Does Leading in Soft Ways Make Good Culture?


You may have read my last post and said, “Wow, Doug, how in the world can you actually lead and make hard decisions, if you are reflecting Jesus!? In my world…”

I get it, but hear me out.

I’m a big fan of the leadership of David. Even David, who wrote the inspiring words of 2 Samuel 23:2-4, had to make hard decisions.

David made choices that impacted the lives of people. He put men (brothers, husbands and fathers) in harms way on the battlefield, and he had to make decisions (with God’s direction) that had positive or negative effects on numerous lives.

Even in the leadership of churches and ministry settings, difficult decisions, often prompted by difficult circumstances, demand that leaders have courage and conviction before God to act. It’s one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in my eight years as The Navigators U.S. president: making decisions that hopefully serve the many, but create challenges or negative consequences for a few. Don’t hear me saying that I have it figured out. It’s difficult every time.

In the book Leadership and Self Deception, the authors talk about hard and soft actions that a leader must put in motion. Sometimes we have an opportunity to make decisions that create positive circumstances for everyone (soft). But often, God calls us to do things that feel hard to those impacted. The authors suggest that in either of the actions (hard or soft) it’s the spirit in which we behave that makes the difference – how we act.

When we deliver news that there’s going to be a restructuring or something else that will impact people’s jobs or the roles they have, do we do so with callous distance or with compassionate presence? When we have a conversation about someone’s subpar performance, do we do it as a removed “boss,” or as a Kingdom citizen who understands the pain, because we’ve had similar “pruning” in our lives?

When leading and making hard choices we can still, as Paul writes, be people who reflect Jesus’s kingdom:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:12-14 NIV).

Creating good culture means leading in hard and soft ways, but always in the spirit of Jesus.

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