Leadership is not always simple, and it is never easy. When someone steps up to lead, they will likely have arrows volleyed in their direction. They are certain to have sleepless nights and will probably encounter difficult fights. Leadership isn't always simple, and it is never easy, but it can definitely be worth the cost. Especially when our leadership energies are spent in the service of God's glory and the good of others.
This isn't an article about the worthiness of leadership, or to encourage you in your leadership struggles. But I will present one simple rule for leaders to follow. It is a rule that will not always be easy to execute, nor will it always reap immediate rewards. However, it is essential for good leadership and a rule that every leader should follow.
Here is the rule: Leadership means bearing the blame and sharing the love
Jim Collins, author of one of the best business leadership books of the last few decades (Good to Great), explains in the Harvard Business Review that all great organizations are led by a level five leader, someone who has personal humility and professional will. When he further explains what personal humility is, he says that a level five leader is someone who, "demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful." Additionally, a level five leader is someone who, "looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck."
The qualities of personal humility Jim Collins describes can be summed up with one simple rule, leadership means bearing the blame and sharing the love. Quality and Biblical leadership certainly requires more than this one simple rule, but absolutely nothing less.
Leader's bear the blame
Bearing the blame means that you genuinely take personal responsibility when people or projects under your leadership do not go well. It is not fake responsibility. Leadership is not putting on a performance or pretending to bear the blame, in an effort to give the appearance of mock humility. It means that you actually feel responsible for your leadership. Good leadership means taking responsibility for the people and projects you lead.
It does not mean that you take on the failure of others in order to avoid the hard conversations you need to have with them. However, it does mean that you are willing to look at your own failures first, before blaming others. And even if someone else has been a big part of the problem, you don't slander them publicly to relieve your shame, but you bear the blame before others.
Leaders share the love
Leaders bear the blame when failures come, and they share the love when there is success. Again, this is not acting or pretending - it is not fake humility. A quality leader really does value the contributions of others and wants to share the love and applause. When leaders are complimented publicly, they do not possess a gravitational pull that draws all praise for themselves. They are more like a prism, reflecting the praise onto others.
Their humility is not self-degradation. It is not fake humility. It is not the minimizing of what they and their team has accomplished. They just don't need the public adulation to feel accomplished. They are not working so hard in order to receive the worship of the masses. Their identity and worth is found elsewhere. And at its most basic level, it is found in Jesus.
The way of Jesus
Jim Collins did not invent these leadership rules - there is "nothing new under the sun." He observed them in the best leaders and then organized those observations in a clear and compelling fashion. These leadership principles go back to the dawn of time, and are seen so clearly in the person, work and teaching of Jesus.
I could write a book on the way Jesus exhibits the humility necessary to bear the blame and share the love. After all, that is precisely what happened on the cross. Jesus bore the blame for the whole world. He took the sin of the world upon himself. And it didn't end there, he didn't just bear our blame, he spread his love in the form of giving away his righteousness. Anyone who trusts in Christ can know that Jesus bore the blame of their sin and loved them through sharing his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The type of humility necessary to be an excellent leader is seen clearly in the words of Jesus:
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." - Mark 10:42-45
Jesus teaches us that true leadership, and greatness in the Kingdom of God is marked by humility and service to others. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. And this is seen clearly in his willingness to give up his own life as a ransom for many.
A simple rule every leader must live by: Leadership means bearing the blame and sharing the love.
Not an easy rule to follow.
But a simple one.