Picture the cringe-worthy bosses depicted in A Christmas Carol or The Devil Wears Prada. Scrooge and Miranda criticize, demand, and exact time and effort from their employees all the while belittling them, with very little acknowledgement of their efforts or lives outside of the office. To work for these kinds of leaders is to be made very aware of your contributions as valued less than others, to say the least.
Interestingly, there are few movies about great bosses. But there are many about great mentors. Thankfully, these mentors can be found in a variety of roles: teachers, coaches, neighbors, etc.
Compare previously-mentioned leadership styles to the warm, mentoring roles of August Boatright in The Secret Life of Bees or Sean McGuire of Goodwill Hunting where the flailing protagonists are confused by being treated with respect, dignity, accountability, honesty, and genuine concern. They are challenged and supported through difficult circumstances, and they come out better for it, if not a little bewildered.
Maybe you have experienced the tutelage of folks in either of these roles…and there is a chasm between them.
We know who we would prefer to work for.
To Serve, Not to Be Served
Think of a time when you have observed someone in leadership who has a strong rapport with those they oversee, or perhaps when you as leader have had this experience. This sort of bond tends not to happen in positions of strict authority, but within a shared goal or mission. Often it happens in organizations where management regularly takes shifts with all other employees, or when professors ask students the names of janitorial staff on their mid-term exams. It happens when leaders pay attention.
Servant Leadership Means Being Attentive
First and foremost, we see Jesus as a model servant leader whom we are to emulate.
Let’s look at a few instances when Jesus recognizes what is happening around Him as an opportunity to teach, without having to be the sole instructor.
// The Widow’s mite. Jesus doesn’t just tell about what generous giving looks like. In His servanthood, He teaches by holding up the example of those who are getting it right (Luke 21:1-4).
// Turning Water into wine. Although He tells Mary His time has not yet come, Jesus’ first miracle occurs at the Wedding at Cana when He turns water into wine (John 2: 1-12).
// When Jesus gets into Simon’s fishing boat and instructs him to cast again. Jesus could have taken over and brought in the haul Himself. Instead, He leaves it to the professionals and allows their savvy to speak to the miracle that it is. (Luke 5:4)
The Gospels are full of encounters and parables where Jesus, the Teacher, allows His instruction to happen by those who do not share His station, but whose presence and dignity He chooses to honor. He is not threatened by their gifts (or faults). Servant leadership is part of Jesus’ very nature—and it is one we’re called to as well.
What are the Needs?
Servant leadership means leading with a good read on (and high regard for) the needs of those most impacted by the practices of an organization. Traditionally, this is will mean employees. However it also means paying attention to the needs of employees’ families. It means asking questions about the impact (positive or negative) that an organization has on a local community, the environment, etc.
In a different context, it means knowing the needs of your children or neighbors and proceeding about your business with honoring those needs. This could mean not mowing your lawn in the morning while your neighbor who works the night shift is trying to sleep. It might also mean having a solid routine for your kiddo who needs structure, or park time for kids with pent-up energy after school.
Often Servant Leadership Means Delegation
Those who serve with the heart of a servant are not intimidated by calling upon the gifts of others, but calling them out and calling them up while providing resources and encouragement for others to do so.
Have you ever seen yourself in the role of a leader? We don’t have to be CEOs or Executive Directors to put this into practice (although certainly if you are in one of these positions you wield tremendous potential). What about your role coordinating the food drive at school, directing the Sunday school Christmas pageant, hosting a new parishioner dinner, coordinating carpools/homeschool/virtual learning this year?
The point is, we are each called to variety of leadership roles over the course of a week and lifetime. Taking the pressure off of ourselves as the one “in charge” can be a game changer in terms of leading and can make for a much more collaborative, growing experience for all involved. Every school, family, parish and organization stands to benefit from more leaders in this sense.
Give Your Servant a Listening Heart
What we can all do:
- Be humble
- Continually develop and lead with our God-given gifts
- Call upon and foster the gifts we see in others
- Give credit where credit is due
How does the approach of leading like Christ change the pressure of being in charge?Servant Leadership #BISblog // Click To Tweet