Congratulations! You’ve made the commitment to improve your skills as a leader; now what? You’ve learned by now that there are more books on leadership than you could read in a lifetime. According to one article, there are approximately 4.8 billion leadership books written every year, no wonder we’re confused. Leadership can be a confusing topic, but it doesn’t have to be.
In part, the reason that there are so many books on leadership is there isn’t a uniform definition. In fact, there isn’t even agreement on how many forms of leadership exist with estimates ranging from 3 to 20 or more leadership theories and approaches. However, there is agreement that leadership centers around the concept of “influence” and how it is used to achieve specific goals. Influence is defined as “the act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
Most, but not all, leadership theories focus on the leader’s ability to move or direct people to achieve organizationally defined goals. There isn’t anything wrong with this approach, in fact, leaders that don’t achieve organizational goals don’t lead for long. However, I believe that focusing too much on these approaches is like herding cattle. These approaches are characterized by the leader’s ability to guide or direct, encourage, and motivate their followers. The leader uses his or her influence to drive the herd (their followers) toward achieving the goals. The focus is on the leader and the traits, abilities, or other characteristics used to achieve the goals. It isn’t that people aren’t important, but they are secondary to achieving the goals. Leaders can be successful using these approaches but Psalm 143:8 (NLV) cautions:
“Don’t put your confidence in powerful people;
there is no help for you there.”
However, Jesus’ ushered in a new approach to leadership. His approach, now known as “servant leadership,” was people-focused, not leader-focused. This approach shifts the focus from leading people to serving the needs of people (Matthew 20:26, NLT). Leaders still have influence but instead of focusing on goals and objectives, they focus on the needs and development of those they lead.
Jesus teaches that “love” is foundational to servant leadership. He describes the requirements of love through two commandments. The first commandment focuses on our relationship with God. Jesus commands us in Mark 12:30 (NLV):
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your
soul, all your mind, and all your strength. This is the first Law.”
As we surrender ourselves to God, we approach Him with a sense of humility and thankfulness. We accept that we are dependent upon and accountable to Him. When we seek God’s guidance, through prayer, Proverbs 3:6 assures He will guide our path:
“Seek his will in all you do, and
he will show you which path to take.”
In seeking to lead like Jesus, we not only acknowledge God’s authority; but rely on Him to set our path. Author Vivian Bricker explains it this way:
“If we rely on ourselves, the world, or others to direct our path, we will find ourselves going down the wrong street every time. By submitting and obeying God, we are following Him, and He is directing our steps.”
This can be difficult for leaders who are often action-oriented, but this doesn’t mean that you abdicate setting direction, providing guidance or any other responsibility; rather, that you trust that God will use your skills, talents, and abilities to set your path consistent with His will for you. Jesus’ second commandment (Mark 12: 31) focuses on our relationship with each other in stating:
“The second Law is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other Law is greater than these.”
Danielle Bernock, award-winning author and speaker, discusses the meaning of loving our neighbors as ourselves and which she believes is often confused or misinterpreted:
“This is something that gets misunderstood in the body of Christ often. It gets mixed up with dying to self and denying self as if we need to destroy our self.”
While these two commandments are applicable to all of us, Jesus further expands upon this commandment to His disciples, and I believe all leaders, in stating (John 13:34, NLV):
“Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.”
Jesus models that self-sacrificing nature of love through His life and ministry. He shows us that leadership requires us to place the needs of others above our own wants and desires. He shows us that leadership requires the alignment of our Hearts, Head, Hands, and Habits in service of others. Perhaps more than any other form of leadership, we are reminded that”
“You have to love them to lead them.”
Challenge: Leading like Jesus isn’t rooted in our knowledge, abilities, experience, or expertise; it is rooted in love. To lead like Jesus, we must seek to love like Jesus, which is often easier said than done. He leaves us this simple reminder for when we face challenging situations (John 14:15, NLT):
“If you love me, obey my commandments.”