Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Trinity of Christian Management

After becoming a manager I spent a few years learning the various management methodologies and recommendations. I've been certified in project management, attended the Dale Carnegie Course, read most all of what Steven Covey has written and attended Franklin/Covey classes, I've been certified as a Help Desk manager, plus I have been training and certified in the most common IT management frameworks (such as ITIL and COBIT). Basically I have looked for most any information that would seem to help me in my career as an IT manager. But, after looking at the various information, recommendations and frameworks concerning how best to manage, I started to question how all these various recommendations actually fit together. Managing shouldn't have to be that complex. So, I started trying to simplify and combine the various recommendations to boil them down to the essentials of how to manage effectively.

Best Practices
The first core concept I came to is that, regardless of how we manage, the goal is always to get to some idealized set of "best practices" for performing each of our functions. Even though we may never actually get there or we may be mistaken about what is "best" in a given situation, getting to a set of "best practices" is still the goal.

The concept of "best practices" goes by many names. If there is no force behind them we call them suggestions, recommendations, or models. If we put social pressure behind them they are called etiquette. If we put law enforcement behind them then they are called laws. But these are all just different forms of "best practices".

Willingness to Sacrifice Yourself
The concept of "best practices" seemed obvious from the list of hundreds or even thousands of recommendations that the various management literature recommends. But just teaching and
knowing the recommendations is not enough to be effective. We need to actually put the recommendations into practice to be effective. Now we naturally do things that give us an immediate reward, so those kinds of tasks do not even need to be managed. But what we do not do naturally are the things that bring some pain or hardship up front in order to gain a greater reward later. So, a big part of management seems to be the art of getting people, including yourself, to want to do the painful things up front to get a reward later. To do that requires the willingness to sacrifice short term benefits to obtain long term gain, so the willingness to make self sacrifices seems key to be willing to implement "best practices".

Right Attitude (Motivation)
But what causes us to be willing to make the needed sacrifices? To do that we need to have the correct attitude/motivation. The best model I have heard for how we motivate ourselves and others is to convince people that a particular goal is valuable and worth the cost of obtaining the goal, and then to show a believable path for getting there which builds hope of actually being able to obtain the goal.

The Trinity
It was at that point that I realized that reducing management theory to core concepts in this way reflects the core attributes of the Trinity. God the creator gave us laws and practices which, even if they don't seem to us to be best, by definition they must be the best if he is an all powerful, good creator. So God is the author of the concept of "best practices". But that apparently wasn't enough for mankind to live rightly so Jesus came and sacrificed himself to uphold the truth of what he taught, including that he was God's son, while at the same time submitting to the religious and legal authorities. As disciples of Jesus we have committed ourselves to also sacrificing ourselves to uphold truth and to determine and do what is right. So, a key attribute of Jesus is the willingness to make self sacrifices to support what is right. But apparently even that wasn't enough for the first century followers of Jesus to boldly sacrifice themselves to do what is right. They needed the Holy Spirit to motivate them to be willing to sacrifice themselves. So, there you have it. God is the giver of best practices, Jesus sacrificed himself rather than compromise truth and the Holy Spirit gives the right attitude/motivation to the disciples of Jesus. So the key attributes associated with the Trinity are also the key attributes of effective management, especially self management.

You might ask why there is problems with the world if God is an effective manager. The reason is that the common Utopian concept of a "perfect" world of freedom without any pain does not actually exist, even for God. Apparently God values freedom of choice and where there is true freedom of choice there are also bad choices being made. So, by definition, in a world with freedom of choice there also has to be the problems associated with bad choices. Also, God is not required to make everything work perfectly, so it appears, according to the Bible, that after man chose not to follow God He changed the world somewhat to not work perfectly, likely to cause us to desire the perfect world which we do not currently have.

It appears that the Christian God is an excellent manager (as we would expect). So it would make sense that western, historically Judeo-Christian world has advanced the art of management, invention and industry more than any other civilization.

So, when you are confronted with a management problem, either at work or on a personal level, I think you will find that the resolution can be categorized as either to determining/implementing best practices, being willing to sacrifice something that up until now you have been holding on to, or having the appropriate attitude/motivation to get to your goal.


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