November 21, 2012

The Secret Sauce

Many highly sought after chefs are especially known for the ingredients they combine to produce their signature sauces. By signature sauce, I’m referring to the unique combination of herbs, spices, and oils that provide unforgettable support to the main entrée of any chef’s signature dish.

Here at Oakwood University we have a chef who is the mastermind behind our student and faculty dining experience. I love talking to chef Joseph Vance, because he regularly surprises us with his unique ability to take vegetarian cuisine and elevate it to new heights. Since he came to our 2,020-student campus, student satisfaction with our dining experience has moved from 17 percent to 47 percent in less than a year. (When you’re in town, join us in the Oakwood dining hall for lunch. You’ll be glad you did). One day, when Vance was asked why a certain dish was so tasty he smiled and said, “It’s my secret sauce.”

Similarly, leadership is supported by a secret sauce. That sauce is not simply the technical skill base a leader possesses, because technical ability is expected of every leader in any line of work. For instance, a leader in nursing must have learned in his/her training the fundamentals of taking a patient’s temperature, finding a pulse, administering an IV, and giving an injection. A teacher must know how to create a lesson plan, how to calculate grades, how to grade a test, etc. These are technical skills. They are needed. They are important. They are vital.

2012 1533 page32However, the secret sauce in leadership goes beyond a leader’s technical skills. High-impact Christian leadership requires an understanding of how to intentionally influence one’s colleagues in a positive way for their kingdom service. This is where Ellen White’s insight and contention is so profound: “Christ’s method alone” she wrote, “will give true success in reaching the people.” How did He do it?

First, “the Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good.” This means that Jesus the leader intentionally associated with the persons He sought to influence. He did not rely simply on His status as the Son of God. Intentional association that communicated His unselfish interest in others was a key to opening the hearts of His followers.

Second, “He showed His sympathy for them.”  This means Jesus empathized with the woes, concerns, hurts, cares, joys, hopes, and dreams of the people He sought to lead. Please know that this occurred long before modern leadership theorists urged leaders to engage followers emotionally as well as at the level of task expectation.

Third, He “ministered to their needs.” Christ identified follower needs and met them--whatever they were.

Fourth, He “won their confidence.” One of the most influential books I’ve ever read on leadership is The Speed of Trust by the late Stephen Covey. Covey’s premise is that leaders and followers are bound together in a covenant of trust. This trust is first and foremost grounded in the leader’s character and competence. Character, according to Covey, is the foundation for all progress in an organization, whether church, school, conference, union conference, hospital, university, or company. It is trust that helps followers go the extra mile, stay an extra hour, work an extra shift, or give an extra day.

Finally, after Christ did all these things Ellen White wrote, “Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 143).

Albert Schweitzer, the famous humanitarian who helped generations of believers through his mission work in Africa once said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” The only leaders who can say “Follow me!” and expect followers to believe they are credible enough to follow, are leaders who believe in and practice Christ’s method alone! The secret sauce of leadership effectiveness is that unswerving commitment to intentionally influence men and women for kingdom service.

Leslie Pollard serves president of Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama.