The Paradox of Leadership
It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your [willing and humble] slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many [paying the price to set them free from the penalty of sin].”
In his outstanding book Good to Great, Jim Collins describes a mistake many companies make when they hire a CEO. Too often, they try to get a charismatic leader who becomes, in Collins’s phrase, “a genius with a thousand helpers.” This person demands to be the center of attention and receive all the praise. Others in the company are “peons,” just helpers who deserve no recognition. In stark contrast, Collins observed that the most successful companies have leaders who are “humble visionaries.” They lead with passion, but they are happy to give plenty of credit to anyone and everyone else.
Collins’s observations fit perfectly with Jesus’ leadership strategy. In reaction to the natural, normal style of leaders who demand to be the center of attention, Jesus told His followers to show their greatness by serving. He then dispelled any misconceptions of what it means to be a servant by picking up a towel and washing the dirty feet of the men at the table, the job of the lowest servant on the home.
What does it mean for us to be servants of those under us in our families and on the organizational hart? If we follow Jesus’ example, we take time to do the most humble tasks: washing dishes, cleaning, sweeping, helping an intern with a task, or stopping to talk to an employee in the shipping department to ask about her family.
Are you to busy for things like that?
Duty makes us do things well, but love make us do them beautifully.
No man has ever risen to the real stature of spiritual manhood until he has found that it is finer to serve somebody else than it is to serve himself.
It has been said that no group rises above the level of its leader. Yet we as believers have the greatest leader the world has ever known- Jesus Christ. And His style of leadership is contradictory to much of what is defined as leadership in the world. In the world style the leader is the most visible, the most important person in the room and everyone else is there to serve his/her needs and carry out their orders. Worldly leaders place around themselves those who have similar world views and who will contribute to the direction and plans the leader determines. The idea of a servant-leader is not at the top of the list in leadership styles. But the greatest leader- Jesus Christ not only defined such style; He modeled it. Philippians in the second chapter describes servant-leadership this way:
“Have this same attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus [look to Him as your example in selfless humility], who, although He existed in the form and unchanging essence of God [as One with Him, possessing the fullness of all the divine attributes—the entire nature of deity], did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted [as if He did not already possess it, or was afraid of losing it]; but emptied Himself [without renouncing or diminishing His deity, but only temporarily giving up the outward expression of divine equality and His rightful dignity] by assuming the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men [He became completely human but was without sin, being fully God and fully man]. After He was found in [terms of His] outward appearance as a man [for a divinely-appointed time], He humbled Himself [still further] by becoming obedient [to the Father] to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also [because He obeyed and so completely humbled Himself], God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow [in submission], of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess and openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord (sovereign God), to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)
Notice that Christ rightfully possessed the right, the quality, and the power of leadership. He had no need to seize it or to demand it, it was rightfully His. But instead of grasping it He gave it up, “emptying Himself,” Paul says, of all His position and place and “humbling Himself by assuming the role of a bond-servant”- one who by his own will becomes a slave. Having done that, He humbled Himself further still by “becoming obedient to the Father to the point of the cross.” Because of that, God exalted Him to the highest position in the universe. How did Christ arrive at that place? By becoming the servant of all. Position may create a sense of power but it alone can never give authority. Position is given but authority is earned and authority is given by those who follow and not by those who lead. Anyone can exercise the power of their office but true leaders operate by permission of those they lead to exercise authority. This is the servant-leader model that Christ taught and those He leads are willing to follow Him wherever He leads.
As we apply it to us, those who wish to lead must learn to serve. To create a following is to create an atmosphere of trust and loyalty. That is done by serving and not demanding our way. True leaders consider the group and its needs above even their own level of comfort. They are willing to sacrifice time, energy and effort for the best interest for the group. Whatever is accomplished or attained by the group, they are more than willing to give credit where it is due to the team member who’s effort brought success to the group. At the same time, leaders own the work, decisions and failures of the group. They never try to shift blame. Asa matter of fact they take responsibility not only for their work, but the work of the group as well. They are quick to give praise to the group and it’s individual members, taking little credit for themselves.
So are you a leader? Your answer may be, “No, I can’t be a leader because I don’t have a position.” Not true. Positions don’t make leaders, leaders make positions. And no leader can lead unless there are those willing to follow their leadership.
Let us lead as Jesus led.
Dr. John Thompson