Of Covenant Leaders

I thought about the difference between covenant and contract leaders when reading David Brooks’ recent NY Times column – “How Covenants Make Us.”

Contracts are about making deals, providing services, protecting interests.   They are temporary quid pro quo obligations; precise and predictable.   The detail is in fine print.

On the other hand, covenants protect others, offer gifts to people in community.   They are open-ended, often for a lifetime.   They are unpredictable and sometimes messy.   In the Bible the Old and New Testaments or ‘Covenants’ are between God and the faith community.    While covenants may be written they are sometimes oral, unwritten, unsigned agreements that remain even when violated.

Drawing from Commonwealth and Covenant’ a new book by Marcia Pally of N.Y.U., Brooks agrees that our social fabric is held together by multiple covenants binding us to one another in families and communities, providing us, he writes, ‘with values and goals.’

Due to the decline of covenant relationships, he and Marcia Pally believe we are suffering a wide range of social and personal problems: alienation, polarization, racial animosity, powerlessness, lack of identity.

What about leaders?   What responsibility do leaders bear to go beyond their employment contracts to covenant relationships with their colleagues and organizations?   And to what extent is society, as well as organizations, dependant upon covenant leadership?

Contract leaders follow written job descriptions defining their authority and responsibility.   Their success in meeting goals and outcomes is evaluated by performance reviews.

Covenant leaders go beyond their contracts to nurture warm relationships with an unwritten commitment to the wellbeing of individuals within and for the organization.  They seek and welcome feedback, learn from criticism, humbly seek to serve rather than be served. They respect divergent opinions and foster collaborative decision-making. They forgive mistakes and restore those who have fallen or have failed. They give their undivided attention and listen actively.

Covenant leadership is what James MacGregor Burns advocated as ‘transformational leadership’ and Robert K. Greenleaf described as ‘servant leadership.’   It is about the quality of relationships.

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2 Responses to Of Covenant Leaders

  1. Susan Grube says:

    The distinction of the differences in these leadership types is worth noting. There is definitely a difference in a contract and a covenant relationship.

  2. Jossie owens says:

    Good morning Tom: I look forward to your writings! I love the way you process and think about life! I equally look forward to your book list. Typically, after reading your review of a book or subject, I head straight to Amazon, and order the book. I have never been disappointed. The subject of “covenant leaders” is one that I have been studying and teaching for the past several months in our churches.

    We need to go back to the biblical understanding of covenants in our relationship with God and people. The early church understood what it meant to be in a covenant relationship…. as there are so many examples of those types of relationships in the scriptures. We as the church need to be awakened in our own understanding of being in a covenant relationship with our Heavenly Father.

    If we understood the covenant relationship better, we would have more trust in one another and with our God. Please keep reading, writing, and keeping us on our toes… by your readings and writings…. I become better informed and then seek to learn more about the subject, apply it to my life, and seek to make a difference in the world. I am blessed to say that I am in a covenant relationship with my Lord and Savior and I trust Him to guide, instruct, and teach me in all things.
    Reply

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