The Leader as a Servant

January 10, 2023 by in Leadership Blog

It was 11th October 2016, and I was standing on banks of Lake Victoria in Tanzania, preparing to deliver a leadership seminar for members of the Tanzanian Anglican Church – which included a Bishop and members of the Masai Mara tribe!  I must admit, the thought of ‘how on earth did I get here?!!!’ crossed my mind several times.  We had a full day of leadership training ahead of us, exploring what it meant to Lead like Jesus

In John 13 we read the ultimate account of leadership – and in particular what it means to be a servant leader and it was this topic that we had decided to share with our Tanzanian friends.

Jesus knew that His time on earth was coming to an end.  The above scripture tells us in verses 3-5 that ‘Jesus knew that the father had given him authority over everything… So he got up from the table, took off His robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin.  Then he began to wash the disciples feet…’

What a powerful image – and the reaction of the disciples was I suspect, similar to the reaction that many of us may have had if we had been there – v8 ‘No, Peter protested, you will never wash my feet…’ The saviour of mankind carrying out this humbling act of servant leadership, kneeling at the dirty, dusty, smelly feet of his disciples – and washing them clean ‘…unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me’ Jesus declared.

What a role-model Jesus is, and what a challenge to each of us in our own approach to leadership.  We only have to watch the news to see how different this leadership approach is to the one that is so often modelled by others – where authority speaks of ‘power’; ‘strength’; ‘aggression’ etc.  But Jesus is showing us something quite different.

With our Tanzanian friends, we reflected on the model of servant leadership offered by Ken Blanchard in his book ‘Lead like Jesus’ where he encourages us to consider 4 aspects of what it means to be a servant leader – and that is the alignment of: Heart; Head; Hands; Habits.

So, grab a coffee and let’s spend a few minutes considering these 4 aspects of leadership…

The Heart – read through Philippians chapter 2, which starts:

‘Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others…’

This speaks of ‘motivation and attitude’ – why do we do what we do?  We read in Philippians how we are encouraged ‘don’t be selfish; don’t try and impress others.  Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.’   We all have our weaknesses, areas of our lives where we ‘Edge God Out’ (EGOs) – what are yours?  Why not jot a few down, it can really help to make yourself accountable to a trusted friend, someone who can stand with you as you move forward on your leadership journey.

Although our leadership journeys start with the heart (our motivation), it must travel through the Head – which speaks of ‘the what’ and how this outworks itself in our role as leaders.  Servant leadership is not about pleasing everyone – Jesus washed his disciples feet, but then sent them out.  Jesus knew why he was placed on earth, and the mission that he had to fulfil for his Father, one that would change the course for the whole of mankind – we see this in Matthew 26:

v42 ‘He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’

As leaders it is vital for us to have a vision of the future, setting out a clear direction and purpose.  Not just for our own lives, but for those that we have been called to lead.  At the start of a new year, our thoughts will be around our goals, what it is that we aim to achieve – and we will have been busy with our teams setting OKRs, reviewing budgets etc… but these are just tools (albeit very important ones!) –  as we move into the year, I would encourage you to take a few minutes to think about our what you understand and believe about our purpose – to really grasp it and let it drive your actions.

Hands – this is where it becomes real.  Ask yourself, what is it that you actually spend your time doing as a leader?

I have always been fascinated by the concept of ‘time’ – and how that is different to ‘capacity’.  None of us can change time – it’s finite!  Each of us only have 24 hours in every day (although that extra hour or 2 would make all the difference, wouldn’t it?!).  So how come some people seem to get so much more done with the same amount of time?  The answer has to be our capacity to use our time wisely.

As leaders, one of our key roles is to create the environment to enable others to succeed.  To create the ‘capacity’.  Jesus spent his 3 years of ministry doing exactly this, developing and serving others.

In Matthew 4 Jesus calls a group of humble fishermen ‘come follow me and I will make you fishers of men…’

And then in Matthew 28 – to those same group of humble fishermen he commissions them to ‘Go and make disciples…’

The time between ‘The Call’ and ‘The Commission’ (between Matthew 4 and Matthew 28) Jesus invested himself in teaching; training; role-modelling; and preparing.  He knew that it would take a movement of empowered and anointed disciples to deliver the mission that He had been called to.  So, how are you spending your time?  What are you doing with your ‘hands’? why not take time to seek input from your team on how well you are doing as a leader – are you focussing enough on enabling and releasing others?

And finally ‘habits’.  Rick Warren said ‘if we want to Lead like Jesus, we have to become like Jesus’.  I believe that one of the most important values that any leader can have is ‘integrity’.  This speaks not only of how we act and behave in our Church leadership roles, but also of how we act and behave in all aspects of our lives – with our friends, work colleagues and family members.

Jesus would regularly seek ‘me time’ – time away from others spent in prayer, study and reflection – something that Jesus did from a young age – remember the story of Mary looking for Jesus and finding him the temple – Luke 2 reports:

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

Building good and healthy habits across all aspects of our lives is vital for our development as leaders.  What are you doing to grow in wisdom; stature and in favour with God and Man?

There is so much more we could say on the topic of being a Servant Leader – but I hope that by taking a few minutes to reflect on how Jesus role-modelled leadership – and by considering the importance of aligning our Heart; Head; Hands; Habits has helped a little.  We have an awesome God, who has incredible plans for us – what a privilege it is to serve His purposes.

And finally – read Luke 22 – and think about what this tells us about being a Servant Leader.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.


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