Christmas is a perfect season for deeply reflecting on us as leaders of our own and of others. This is so specially because Christmas is about celebrating the life of the greatest leader ever. There are far more things to be said about Jesus’ remarkable leadership than any single article or book could possibly cover. I want to point out a few of the attributes and skills he demonstrated during his life in this world. These same skills and qualities are important for us all if we wish to succeed as leaders in any lasting way. Perhaps all of us would not be the perfect example of leadership, but all of us can make a serious effort toward approaching that great ideal.
Those leaders who have been most tragic in their impact on other people were tragic precisely because they lacked to almost any degree the qualities of the Man of Galilee. Where Jesus was selfless, they were selfish. Where Jesus was concerned with freedom, they were concerned with control. Where Jesus was concerned with service, they were concerned with status. Where Jesus met the genuine needs of others, they were concerned only with their own needs and wants. Where Jesus was concerned with the development of his disciples, they sought to manipulate others. Where Jesus was filled with compassion balanced by justice, they have so often been filled with harshness and injustice.
Jesus educated through his example. He said several times, “Come, follow me.” His was a program of “do what I do,” rather than “do what I say.” His innate brilliance would have permitted him to put on a dazzling display, but that would have left his followers far behind. He walked and worked with those he was to serve. His was not a long-distance leadership. He was not afraid of close friendships; he was not afraid that proximity to him would disappoint his followers. The leaven of true leadership cannot lift others unless we are with and serve those to be led.
Jesus operated from a base of fixed principles or truths rather than making up the rules as he went along. Thus, his leadership style was not only correct, but also constant. Because he loved others with a perfect love, he listened without being condescending. A great leader listens not only to others, but also to his conscience. Jesus saw sin as wrong but also was able to see sin as springing from deep and unmet needs on the part of the sinner. This permitted him to condemn the sin without condemning the individual. We can show forth our love for others even when we are called upon to correct them. We need to be able to look deeply enough into the lives of others to see the basic causes for their failures and shortcomings.
Jesus’ leadership was selfless. He put himself and his own needs second and ministered to others beyond the call of duty, tirelessly, lovingly, and effectively. His leadership emphasized the importance of being discerning with regard to others, without seeking to control them. He cared about the freedom of his followers to choose. He taught us that there can be no growth without real freedom. One of the problems with manipulative leadership is that it does not spring from a love of others but from a need to use them. Such leaders focus on their own needs and desires and not on the needs of others.
Jesus knew how to involve his disciples in the process of life. He gave them important and specific things to do for their development. Jesus trusts his followers enough to share his work with them so that they can grow. That is one of the greatest lessons of his leadership. If we brush other people aside in order to see a task done more quickly and effectively, the task may get done all right, but without the growth and development in followers that is so important. Because Jesus knows that this life is purposeful and that we have been placed on this planet in order to perform and grow, growth then becomes one of the great ends of life as well as a means. We can give corrective feedback to others in a loving and helpful way when mistakes are made.
Jesus was not afraid to make demands of those he led. His leadership was not condescending or soft. Jesus let people know that he believed in them and in their possibilities, and thus he was free to help them stretch their souls in fresh achievement. Jesus believed in his followers, not alone for what they were, but for what they had the possibilities to become. While others would have seen Peter as a fisherman, Jesus could see him as a powerful religious leader—courageous, strong—who would leave his mark upon much of mankind.
Jesus gave people truths and tasks that were matched to their capacity. In loving others, we can help them to grow by making reasonable but real demands of them. He did not overwhelm them with more than they could manage, but gave them enough to stretch their souls. Jesus was concerned with basics in human nature and in bringing about lasting changes, not simply cosmetic changes. One of the great teachings of the Man of Galilee was that you and I carry within us immense possibilities. Jesus was not taunting us or teasing us. He was telling us a powerful truth about our possibilities and about our potential. It is a truth almost too stunning to contemplate. Jesus sought to beckon us to move further along the pathway to perfection.
For Jesus, leadership is about service and improvement. Unless those about us can see us striving and improving, they will not be able to look to us for example, and they will see us as less than fully serious about the things to be done. Each of us has more opportunities to do good and to be good than we ever use. These opportunities lie all around us. Whatever the size of our present circle of effective influence, if we were to improve our performance even a little bit, that circle would be enlarged. There are many individuals waiting to be touched and loved if we care enough to improve in our performance.
As we get prepared to celebrate Jesus’ birth date once more, let’s take it as an opportunity to reflect on those leadership principles practiced by the man of Galilee as they apply to our specific situation today. We must remember that it will do us little good to speak of the general brotherhood of mankind if we cannot regard those who are all around us as our brothers and sisters. If we do well with our talents and with the opportunities around us, this will not go unnoticed, for as Jesus stated, those who do well with the opportunities given them, even more will be given!
Copyright 2011 QBS, Inc.