This continues the series I started here and are reflections on J. Oswald Sanders’ book, Spiritual Leadership

Sanders defines “tact” and “diplomacy” as:

The ability to deal with people sensitively, to avoid giving offense, to have a “feel” for the proper words or responses to a delicate situation. Diplomacy is the ability to manage delicate situations, especially involving people from different cultures, and certainly from differing opinions (p.71).

He goes on to write, “Leaders need to be able to reconcile opposing viewpoints without giving offense or compromising principle” (p.71).

One of the lessons I’ve learned in the short amount of leading I have done is that tact and diplomacy are formal ways to say “love.” That is, if I truly love my neighbor as myself, then I will desire to listen (as I want to be listened to). Too often a leader has a direction he is moving. Rightly so. . .after all he is leading! However, a confident leader is able to listen and assimilate others’ opinions into his direction. For example, I am driving a car to my parents house for the grands to get hugs from my kids. I have a destination. Thirty minutes into the 10-hour trip, my second child exclaims, “I need to go to the potty!” I can respond three ways: (1) Keep going; (2) Stop the car begrudgingly; or (3) Stop the car joyfully because a) I got to practically love by serving my daughter and b) I don’t have to clean up the mess as a result of my unwieldiness. 

Nowhere, other than in our close relationships in life, are we able to gauge better our successes and failings in tact and diplomacy. Consider that car ride a leadership moment. Because it is.

I wish that all leaders would first love people. In fact, all good leaders love people first. They want to lead them to a goal because it will serve the ones they lead. After all, is this not the model given to us at the Last Supper where Jesus loved the disciples to the uttermost and washed their feet. He washed their feet before he walked alone to Calvary. He demonstrated love for his disciples and then showed them the path the road they too had to walk.

Tact and diplomacy only have effect if you first love (and not as a tool for manipulating). Tact and diplomacy only have effect if you have first laid down your own life and put to death your own longings for power. Tact and diplomacy only have effect if you love to the uttermost and wash feet.