Leadership Really is a Covenant

Observing Covenant

I used to think of leadership as the person in charge. However, my notion changed in the early 1990s when I began studying both the concept of and close, dynamic and highly productive relationships called “covenants.”  Like most people, I understood covenant in the context of marriage, but I was fascinated to find examples existing in just about every kind of organization I examined.

Though the evidence was less obvious than in marriage, when organizations applied the principles of covenant in relationships, the results were highly beneficial for everyone involved.  That really is when I began realizing both that covenants are the result of leadership and that leadership itself is a covenant.

As I studied I found that throughout history and in just about every culture known to man, people have committed themselves to each other in relationships called covenants.  The concept applies everywhere, in community life, sports, business, religion, fundraising and just about any kind of organization one could imagine.

Rituals Communicating Covenant

Like they do in marriage, in many cases people have also established and participated in rituals that communicate their covenant commitments publicly.  In fact, throughout history there have been multiple forms.  For example, karat berît was an ancient near eastern ritual, consummated when individuals seeking to unite for a common purpose, walked through two columns of animals that had been slain. Though primitive, the pieces of the animals to the right and to the left signified the gravity of the commitment.  In essence the participants would be saying, “May the fate of these animals be my lot if I do not fulfill my oath.”

Literally translated, “To cut a covenant”, karat berît was both an irrevocable pledge and a joint proclamation of mutual commitment between parties.[i] (Hillers 1969).  Although cultural expressions of this ritual have evolved into less graphic forms, the fundamental underpinnings of covenant still exist today. However, that begs a question. Are the covenants we see merely the faint residue of what some may consider to be an antiquated and barbaric tradition, or are they still relevant and vital to society today?

Covenants in Business Relationships

The more I discussed these concepts, the more they resonated with people.  Granted, while covenants between leaders and followers do promise to maximize potential, in business or any other kind of organization; covenants cannot by themselves guarantee success.  True, covenants can greatly enhance the likelihood and the degree of success, but they are not a remedy for product or service deficiencies, ineffective planning, lack of church financial stewardship or other shortcomings. That point aside, I’ve also found it to be true that where covenants flourish in organizations, deficiencies are likely to be fewer.

To date, I’ve had hundreds of discussions about covenants, some in the form of church leadership consulting others in interviews with individuals from all walks of life. This includes business executives, politicians, ministers, police officers, a fire chief, distinguished educators, sports figures, authors, laborers and just about anyone who would talk about the concept with me.

Defining Covenant

Simply defined, a covenant is a  reciprocal relationship based on mutual trust, respect, and commitment where two or more people are willingly bound together by a common and ethical purpose. That purpose is bigger and more important than any one individual’s interests, and it provides meaning and hope for everyone involved. Interestingly, the results of covenants and effective leadership are the same.  Hence the title of this article and my book emerged naturally from my studies of both leadership and covenant.