Jesus and Leadership

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this question: In what way does Jesus inform, and perhaps transform, our understanding of leadership? As we answer that question, we need to resist the temptations to make him over in our image, domesticate him, and limit his reach. We don’t need to dress him up in a dark blue suit, white shirt and red-toned tie and think of him as “Jesus, CEO” He isn’t a leadership guru, management consultant or marketing strategist.

Jesus informs and transforms our leadership by making it unmistakably clear that real leadership is a way of serving. He calls us to live with authentic humility and a genuine desire to serve, qualities in tension with our culture which is so fascinated by power, preoccupied with success, and enamored with image and status.

Jesus once said to his friends: “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you.” He then underscored his own understanding of greatness: “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

In the circle around Jesus, there is no “over and under”; there are no insiders and outsiders. Since he is Lord over all, there is no room for “lording” over others. Jesus shows us that we climb to greatness on our knees—knees bent to serve and honor others.

Followers of Jesus have the responsibility and opportunity to learn right uses of power. Power can either be creative or destructive; it can be used as a weapon of domination or a tool of liberation. Power is safe only in the hands of those who view it as a stewardship, who engage in power-sharing, not power-wielding and who desire to empower not overpower the people around them.

Authentic power is not Donald Trump grinning into the camera and saying “you’re fired.” It’s not Enron executives raiding their company’s assets, forfeiting its future, and hiding it all behind smoke-and-mirrors accounting. It’s not a minister who manipulates the fears and hopes of people through cheap emotionalism and theatrical melodrama. True power is the power of Jesus, which is the power of truth, compassion, forgiveness and hope. Real power is the power of serving.

Servant-leadership has one great and overarching purpose, and everything else a leader does contributes in some way to that purpose: to help people to become everything God has given them the capacity to become. That means that the most important thing about your corporation is not its strategic plan or its third-quarter profits or next year’s revenue projections. Instead, it’s the people who work in your corporation and who rely on its products and services. The most crucial thing about a church is not its buildings or programs or standing in the community; it’s the people who have been and will be touched by the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

All the things leaders worry about—design, strategic plans, profits, revenue projections, products, services, buildings, programs, and influence—matter in many ways; but, as important as they undeniably are, however, people matter more and most of all. A servant leader is riveted by and committed to the needs and potential of people. He or she never lets the organization put secondary things in the place of those people.