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Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.

Matthew 20:25-26

I entered the training industry back in 2000 by facilitating a series of servant leadership learning sessions entitled Lead Like Jesus Encounter designed by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges. I became a master trainer for it, eventually a country representative for the Philippines and currently building the ministry in Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. When we first ran the program in the marketplace, I honestly thought it would not work because of its spiritual underpinnings. Amidst this, more and more companies are coming to realize that the nature and quality of one’s leadership is not just a matter of experience and education or people skills but is essentially character-based that is founded on such values as stewardship, responsibility, and accountability. It has almost been two decades and we’re still running the program in the corporate world.

When you think about Jesus Christ the Savior, try also to think about Jesus the Leader. What can you learn from Him as a leader? Jesus was clear about His mission here on earth. Of Himself, He said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” That was evident in His earthly life and became all the more so in His sacrificial death on the cross.

More and more books have been written on Jesus’ leadership model.  At the same time, more and more businesses are embracing the concept of servant leadership as a professional development intervention to help improve efficiency and productivity, with a dose of humility, particularly in the area of customer service whether external or internal.

While every manager and supervisor whom I have engaged with on the topic would want to see themselves as a servant leader, let us admit that we are still far off from Jesus’ self-sacrificial ideal. So, whenever I am asked to facilitate this program or to intervene, the first step is to help them realize and acknowledge that they’re not servant leaders. A wise adage says that “recognition is the prerequisite to recovery.” Any skilled doctor would like to diagnose first before giving a prescription, so that’s how we would approach any servant leadership intervention. Hence, our first aim is to move away from being self-serving leaders.

Gordon McDonald, in his book Ordering Your Private World distinguished two kinds of people, which I find helpful in understanding the difference between these two forms of leadership: the driven and the called.

Gordon says that people who are driven think they own everything: their relationships, their possessions, their positions. As a result, they spend most of their lives protecting what they own.

You can tell if you are a driven, self-serving leader by how you treat feedback. Have you ever received feedback from subordinates? If you “killed the messenger,” you might be a self-serving leader. Why?  A self-serving leader sees critical feedback as a threat to his or her position, and would put up his or her defenses by discounting the message and the messenger.

Another way by which you could tell whether you are a servant leader or a self-serving leader is by the leadership legacy you create. Do you create ways so that others may lead?  Self-serving leaders who are protective of their position feel threatened by anybody else who might be good. They are afraid that others might say, “Oh, they ought to lead rather than you.” On the other hand, Gordon describes “called” leaders as those who think everything in life is on loan — he sees himself as a steward of his relationships, possessions and roles.

When you see your relationships as loaned to you, you treat people with utmost care and respect. You seek to contribute to their growth in the borrowed time you have with them. In contrast, can you imagine what it would be like if a leader felt he owned the people around him?

A leader with a sense of calling also treats his position as something loaned or entrusted to him by God and by the people he is attempting to lead. If you give a servant leader feedback, they love it, why? It’s because if the only reason they are leading is to serve, they will welcome suggestions on how they can do it better.

Servant leaders love seeing other leaders developing in their group. To them, the development of people is one of the most important things they can do. So when a truly good leader comes along or grows from among the ranks, they welcome this development and are willing to share leadership, or even step aside and take another position if it would help achieve their organization’s goals more effectively.

The question for you is this: Where are you on this? Do you think that things are on loan or that you own everything? Are you a self-serving leader or a servant leader?

Now, the reality is that we are all self-serving to some degree, because we came into this world as self-serving. Is there anything more self-serving than a baby? I mean, babies don’t come home from the hospital and say, “Can I help around the house?” The more you grow and mature as an adult, the more you realize that life is about what you give rather than what you get. Having said that, we need to recognize that becoming a servant leader is a journey. We are like brand new laptops with a default system and our default is naturally to be self-serving.  We have to change settings and almost on a daily basis log on to that new setting otherwise we start off with our natural default, the way we were originally wired.

Even if you are aware and conscious that you have to be a servant leader, in your heart, you are going to be constantly challenged by options and temptations to get you back into your driven, self-serving leadership mode. It would be good if we ask ourselves daily this question: “Am I going to be a servant leader today or a self-serving leader?”

Let us now answer that question. A dose of honesty here is worth years, months of denial. Now, that is how you begin your journey to become a servant leader.

Become a servant leader by modeling the greatest leader role model ever – Jesus! Register for an Encounter training.

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