One of the defining cultural hallmarks of recent years has been the “selfie.” The ease of taking a photograph and immediately disseminating it through social media has set into place the seeming need to point attention to what someone has on their dinner plate or what nail color a person chose for the day. While much of this is really harmless it is a piece of what can only be described as a growing sense of narcissism and greater self-absorption to which we find our culture navigating. The ripple effects, I believe, manifest themselves overall in a culture that no longer understands there are often many sides to any issue and confuse differences in opinion with the lazy label of hatred. Millennials, often unjustly, have become the poster children of narcissism though research is unclear on if they truly have these tendencies or the advent of social media simply enabled what most any generation would have done at that age if they had access to the technology of today. Regardless of these variables the question at hand is if everyone is self-absorbed and entitled then what do we do with the concept of being a servant leader?
As image-bearers of Christ it is simply not good enough for us to lead others in a way that builds them up if at some level we are not pointing back to the main influence in our life, that of Jesus Christ.
In an earlier blog post I wrote on the importance of developing and understanding your own personal leadership philosophy. In that post I shared the differences between positional and servant mentalities in leadership, the first being based upon doing what I say because I say so and the latter being an attitude of seeking to bring out the best in others through one’s leadership. Building upon the concept of servant leadership I want to take it a step further, not only being willing to build others up through your leadership but also placing an indelible Christ-image in your leadership style. In other words, as image-bearers of Christ it is simply not good enough for us to lead others in a way that builds them up if at some level we are not pointing back to the main influence in our life, that of Jesus Christ. With that in mind let’s look at three practices of a healthy Christ-based servant leader.
Being a leader does not give you a pass on your pursuit of God in your life, it only serves to make it more vital.
First and foremost the Christ-based servant leader has to have their life anchored in the right ways.
The foundational principle at work here is to build and invest in the growth of others. How can we do that from a truly healthy perspective if our own spiritual and personal lives are out of priority? A leader should not fall into the trap of believing they have matured beyond reliance upon Christ, in fact a leader should be cognizant that they need that influence more than ever. Becoming a leader likely also becomes the most likely opening for pride to creep into the life of a Christ-follower. It is easy for one to begin to think it was their own skill and knowledge what opened these doors for them and not recognize that these circumstances are happening because God is allowing them. It’s easy for a leader to become entitled and think the rules no longer apply to them. One only had to look at the recent Ashely Madison hack to see the fallout from this. Once a hacker group released the list of customers for this website designed to facilitate “discreet” affairs it had effects. Leaders in private firms, education, and even government lost jobs when it was found out their names were on the client list. Sadly it is also estimated that over 400 pastors and church leaders were affected. This resulted not only in job loss and deep hurt among congregations but also, tragically, in several suicides. Being a leader does not give you a pass on your pursuit of God in your life, it only serves to make it more vital.
Building upon the first principle:
a servant leader then has to take the positive outlooks and behaviors that result from a healthy pursuit of God and become an example of them to their followers.
The first step of the best secular book on leadership I know of, The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, is built around the concept of the leader “modeling the way.” That doesn’t just include work hard and demonstrate strong ethics for the Christ-centered leader, it means seeking to have every interaction, every…single…one, reflect Christ in a positive way. Beyond the mandatory principles of investing in and growing others in their abilities is the particular challenge of being careful with every word and every action toward those you lead. I’m certainly challenged by this as I think we all are at times. It can be extraordinarily difficult to keep your cool when you are stressed and we easily can become impatient, or even outright angry, with others. Sometimes it’s deserved, sometimes it isn’t. In either case the responsibility is upon the Christ-centered servant leader to conduct every interaction, whether it is celebrating with someone or having to speak a hard truth, in way that reflects Christ.
Lastly, the servant leader serves.
This may sound like the no-brainer in this philosophy but it is no less true. Are you willing to pick up the broom and sweep up after the work birthday party or is that someone else’s job? The leader models the expected behaviors and others pick up on it. Are you as the leader actively seeking to remove the barriers and frustrations your followers face or do you expect them to solve that on their own? Are you actively seeking ways to invest in and grow your employees in ways not only to improve in their current jobs but also put them in a position for future opportunities in your organization? Are you setting a good environment for followers to be refreshed in their personal lives and invest in important relationships? Gene Wilkes, in his excellent book Jesus on Leadership, challenges anyone who wants to lead must be “willing to pick up the towel” of servanthood in deference to the example of Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples. There should be no reasonable work that needs to be done that a leader considers beneath them. There are many things on the list of what only the leader can do, however, the list for what a leader isn’t willing to do should only include things that will compromise their integrity.
A servant leader needs to be willing to challenge, confront, inspire, speak truth, and encourage their followers among many other duties. All of this becomes even more important as a Christ-centered servant leader because we represent something larger than ourselves. As an image-bearer of Christ we all carry the responsibility that others can see Jesus actively shaping and guiding our lives. This is an integral part of the Impact 360 Institute education philosophy of Know, Be, and Live. Know why (and what) you believe, be who God created you to be, and live out what you learn.