Jesus reversed the trend of leadership in the world. Rather than lording it over others, Jesus taught and modeled that greatness means serving, being first means becoming last, and success means bending our knee on behalf of others. This is rarely the example we see in our most public figures, who pontificate and persuade to gain power and prestige - leaders who refuse to seek the good of others because they would rather use and abuse for personal gain.
Leadership is not the pursuit of my own good but the good of others. It’s not about seeking my own glory but God's glory. Jesus calls his followers to find greatness in a different way than the rulers of the world. This may sound simple, and even easy, but servant leadership can feel like grasping for a vapor of air. We can observe it, we can see it, we know when it is right in front of us, but it can feel impossible to fully grasp. As we seek to lead with humility, here are five ways to help you grab hold of servant leadership.
Jesus teaches and models humble, self-sacrificing leadership. Jesus explains to his disciples that greatness in the kingdom comes through serving. Unlike the gentiles, whose rulers "lord it over them and their great ones exercise authority over them (Mk 10:42)." This lesson is hard to learn, so Jesus repeats it on more than one occasion (Mt. 18:1-4, Mk 10:42-45, Jn 15:12-14). Jesus did not simply teach this concept, he exemplified humble leadership in his life and death.
Jesus came "not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45)." Jesus' eternal kingship is not established like political leaders in our world. He does not buy his influence with money, demand his influence with power, or manipulate his influence with cunning words. Jesus has been established as king through suffering and service. As we remember the teaching and example of Jesus, we are helped in our desire to lead with humility.
Know your Identity
When we forget who we are and where our significance comes from, we are bound to seek it in the wrong places. Leadership offers a false sense of worth when we believe the lie that power and fame will give us what we need. If we find our identity in our role, our position or our accolades, we will never lead with humility. We will fear that being the servant of others will undermine our perceived significance.
If we want to lead with humility, we need to know where our true identity comes. In Christ, we are blood-bought children of God. When we know the gospel, and tell it to ourselves, we remind ourselves that when we were God's enemy, he rescued us. "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom 8:32)." When we are not seeking power and significance from our leadership, because we know that we are secure in Christ, then we can lead with humility.
There are times when we need to behave in a certain way so that our heart can catch up to our actions. If we want to lead with humility, then we need to act with humility. You may not want to stack chairs at the end of the night, and the former self in you will be screaming, "You are above this. Someone else will get those chairs stacked and tables cleaned." Your heart may not be in the right place, but you can resist the urge to walk out the door and you can act the part. You can serve in humility. You can bend your knee on behalf of someone else.
Begrudging service is not the end goal, but sometimes it requires the repeated act of serving others to begin to genuinely enjoy serving others. Depending on your role, you cannot be the chair-stacker every time, but if you refuse to do work which requires humility, you will never gain the experience necessary to lead with humility.
Listen to Others
A mark of humility is a willingness to listen. The sort of listening that helps someone feel heard. The sort of listening that seeks to understand. The sort of listening that leaves its mark on our lives. This type of listening requires a humble posture. You might be listening to someone share their story, lodge a complaint or offer a perspective, but leading with humility means we take the time to listen well, regardless of the reason. Are you willing to listen?
Leaders don't always have to be right. There is a perception that if you are in charge, you need to always have the best answers. Good leadership means you can admit that you don't have all the answers. Good leadership listens to those around you, so you can arrive at the best answer together, whether it came from you or from someone else. For a leader, the correct answer isn't always your answer, but it is leading in such a way that you can listen to see if someone else has something better to offer.
Seek the Good of Others
Leading with humility means we put the good of others before our own. This is not easy. Our default mode is to think about ourselves. We are filled with thoughts about our own needs. Leading with humility means we intentionally fight the tendency to fulfill our own needs, and we seek the good of those around us. Studies have shown that the higher position a person has within an organization, the less they regard the needs of other. Whether it is ignoring someone's email, failing to empathize with their situation or neglecting their needs, high position is too often equated with pride.
Leading with humility means we take notice of others’ needs. Regardless of their position within the organization, we seek their good, because with God, there is no partiality between the person in charge from the person emptying the garbage. Before we fulfill all our own needs, leading with humility means we seek the good others.