The Pursuit of Righteousness

By John Gronski

“Friday Night Lights” is a movie about Texas football and in particular Odessa Permian High School. In a scene from a halftime speech given by Permian football coach Gary Gaines played by actor Billy Bob Thornton, the coach gives an impassioned address.

Coach Gaines tells his players that being “perfect” has nothing to do with the scoreboard. Rather it is about each player’s relationship with themselves and their family and friends. It is about not letting down the people in your life who are counting on you.

It sounds like Coach Gaines may have been familiar with Proverbs 21:21 which reads, “He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity, and honor.” This is great advice both for leaders and followers.

 The Servant Leader

I served in the U.S. Army and Pennsylvania National Guard for over 40 years and in that time, I have observed all types of leadership styles. From the leadership training I went through, including Ranger School, and from the excellent leaders I served with, I learned a great deal about how to be an effective leader and I learned about the concept of servant leadership.

Servant leaders understand that gaining higher-level leadership positions in organizations with more people to lead does not mean that there are now more people to serve the leader. Servant leaders understand that it means that they now have more people that they need to serve. Servant leaders have fulfilled lives because there is much satisfaction in serving others.

The Long Game

People question me about toxic leaders. Toxic leaders are those leaders that create a caustic environment within the organizations they lead. People point out certain toxic leaders that have risen to high-level positions and question whether that proves that leading with toxicity is a valid leadership style.

I point out that, yes, there are some toxic leaders who achieve a level of success. However, generally, that success is not sustainable. At some point, the organization’s toxic leaders reign over collapse and the toxic leader’s reputation collapses along with it.

Servant leaders on the other hand have greater sustainability. Perhaps servant leaders do not always rise as quickly as toxic leaders do and perhaps organizational effectiveness and success may take a little longer. However, the success servant leaders achieve and the organizations they lead tend to have stronger roots. Servant leaders are generally transformational and can take an organization to heights never imagined.

One more note on toxic leaders and the reason some toxic leaders survive as long as they do. I noticed that toxic leaders are on their best behavior in front of their boss. They even display the characteristics of a sycophant. But behind the scenes, they display disrespect to their followers. The tool they prefer is the stick and only use a carrot in very transactional ways.

 Righteousness Leads to Fulfillment

Take a moment to digest the wisdom found in Proverbs 21:21. He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity, and honor.

I think anyone who takes this verse to heart and lives their life in accordance with its spirit will find fulfillment. There are several different definitions of fulfillment. I want to focus on spiritual or emotional fulfillment. To me being fulfilled spiritually or emotionally is having one’s heart filled with joy and love.

I do not believe a person can fill their heart with joy and love if they focus solely on themselves and how they can help themselves get ahead at the expense of others. I believe one’s heart cannot be filled with oneself. The heart can only be filled with other people, or by the good we do for other people. Our hearts feel joy and love when we focus on helping others rather than helping ourselves.

Karma is a Real Thing

It is counterintuitive to some, but the more we give of ourselves, the more we receive. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar regularly told audiences, “You will get what you want out of life if you help others get what they want”. It is a time-tested tenet. When we do right by others good things will come our way. Karma and the law of reciprocity are real things.

I have known leaders who were very career-oriented, meaning they were always looking at the next two or three promotions they coveted. These leaders made decisions with their interests in mind rather than the interest of their people or the organization. In the end, these leaders were a failure to themselves and to the group they led. Their reputation was damaged in the process and their trail was littered with broken trust. Karma works both ways.

Stay in the Moment

I heard a story about a young 2nd Lieutenant in the Army who asked a retired General how she could be sure of getting promoted to General officer. The General talked for about ten minutes on the importance of being true to the Army’s values and serving in accordance with those values. He also talked about the importance of placing those you lead first and always treating people with dignity and respect.

When the General finished speaking, the young Lieutenant asked if that was the way to get promoted to General. The General’s answer shocked her. He said, “No. That is the way you get promoted to 1st Lieutenant. You must repeat that leadership style throughout your career, and then maybe, you will eventually be promoted to General”.

The same story could apply to any young executive as they begin their climb up the corporate ladder. I advise young people starting out in their careers to focus on the job they are in at present.

When you stay in the moment and focus on being true to your values, have a good work ethic, be of service to those around you, and continue to learn and grow, promotions will follow. When you give up on your principles in order to get ahead, you only get behind.

 Reap What You Sow

I have observed that people who step on others to gain rank, position, or material things and wealth, are not fulfilled at the end of the day. They are not very happy, and their heart is not filled with love and joy, but rather there seems to be a hole in their heart that cannot be filled with their own selves. That hole will remain until they begin filling it with the good they do for others.

So, strive to be fulfilled. Strive to be “perfect”. But remember Coach Gaines’s definition of perfect. It is not about the score on the board. It is about the relationship you have with friends, family, and those you work with. Like Proverbs 21:21 advises; Pursue righteousness and you will gain prosperity.

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