Why faith is central to Chan's leadership style
(Taken from an interview with the Beijing Business Community)
Beijing Business Community (BBx): Do you think your faith is the foundation side or the influencing side of your leadership style?
Chan: It is the foundation.
The principles of the Bible hold good in every culture, tradition and time zone. The Bible influences my thought processes, what I have done to model my leadership arising from that. Most of them are intuitive. I have not looked at the Bible and looked for what it says about leadership. I know from my heart and by the Spirit what is right. But then I go back to the Bible and look at the leaders in the Bible. Take David, who was a great leader, but with a lot of problems and Solomon his son, also a great leader but with flaws as well. We can learn from their lives and I have given lectures setting out the valuable lessons we can learn. I’ve also done a series at Daybreak Community Church and you can see the videos on the website (www.daybreakcommunitychurch.org.uk).
So back to your question, do Biblical principles influence my leadership style? They are indeed the foundation. And they have to be, because one of the core principles of Leadership International is “servant leadership”, which I define as “sacrificial love for those you lead”. You won’t find CEOs talking about loving those they lead. When I have talked about this to business leaders, they have looked at me with surprise, because love is a very difficult word for people to cope with. But people who work at my organisation know it; they know it by results.
It is very unusual for a chief executive to be in this situation, but you see, a leader is also meant to be a pastor, a shepherd, someone who cares for the needs of their people. When people know it is genuine, they respond. They are not disrespectful, and they don’t mistake kindness for weakness. People ask, ‘How can you be the leader and care for people, especially when you may have to make difficult decisions about them and their future?’ Well, the two are not incompatible. What I’m trying to do is to teach and train people to understand that you can be a strong leader but you can also be a responsive leader. And people respond to that.
BBx: You mentioned in your talk that a leader needed to have a vision, a higher goal. Do you think it is possible for a CEO to be a strong leader just to have a goal there instead of having a faith-based calling?
Chan: The approach I took with Leadership International has been to demonstrate that Third Millennium Leadership is transferable into any situation. The reason I say that is because the Bible is also applicable in every situation. Whether someone is a person with faith or not, the truth is the truth. My organisation is not a faith-based organisation. When I teach the principles of leadership in a non-Faith setting, I don’t use faith type language. You don’t need to because the truth transfers.
Let us take one of the core principles of Leadership International, ‘Leadership without ego.’ There are two applications: (1) If you are a person with faith, what you say is accountable to God. (2) If you aren’t, then you need to be accountable to something, whether it is to a goal, or to a board, or to the people you lead. The principle is the same. Ego, which is the inner driving force in many leaders, is dangerous and destructive. Those people focus on themselves and are influenced by their self-interest. When you take ego out of your life, when you say ‘I’m not here to serve my own interest, I’m here to serve somebody else, or something else, or the enterprise’ then you are opening the door to become a more effective leader.
The principles of Third Millennium Leadership are transferable to any kind of leadership setting. The secret of their effectiveness and strength is that they change the character of the leader, and that’s what I’m interested in -- building leaders of character, because these are the leaders people in the 21st century want to follow. If you are not a leader with character, if you are an egotist, people may still follow you because they have no choice, but at the first available opportunity they may leave you. A leader is only a leader when they look behind them there are followers. If the followers are dragging their feet, they are not following real leaders but despots and dictators. As soon as there is a catastrophe or crisis, those followers will run away. But if you are someone who is engaging, a servant leader, people will follow you – and very often through difficulty to the goal you are leading them on to achieve.