Date Added: November 2015
We continually read articles that millennials are difficult to get along with, don’t work as hard, and are not good communicators. Having interacted with many college interns over the years, this is inaccurate. In fact, one graduate intern I worked with last summer asked an essential leadership question, prompting a completely different perspective.
The question was, “Do you believe to be a great leader, one must have a deep sense of faith or believe in some God?” This intern didn’t mess around! This is the first time I’ve been asked this question, much less in a work setting. This intern receives credit, as early in her career she intuitively understands the basis for true leadership lies outside of ourselves.
A recent article on U.S. Presidential candidates listed their faith denominations, so why not address faith related to leadership here and now? Could it be that great leadership emanates from individuals who have a deep sense of faith in their leadership approach?
I will share the ensuing discussion with individuals of four different faith denominations despite knowing the “unwritten rules” advising against mixing faith and business. Regardless of your religious affiliation, I believe you must have both profound faith beliefs and a deep, personal relationship with something greater than you – God or whomever you believe in – to truly be a great leader. I will not engage in the argument which faith is “right” as this is getting into one’s personal beliefs, with the exception of some agnostic colleagues which is addressed below.
Beginning with organized religions and answering the intern’s question, simply practicing a faith may not be sufficient enough to be a great leader. It requires having a deep, personal relationship with God, or whomever you believe in – comparable with great leaders having meaningful relationships with their employees. Similarly, a faith relationship allows leaders to more fully understand themselves; and embrace their strengths, gifts and passions. In doing so, leaders are better equipped to more positively impact others. This is a core of heart-and-soul inspired leadership.
There are some very good leaders who possess many traditional leadership characteristics such as integrity, courage and competence; and also have faith. However, they may not have a deep relationship with their God; therefore, they may never be as great a leader as they could be because this central relationship element is missing from their holistic leadership philosophy.
On the other hand, agnostics make claims to the effectiveness of leadership that is independent of a higher power. My agnostic colleagues provided several examples of why faith is irrelevant and not connected to leadership. They also acknowledged several examples of things that haven’t gone well in their lives and at work.
My response was, “How do you know things wouldn’t be better if you did believe in a God? I challenged them to earnestly seek God in prayer for three months. Three months of believing in something and developing a deep, personal relationship with that God.
They countered that the world isn’t perfect for those who believe because there is poverty, hunger and war; and even the great leaders don’t have perfect lives. I completely agreed and replied with, “All I know is that when things go well, I know who to thank; and when things don’t go well, I know who to ask for help.”
One never knows until they try. Interestingly, the essence of the intern’s question is the definition of faith: “Confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” This is an amazing statement about greatness in leadership – for leaders to humbly acknowledge that what makes them great is a gift from a higher existence.
One millennial intern’s question prompted serious reflection on the foundation of great leadership to accept that life with both profound faith beliefs and a deep, personal relationship with something greater than you – God – is better than life without. By the way, while my agnostic colleagues are still skeptical; they have noted positive changes in their lives and are hopefully on the path to strengthening their leadership and faith.
David Yeghiaian is committed to positively impacting the lives of others through faith, inspiration and leadership. Reach him at email@example.com.