What Is a Just Manager?

November 28, 2023

Justice is one of those controversial virtues, at least in modern parlance. You’re probably used to the constant conversations around us about “social justice”, an interesting phrase since justice is an inherently social reality. In the terms of this series on virtues and the manager, I want to reflect briefly on what it means for Christ to call us to operate justly and what that might mean for your work as a manager.

Justice is often defined as rendering to each person what is due them. That is, if I am just, then I give to others what they deserve. But even that framing is complicated because it also assumes that I know and have the right to determine what my brother, sister and neighbor deserve. Interestingly, Jesus offers an understanding of justice that ought to shape our interactions, the justice that He offers us: a justice flavored with mercy. Salvation, as framed in the Scriptures, is an act of God in which the powers and principalities of sin, death and the Devil are justly defeated in the Cross and the penalties that they would have inflicted on us are mercifully removed from us. We are then invited to live lives in the light of what has been done for us. So then how ought that affect your managerial style? Well, therein lies the controversy.

Ephesians 6 is an interesting text, especially for the American. It is one of the “slaves, obey your masters” texts, one that especially can cause me and my Black brothers and sisters to cringe. But rightly read, Ephesians 6:5-9 actually give a framework that undermines all relationships of unjust domination and exploitation. Slaves are indeed told to serve their earthly masters with respect and fear as though they are serving Christ. But verse 9 outlines Paul’s guidance to masters: “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way.” That is a wild thing for Paul to say. But it is no different from Jesus saying in Matthew 25 that whatever you do for those marginalized and poor in your midst, you do for Him. Paul is saying that you owe those whom you supervise service, not domination and to interact with respect and fear as you would interact with Christ. That is not a matter of kindness; it is a matter of justice. Going back to a previous post, you, as manager, are in a position of lead servant, but only those who you serve can give you the feedback you need in order to serve them well. Now of course, you still have to make the tough calls if someone you supervise is not doing their job well. After all, that is also required by justice. But it is also just as important that your justice smell like mercy. To be a just manager is to render to those who report to you what is due them: your service, offered with fear and respect.

A just manager does not dominate. Like Christ, a just manager works side by side with those who report to them, delegating well and stepping in where necessary. You may also find that managing in this way not only makes your job easier, but it also encourages trust within your team! A team that trusts their leader to be just and merciful is more willing to be creative, and in the kingdom of God, what we need more of is Spirit-enabled creativity. May your team and your workspace be a site of that activity!

Sic’ Em!

Rev. Malcolm B. Foley, PhD