Leading Up (1-Hour Small Group Study)
For more small group studies on workplace issues, go to the SMALL GROUPS STUDIES INDEX.
INTRODUCTION TO THE ISSUE:
For every powerful boss whose wish is the command of others, there are infinitely more subordinates who must respond to those wishes. Unless you’re a boss with despotic power, you must learn to influence other people at work. This Bible study will teach you how to “lead up” in your workplace, based on biblical principles.
Discussion: What is the most challenging thing you’re trying to achieve in your work? Who do you need to influence to make that happen?
Four biblical principles apply to leading up:
- Be consistent and faithful in service
- Be an example
- Be patient and persevere
- Be bold at the right time
BE CONSISTENT AND FAITHFUL IN SERVICE
So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
An attitude of humble service is a virtue for a Christian. More than that, a humble worker with a good work ethic becomes trusted by all his or her co-workers. Before you try to convince other people at work to follow you, you have to lay a foundation of trust.
Discuss: Think about someone in your workplace who has earned your trust. How did he or she do it?
BE AN EXAMPLE
Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
(1 Timothy 4:12)
As an upstart taking on his first leadership role, Timothy was perhaps worried that other people wouldn’t listen to him due to his youth. Paul advised Timothy to lead by example, by demonstrating the type of behaviour he might hope to inspire in others. One moral member of a team can quietly sway the group towards better behaviour. When she was first coming on the job, an engineer named Wendy told her mostly male co-workers, “I was raised in a Christian household, so I don’t feel comfortable with rude jokes or swearing. If you want to talk that way, don’t do it around me.” The other engineers valued Wendy and her expertise, so they didn’t want to say anything that might offend her. As a result, the level of discourse improved for everyone in the office.
Discuss: How would you like people in your workplace to act? What kind of example can you set for them?
BE PATIENT AND PERSEVERE
Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously. The conspirators came and found Daniel praying and seeking mercy before his God. Then they approached the king and said concerning the interdict, “O king! Did you not sign an interdict, that anyone who prays to anyone, divine or human, within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions?”… Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!”
(Daniel 6:10-12, 16)
Changing the mind of a stubborn boss or the culture of an entire organization takes time. If this is your goal, then you have to be patient. Daniel is a biblical example of patience. He worked for a king who frequently made immoral decrees. Nevertheless, Daniel kept doing his job well, while also doing what was right for his own religious beliefs. In the end Daniel’s faith was vindicated in the incident with the lions, and Daniel’s boss ends up praising God. But it took patience and perseverance on Daniel’s part.
Discuss: What do you need to persevere in the difficult parts of your work?
BE BOLD AT THE RIGHT TIME
Mordecai gave him [Queen Esther’s servant Hathach] a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and charge her to go to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people. Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law – all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden sceptre to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.” When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
If you are in a vulnerable position at work, you may face competing concerns of self-preservation and wanting to make a difference. Should you speak above your pay grade and risk getting fired? The story of Esther demonstrates that there is not only a right action but also a right time for that action. Esther took a risk in going to see the king without an appointment. She had to; the clock was ticking! On the other hand, at that anxious meeting she only asked the king to come to dinner. Esther waited until the king was pleased with her and in a pleasant mood before plying him with her request. This story demonstrates that God has a right time for every right action. Your challenge is to be both bold and wise.
Discuss: Mordecai speaks of his dire moment in history as “such a time as this.” Are you in a dire situation in your work? Or is there another time that would be better to act?
PERSONAL EXERCISE: MAKE A PLAN FOR LEADING UP
Take some moments to reflect on your work and answer the following questions:
- What is the biggest thing I’m trying to achieve or change in my workplace?
- Am I already an example of the behavior I want to see? Or is there anything I need to change about my behavior to be a good example?
- Who do I need to influence to make this happen? For each person I need to influence, what would be the best time to talk to them?