The Courageous Manager

February 22, 2024

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? - Psalm 27:1

Fear is an natural human emotion. As much as we would like it to not be the case, our lives are precarious. Nothing in the work world is certain. Our reputations are precarious. If we spend too much time thinking about our precarity, it can paralyze us. Yet one of the most common commands that God repeats throughout the Scriptures is this: do not fear. Often it is in response to an appearance of an angel or the LORD himself, but it is also a general command: in a world that encourages us to make decisions based on fear, God and Christ command that we instead make decisions from a position of courage.

As a virtue like the other virtues, courage is something that needs to be cultivated. Like patience, however, courage cannot be manufactured. As patience requires situations that can exasperate, courage requires situations that can terrify. Today’s workforce is often driven by fear: after all, if we don’t have jobs, we won’t survive! That mentality leads to a particular type of work: keeping your head down so that you do not make waves. You may have felt this way. You may have people who report to you who feel this way. But, if you remember past descriptions of a virtuous manager, the Christian manager does not merely seek to cultivate the virtues in themselves. The Christian manager also seeks to cultivate the virtues in their teams. It is not enough that I am humble. In my care for my team, I want to cultivate their humility. Similarly, it is not enough that I am courageous: willing to have hard conversations, willing to stand up for the vulnerable, and willing to stick my neck out for justice and righteousness. I must create an atmosphere where my team is able to and encouraged to be courageous as well. 

Institutions (and managers!) are best known by what they incentivize and what they penalize. If courage is celebrated, then it will be encouraged. If, however, you celebrate the employees who keep their head down and who don’t make noise or ask questions even when perhaps they should, that sends its own message. If we serve a God who encourages us not to fear but instead to love (as John says, perfect love casts out all fear), then the spaces that we inhabit and shape ought to be shining examples of that ethos. Not only must we be courageous, but we must create spaces where courage is not punished. Now the manager will hear this and perhaps be faced with another kind of fear: am I just to invite insubordination? Not at all! But a proper managerial relationship is not a relationship of domination, but service. A team that respects its leader will follow them, not out of fear, but out of trust. Fear is easier to cultivate but much more harmful. As is true of many elements of the Christian life, the easy way is rarely the right way.

The courageous manager is courageous in the spaces in which they find themselves, refusing to allow fear to keep them from standing up for the vulnerable or having difficult conversations. But, perhaps more importantly, the courageous manager creatively considers how to empower and embolden their team, such that they are confident and able to courageously do their job! This is one of the ways that a Baylor work environment ought to be different and a light to the world: we can show the world that love is a greater motivator than fear.

Sic’ em!

Rev. Malcolm B. Foley, Ph.D.