethics has always been a popular topic. When leaders wonder whether their conduct is ethical, they need to ask ‘What would I think if someone else did it?’ Paul believed that the law identifies the flaws in a person’s character but it does not remove them. Paul writes, “…whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4). Compassion is grounded in a larger understanding capstone writers of our relationship to God and one another. When we define Christianity as a list of do’s and don’ts, we restrict ourselves from enjoying an intimate relationship with God. We get caught up in rules as if God were waiting to catch us out of line when He’s really waiting to pick us up when we fall. Christ does not make demands on us that limit our self-direction therefore we should not be inclined to judge others in that manner. In his Virtue-Centered Theory of Judging, Lawrence Solum argued “theories of fairness are prior to theories of justice (2003, p. 178). True Christianity sees the role of leadership as based on love and grace.

We have all known people whose character was not consistent with their personality. However, character is of higher importance than personality. Malphurs (2003) maintained “A Christian Leader emphasizes godly character” (p. 19). The organization will hold people accountable for their behavior (character) but not for their personality traits. If the ‘fruit’ of the spirit (love, joy, peace, etc) and ‘fruit’ of the flesh (adultery, hatred, envy, etc) are the outcomes, then our character is the means towards that outcome. We must seek to do the right thing.

Character is our commitment to doing the right thing, which is why we should focus on character development. In 1 Timothy 4:7 Paul urges Timothy “…exercise thyself rather unto godliness.” Character and self-discipline are a leader’s moral strength to behave according to proper values. The difficulty arises not in knowing what is right but rather doing what is right. Look for organizations where the leaders have clearly defined, articulate, and exemplify the organizational values. “Leadership is doing the right thing even when we do not feel like it, perhaps especially when we do not feel like it” (Hunter, 2004, p. 145).

There are numerous ways to assist emerging leaders in ethical development. I would start with leading by example. It’s difficult to appreciate the pressures on a leader unless you have had that position. The best way to assist up-and-coming leaders whether they’re your peers or subordinates is to let them see Christ working through you. “The movement away from command and control leadership has brought new leadership styles that are more democratic and coach-like” (Lassiter, 2001). Terms such as shared or servant leadership are increasingly used to describe some of these ways of interacting.


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