Can a person lead effectively without the attitudes of humility and service? I don’t think so. Jesus said it: “Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
Noted author Oswald Sanders reminds us that the word “leader” is used in the Bible just 6 times. The word “servant” is used more frequently, and that’s a revolutionary leadership idea.
Servant leadership doesn’t appeal to everyone. Jesus knew that it wouldn’t. And yet that’s what he calls a godly leader to be. According to Sanders, the attitudes and inner motives of a true servant are:
- Dependence – Emptied of self and dependent on God
- Approval – Reciprocal delight between God and his servant
- Modesty – Neither strident nor flamboyant
- Empathy – Sympathetic and understanding
- Optimism – Hopeful
- Anointing – Spirit-filled
Here’s what the Bible says about leadership:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. – Mark 10:42-44 (NIV)
Those words are a reminder to rethink marketplace ideas about leadership. I’m a “doer” with a tendency to eschew the divine, spiritual parts of leadership in favor of wisdom from the experts, so I need a regular reminder to evaluate my heart.
Don’t get me wrong, practical helps and wisdom are important. I’ve learned volumes about teamwork, management and leadership from countless seminars, conferences, podcasts, blogs and books. But most of it rarely addresses the heart motivation at the core of effective leadership.
What’s your expectation: To serve first or lead first? It’s a question every aspiring leader has to ask. The “lead first” attitude is about a desire for power and status. The “serve first” attitude is about something else entirely.
My servant leadership takeaways are simple. I will:
- Demonstrate “serve first” leadership at every opportunity.
- Serve my leader with humility.
- Encourage a “serve first” attitude in the people I lead.
- Seek a “serve first” attitude in potential hires.
So what’s the Big Idea?
The best leadership flows from the attitudes and inner motives of a true servant—dependence (on God), approval (from God), modesty, empathy, optimism and anointing. Servants make the best leaders.
J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership: A Commitment to Excellence for Every Believer, rev. and exp. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 21-26.