A generous spirit is more than just a mark of a great leader; it is the heart of a great leader. Without generosity of spirit, your life and leadership will leave an empty wake behind you instead of a rich legacy. In The Generosity Factor, S. Truett Cathy, Founder of Chick-Fil-A, and Ken Blanchard comment that the transformation of the heart requires us, “To move from success to significance, from wealth to generosity, from achievement to service, and from status to relationships.” But how does that transformation take place? How do we cultivate true generosity of spirit? We believe it happens when you shift from being a reaper/leader to becoming, with God’s help, a sower/leader.
Reapers and Sowers
As leaders we can operate from a worldview that is shaped primarily by an attitude of either reaping or sowing. Let’s look at each.
Reaper/leaders measure everything they do in ‘harvest’ terms. They assign a utilitarian value to people, processes and products and consequently tend to de-value anything that cannot be tied to ‘bottom-line’ results. People become means to an end; resources to be employed for the greatest possible gain. This may sound harsh, but think how easy it is to slip into this functional approach, especially when crises arise and financial pressures grow. Left unchecked, reaper/leaders become master manipulators of people and processes, using their power and control to effect outcomes to the greatest extent possible. Focusing only on these outcomes, these leaders model a kind of scarcity mentality, believing that success must be squeezed out of their people and processes by the proper application of pressure and, if necessary, coercion. In the end, the reaper/leader operates from a self-centered worldview that places his or her success in leadership ahead of the wellbeing of the organization and the people that comprise it.
Sower/leaders understand that everyone is engaged in a journey of transformation. They understand that every person is either becoming more and more the person they were created to be, or slipping further and further from that same reality. These leaders seek to invest, or ‘sow’ generously into the lives of the people in their organizations, believing that the transformation of their people will result in the success of their collective work. Sower/leaders measure success in broader terms than narrow, bottom-line metrics. They respond to crises by empowering others and they operate from an abundance mentality. They are more concerned with unfolding the potential of their people than molding them into utilitarian units of production. In the end, the sower/leader operates from an other-centered worldview that measures the ongoing transformation of their people as their greatest indicator of success; confident that such an approach will produce efficiency and effectiveness in accomplishing the mission of the organizations they are called to serve. In this way, sower/leaders cultivate a spirit of generosity.
Joining the Journey
How do we become such a sower/leader? The path of transformation is free but it will cost you everything. Listen to one of the most prolific sower/leaders in the modern era, Mother Teresa, “who can outdo God in his generosity: if we poor human beings give him everything and surrender our whole being to his service, he is sure to stand by us and with us, as everything in us will be his.” Mother Teresa was able to sow limitless love and care in countless lives in the name of Jesus Christ because she was tapped into the abundant source that would never run dry. She did not try to change the world herself but learned to receive from God with gratefulness and then generously share his abundant blessings with others. We can follow the same path. She reminds us, however, that it is only after surrendering all we are and all we have to God that He can use us to bless others.
If we want to become sower/leaders, we must change our focus away from what we don’t have in order to give all we do have back to him. And, as our lives conform to the image of Christ who is generous, we too will develop the spirit of generosity. That is our journey. This spirit of generosity takes hold when we have experienced mind victory, spirit submission, hands realignment, and sower freedom.
Conversion from reaper to sower requires a victory over old mindsets and attitudes that we have allowed to solidify; a kind of psycho-sclerosis, a hardening of the attitudes! To clear away these sludgy deposits, we must daily fight and win the battle for our minds. As leaders we must commit ourselves to controlling our thoughts and allowing the Holy Spirit to renew our minds. Paul exhorts us, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24) Perhaps the best method we have been given to enter into this mental renewal of our minds and attitudes comes from Paul’s direction to the Corinthians, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) If we, as leaders, would never allow a thought to enter our minds that was not first ‘made obedient to Christ’, we would live in a daily victory that would transform our lives as sower/leaders. Are you daily winning the victory over your mind and developing attitudes that glorify God and bless his people?
The obstacle that impedes many from becoming generous sower/leaders is control. To give is to release control. When leaders give into the temptation to lead by control, their accomplishments are simply the fruit of the flesh. Their results, regardless of how grand, will pale in comparison to what could have happened if they surrendered control to God and allowed the Spirit to work. What good is the Spirit? John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople and prolific leader in the Early Church, reminds us that “God has given us the greatest gift possible and in profusion. What is that gift? It is the Holy Spirit.” Its greatness is rooted in the profound truth that receiving the Spirit is getting the indwelling presence and power of God Himself. Sower/leaders learn to let go of control, and step out in faith and confidence that God is supremely capable of leading, guiding and providing. Welcoming this paradigm shift not only positions leaders with a new worldview; it sets them free from trying to change people and manipulate circumstances to serving others and changing the world empowered by the Spirit.
Is it time to rethink your leadership style? In other words, after experiencing transformation in who you are in becoming a sower/leader, might today be the day you re-evaluate what you do with your hands every day? Sower/leaders embrace God’s agenda as their agenda, and come to realize His abundant resources become available to them as a result. This positions them for generosity, even sacrificial generosity. Pedro Arrupe blessed many in his life guided by this belief: “Generosity is the willingness to be interrupted by the suffering and needs of others.” To be a great leader who is generous, our schedule must have margin for ministering to the needs of others. Why? As Ruth Haley Barton reminds us, “Our transformation is never for ourselves alone. It is always for the sake of others.” Sower/leaders dedicate their lives to serving others, like Jesus, “who did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).
Finally, reaper/leaders view life as owners. Sower/leaders understand their role as stewards in relationship to all of life. Reaper/leaders live in a type of bondage to their drive for ownership, while sower/leaders are set free to live as faithful stewards. Bondage and freedom may be the best way to describe the choice set before us. Ownership always brings anxiety, which leads to a bondage of the soul. While for the steward, there is both accountability and also a looseness in relationship to the things of this world. When we as sower/leaders employ people and processes for productive ends we do so as stewards of that which we do not own, or desire to own. As stewards, we are free to seek the best from those who follow us, and escape the bondage of trying to control that which we think we own but realize (often far too late in life) that we never actually do. To be a sower/leader is, more than anything else, to be set free!
And so, may this gravestone inscription for the Generous Man be true of each of us! “A man there was, and some did count him mad: The more he gave away, the more he had.”