Why do the “Wrong” People Get Ahead?
Originally posted on the Christian Post on November 18th.
I’m in a company where it feels to me that people who are good at flattering the boss – but not necessarily are good at their jobs – get promoted, while more talented people get ignored or passed over. It’s so frustrating to look around and see the kind of people in positions of leadership who don’t seem to deserve to be there. What does the Bible say about dealing with people in authority who seem like a disaster?
Passed over at work
Dear Passed Over,
One of the things that can make a workplace truly unbearable is dealing with difficult leadership. But you don’t have to take my word for it. This is a question many wrestle with every day but the Bible is not silent on the issue.
Scripture gives us many stories illustrating a Christ-like response to apparent unjust leadership. In the book of Daniel, the prophet deals with three pagan administrators who unfairly rise to prominence by his good work. Or in Luke 18, the parable of the Unjust Judge illustrates God’s sovereign care for us and His promise that justice will be done.
In Psalm 73, Asaph felt exactly as you do, writing: “…I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills…This is what the wicked are like — always free of care, they go on amassing wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.” Asaph had, in his own words, a bitter attitude from watching the “wrong people” get ahead.
Gallup would agree with Asaph, finding that companies choose the wrong manager 82 percent of the time! As a result of the struggle to deal with incompetent, distant, or even unkind leaders, billions of dollars are lost and only one-third of employees report feeling engaged in their workplace – leaving the rest wondering when will the day end.
But as Asaph continues to reflect on the good fortune of those who are not following the Lord or working honestly, he observes that their successes are short-term because they will not have help when a day of disaster comes. (And difficulties come to everyone.) Meanwhile, for those whose hearts are set on the Lord, there is help from a loving God. Asaph writes, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.”
Through fellowship with Christ, we have the great gift of God’s help and counsel in the day-to-day struggle. And we know that no matter how bad things seem in the moment, there is a day of reckoning, and frankly, that should lead us to pray for our leadership when we see them headed the wrong direction.
Yet the problem remains that too often companies promote someone who looks next in line, rather than considering whether they have the skills to manage people and projects. That failure hurts all in the company.
The skills of a good manager are rare – Gallup finds that after five decades of study, only one in ten has what it takes to lead.
According to Gallup, great managers exhibit certain definable skills:
- “They motivate every single employee to take action and engage employees with a compelling mission and vision.”
- “They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.”
- “They create a culture of clear accountability.”
- “They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.”
- “They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.”
In 1 Timothy 3:8–13, the Apostle Paul lays out the qualities that churches should look for when choosing leaders in a church. Leaders “should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And they must also be tested first (have some experience – emphasis added); if they prove blameless, then they can serve…”
My advice for you and those who currently suffer under poor leadership at work is first to remember, as Asaph did, that with God on your side, you have a lot to be thankful for. Second, to learn all that you can in your current work environment to either get promoted yourself or leave for better opportunity.
Consider the advice in Ephesians 6:5-8 given to the slaves at the bottom of Roman society: “Obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.”
God’s Word does not instruct us to accept a bad situation as permanent or to believe that circumstances can’t change. He tells us to serve wholeheartedly – offer good work and remember that the One who blesses us is not the same as who signs the paycheck. He is Sovereign and we often are placed under these “wrong leaders” to grow our character and to make a difference just like Daniel or Joseph did in their challenging circumstances.
But I offer a word of caution for those of us who manage; God is watching our stewardship of the people in our care and will hold us accountable for how people and resources are managed. And as Psalm 34:17 notes, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.” Would you want to have a boss who acts like you? Do you believe God is pleased with your leadership? Take a minute to consider how God sees your leadership.
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