How Should the Reality of Sin Affect Our Approach to Management?

In my article “Management in Light of the Supremacy of God,” I place significant emphasis on how the core of great management involves extending people’s autonomy rather than exercising detailed control over people.

One reader recently asked: “How does this relate to the reality of sin? How should the doctrine of sin and the fallen human heart affect our understanding of management?”

That’s a great question. I typed up a very quick response. Here’s what I said:

Glad you enjoyed the article, and thanks for your question.

Briefly, I’d say the reality of sin is addressed by the “accountability for results” component. We should maximize people’s freedom, but this is freedom within a framework. The framework is not only necessary because of sin — people are served by helpful structures and systems in themselves. But this also is one of the ways sin is kept in check as well.

A couple other thoughts. The emphasis on expanding freedom also takes into account the reality of sin, because as Paul teaches, the law actually makes sin increase. He is talking broadly there about God’s law and the human heart in general, but it does have an application to management: creating detailed rules is more likely to stir up sin in employee’s hearts than control sin. There is a place for rules, and sometimes even pretty strict ones (for example: in relation to financial reporting), but when there isn’t someone’s life at stake (airplane checklists, for example) or laws/ethical realities, the disposition should be to allow people freedom to identify their own way to accomplish the outcomes.

Another issue is: what are the specific sins of most people in the workplace? While all people are sinners, I don’t think that, for most people, their sin manifests itself as laziness and unwillingness to work. I think most people want to do good work and seek increased responsibility. Much sin in the workplace falls in the realm of motives and such things as that — a lot of which is outside the purview of management. So giving people freedom within a healthy overall framework will typically not be abused because of sin; and when it is abused by a few, it doesn’t serve the organization to punish everyone for a few bad apples.

One last thought: We also need to think of the sins of management. Sometimes people think “let’s tightly control people, because they are sinners,” not realizing that the managers themselves who are the ones to exercise this “tight control” are also sinners. So a tightly controlled approach as a response to sin runs into its own problems. Freedom within a healthy framework takes account of sin in the best way, in my view, because most people will excel when given the chance and since this also minimizes the opportunity for management to sin by overly controlling their people and viewing them mainly as means.

  • staffaction

    interesting, and good. I was recently wondering this as well. I’ve seen some quotes recently that say the better managers trust people more, rather than last. So how does that comport with knowing we are dealing with sin and people prone to it.