When you hear the phrase, they’re a great leader, what comes to mind? You might think corporate or church success, well-developed management skills, conflict resolution, wise decision-making, courage, gifted communication, winning attitude, motivational abilities, use of power, or a domineering presence.
In the 1970's, Robert Greenleaf, an AT&T senior executive, made a staggering statement in his book, SERVANT LEADERSHIP. He believed an organization existed for the person as much as the person existed for the organization. Greenleaf's statement rocked the autocratic, top down, corporate establishment, proposing that “the great leader is seen as servant first and that simple fact is the key to his greatness.” Quite a statement!
Someone greater and wiser than Greenleaf said it first. Before His death, Jesus told the 12 disciples, “Whoever wants to become great among you, must be your servant; and whoever wants to be first must be a slave to all.” Then He defined His mission “. . . not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) That's pretty clear. Jesus came to serve and give, not to be served and to get. He didn't come to be rich and famous or to attract attention by His popularity. Jesus didn't come to sit at head tables and be admired. He preferred to serve, and wash feet, and go unnoticed. Jesus did what servants do best: serve and give. GREAT LEADERS ARE AT THEIR BEST WHEN THEY SERVE. SERVING MAKES A LEADER GREAT.
This is a different approach to leadership influence, isn’t it? It's not influence by taking control, demanding obedience, commanding loyalty. That kind of influence doesn't change lives. Jesus calls His leaders to an unheard-of approach where people follow a leader who doesn't look out for himself/herself only, but primarily, looks out for them. Leaders who serve and give and love attract people who will look up to them and follow. That's real influence!
Henri Nouwen put it this way:
“A whole new type of leadership is asked for in the church of tomorrow; a leadership which is not modeled on the power games of the world, but on the servant leader, Jesus, Who came to give His life for the salvation of many.” (In the Name of Jesus)
When Jesus labeled a leader GREAT, He didn’t look at numbers, or knowledge, or people’s opinions. He looked at a servant and modeled it in His life.