Whether you are a Christian or not the story of Christmas is the story of God becoming man. That is to say, you don’t have to believe the story is true to understand that this is what the story is all about.
I’m not really too surprised then that in this Christmas season I have found myself involved in several different conversations on what it means to be a servant leader. I know, I know, much has been written on the topic, some good, some not so good but from the conversations I’ve been fortunate to be a part of four particular themes have emerged.
Even if you only give credence to the Christmas story as historical fiction these four principals or tenets, examples of what it means to be a servant leader, are startlingly relevant today.
Tenet 1: It takes a leader
It amazes me how many people miss this and land on some very spongy, soft definition of servant leader. The phrase itself indicates a leader, modified by the word servant. This is NOT the servant who leads. This is a position of strength, of authority, not egotistically swung about like a cudgel but judiciously exercised on behalf of those being lead.
Read the narratives, the stories of Jesus life. From a young age he displayed leadership characteristics. As he grew into a man people followed him. He lead, and served those he lead.
If you don’t know how to lead you can’t be a servant leader.
Tenet 2: It takes commitment
Servant leadership is not a string of random acts to occasionally help someone out. It is a commitment to regularly set the needs of those you lead as primary. Not in some sort of socialistic/Mr. Spock “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” thing, but in a way that sacrifices self promotion in favor of people development.
Jesus went from being God to being man, not transformed into a full blown adult but born as a baby. That’s not a one time act. That’s not a string of wishful helps from a genie. That’s a commitment, probably a bigger commitment than we can even imagine.
We’re talking about a commitment to develop and grow those whom you lead.
Tenet 3: It takes proactive movement
The servant leader is not one who sits around and wits for his followers to make requests. He doesn’t stand at the proverbial door like a butler waiting for orders. The servant leader anticipates the needs and desires of those being lead and seeks to meet those needs. This isn’t a posture of gift giving benevolence but rather an anticipation of what will contribute towards growth, development, and the achievement of organizational goals.
Jesus didn’t stand next to the door as the disciples came in to the last supper and ask if he could wash their feet. “Foot wash today Simon? John? anyone?” He took the proactive step.
The servant leader doesn’t wait to react to a request. The servant leader proactively anticipates needs and meets them.
Tenet 4: It takes succession planning
If you’re going to commit to helping people develop and grow you’ve got to have a target of some kind in mind. Whether you are growing YOUR successor or growing folks who can move up into other positions in your organization you’re growing people in a direction.
Jesus didn’t show up, do his thing, and bail. He grow up some guys who could further His efforts after He’d gone. He was quite intentional about preparing them for the role. In fact, in an interesting twist, the less you believe in Jesus as the Son of God, the more you have to believe that the disciples did a great job growing a religious movement beyond the guy who trained them! In either case Jesus was quite the succession planner.
The servant leader doesn’t just grow an organization. She grows the people who will continue to grow the organization after she is gone.
At the end of the day it is about heart, you can’t adhere to these tenets over time without a heart commitment. Lead, commit, move proactively and take your people to the next level. Watch what happens. You might just change the world.
Have you ever had a leader who exemplified these tenets? What did that look like?