Great Leaders Model Biblical Truths

There’s something common about man, and that’s that we’re really not that unique from each other. From recycled fashion trends, repeating historical events such as wars, famines and pandemics, to coming up with the same ideas, even despite our distances and disconnection, and even the same type of stories. A striking realization I made the other day was that a lot of western, modern leadership texts and self-help books actually represent several core principles of the Bible – which if you’re a fan of distributed systems and their summarized results, may suggest why western ideologies are often inter-socially (that is, self-described) described as societies built on strong leadership (not without their strong faults, of course; continuing to follow the trends of the Bible which is full of broken people, except Jesus).

I made this observation, when I finished the great book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, which was made in 1936. The book’s prologue claimed that this text was the beginning of the genre of self-help books – this intrigued me, as I nestled into the audio (in redeeming my hour and half commute to work). While the book is not explicitly based on biblical principles, I could not resist drawing obvious parallels between some of the book’s advice and teachings from the Bible. Here is a summary of the book with corresponding biblical references:

  1. Fundamental Techniques in Handling People
    • Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain (Matthew 7:1-2): “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
    • Give honest and sincere appreciation (1 Thessalonians 5:11): “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
    • Arouse in the other person an eager want (Philippians 2:4): “Not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
  2. Six Ways to Make People Like You
    • Become genuinely interested in other people (Romans 12:10): “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
    • Smile (Proverbs 15:13): “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.”
    • Be a good listener (James 1:19): “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
    • Make the other person feel important (Philippians 2:3): “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
  3. How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking
    • Avoid arguments (Proverbs 17:14): “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.”
    • Show respect for other’s opinions (1 Peter 3:15): “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
    • Admit when you are wrong (Proverbs 28:13): “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
    • Begin in a friendly way (Proverbs 16:21): “The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction.”
  4. Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment
    • Begin with praise and honest appreciation (Ephesians 4:29): “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
    • Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly (Galatians 6:1): “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”
    • Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing others (Matthew 7:3-5): “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? […] You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
    • Let the other person save face (Proverbs 25:21-22): “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”
    • Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement (Hebrews 10:24): “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
    • Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to (Ephesians 4:32): “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
    • Use encouragement (1 Thessalonians 5:14): “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
    • Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest (Matthew 5:16): “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

As you can see, the principles in Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” are closely related to the teachings found in the Bible. While not all principles in the book directly correspond to biblical teachings, the overarching themes of empathy, kindness, and effective communication can be seen in both sources, and much like the things that define our humanity, we often recycle the same ideas – our leadership and self-help texts are no different.

In my own life, it’s no secret to me that some of the greatest leaders that I have personally looked up to, also happened to be strong followers in faith – a fact that I was clueless to, in deciding that their behavior would be worth modeling, and aspiring to. The sociologist inside me would also remind me of psychology 101, where this also may be a self-confirming bias – which of course it can be, and is in some ways to analyze it – but I also mean it for their faults as well, as I haven’t met or read about a person who hasn’t been broken in some way either. I am reminded even in the humanity that the world intends to describe as self-help, is actually biblically derived.

What’s more, the greatest self-help and beginning/fundamental leadership book is the Bible!

I guess it should be no surprise to me that Dale Carnegie was a professing believer, or the fact that his writing has remained timeless in a scene of changing spotlights of the latest self-help strategies. (Though I wonder how I missed that profession in the beginning – I blame I-5 traffic and the non-traditional audiobook media). Want to be super famous in the self-help and leadership genre? Pick up a bible today! It’s not without its verifiable process – famously, Abraham Lincoln rallied a nation during the abolition movement, behind a strong biblical truth: “A house divided against itself cannot stand”.

Certainly, you may not need to proclaim faith in order to be a great leader, but as your history book can tell you, modeling your life after fundamental biblical truths is a winning strategy for all (in the game of inspiring the greatest number of people for time to come; which is dutifully cast aside by the leader properly wielding the power of such biblical truths) – for those that lead, and for those that follow. Great leaders model biblical truths.

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