In my first paper for my Becoming a Leader of Leaders: Strategic Leadership class. We were asked “Who do you thick is/was the greatest entrepreneurs and leaders in history in business, government, or nonprofit that had the greatest impact on our world? In America, we might think of names like Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, Martin Luther King, Jr., Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, John Rockefeller, Samuel M. Waltonor, William H. Gates III, Estée Lauder, Mary Barra, Oprah Winfrey or Barack Obama. Many other world leaders might come to mind like Ghandi, Winston Churchill, Elizabeth I of England, and Nelson Mandela. You might not think of Madam CJ Walker or Sakichi Toyoda (Toyota) but they belong in the conversation. But sadly, very few people, even among Christians, will think of Jesus as the greatest leader in the world, let alone as the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of the World. (Maybe you did, especially given the title of this Blog!)
I went totally left with my theme: “He built a leadership presence and his team’s determination – Jesus”. Let me show you quickly how Jesus was the Ultimate CEO. ” To be a good leader, you have to study the patterns of the most effective leaders who have ever lived,” says Mary Ruth Swope, author of eight management books. In my opinion, the most effective leader was Jesus. He spearheaded the concept of servant leadership–Jesus knew who he was and showed that being a servant is the best way to behave in leadership. The management concept that has been shaking the corporate world is the idea that hierarchies in corporate management are dead. The leader’s authority does not result from his/her position or degree but from the shared vision, he/she carries and his/her acceptance as a leader by members of the organization. This concept is called “post-heroic” leadership (or “servant” leadership) because the focus is off the single magnetic leader at the top of a hierarchy (the “hero”) who authoritatively sets policy.
Above all, post-heroic leaders are willing, as Time magazine says, to “walk the talk”, to “live by the values they espouse.” This concept of leadership may be the new model of leadership for the corporate world for the 21st Century, but many will recognize it as a First Century idea. It’s the “management program” set forth by Jesus. Jesus taught that you did not have to be a hero to be a leader. He taught just the opposite; that to be a leader you must be a servant. All leaders then are not those to be served, but those doing the serving. He taught that there is no need to pull rank on each other, and that “the greatest among you will be your servant.” (Matthew 23:8).
Max DePree, in his book Leadership Jazz, says, “A jazz band is an expression of servant leadership. The leader of a jazz band has the beautiful opportunity to draw the best of the other musicians. We have much to learn from jazz-band leaders, for jazz, like leadership, combines the unpredictability of the future with the gifts of the individuals.” It seems to me that servant leadership, like jazz, needs to be an expression of a feeling more than simply playing the written notes or following a prescribed agenda or taking predetermined steps. The leader should be freewheeling enough to bring out the best in those he/she leads and to enable them to shine, to take their turns expressing or their own interpretation of the melody, or to do their best in meeting the corporate goals. Authority is built on service and sacrifice. To be a good leader, you must set the example. If you expect people to go the extra mile, pave the way. Jesus had twelve disciples whom he led and mentored, and they, in turn, were sent out to further the work he was doing. Jesus was willing to “walk the talk” when he demonstrated his commitment to this principle by washing his disciple’s feet. (John 13:5).
Perhaps the most relevant example of what Jesus thought about heroic corporate leadership versus servant leadership is recorded in Matthew 20. The mother of James and John came to Jesus and asked that her sons be permitted to sit at the right and left of Jesus in the Kingdom. Obviously, the mother of these two men had a very corporate view of the kingdom. She wanted her sons to be at high points on the executive ladder, Executive Vice-Presidents of the Kingdom of God. Jesus did not agree with this management style. He pointed to the Gentiles as a bad example of those who “lord it over” people and wanted no part of this plan. Instead, he pronounced a dictum he repeated on many occasions: “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.” And the model of this management style of Jesus himself? As he said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:21) Servant leadership may be a style of management to corporations, but to Jesus, it was an attitude of the heart.