In case you haven’t noticed, there’s an awful lot of discussion out there about leadership in America. As authors and personalities like John C. Maxwell have gained popularity with books like The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (1998), there’s been a noticeable fixation with the entire subject.
If you look at the shelves in any Barnes & Noble or on the pages of Forbes, leadership has become a category unto itself. There are speaking tours, radio shows, columnists and websites dedicated to this one topic. A lot of it operates within the realm of “mainstream Christianity.”
The first observation about all this is despite the overflow of available material on the subject, good leaders are still hard to find. I’m sure they’re out there, but you’d think with millions of copies of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People floating around there’d be more highly effective people running businesses, waiting tables or servicing your car. But there aren’t.
Second, I think we read biographies or articles about Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg and we think, “I want to learn their habits so that I too can become like them.” What we don’t realize is we’ll probably never be the CEO of a company, and not everyone is meant to be. As a former employee used to say when assessing the internal failures of our oil change facility, “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians.”
The problem is everyone wants to be the head honcho and nobody wants to be the one doing the actual work. I think the current leadership frenzy has gone to a lot of peoples’ heads, and this is as true in the Christian world as it is anywhere else.
Of course it’s nothing new. Think about how many times the disciples argued over who was the greatest. James and John even asked for places of preference, which made the other disciples furious (Mark 10:37). The lesson for the disciples then is the same for us now: if you would lead, become the servant of all (10:43-44).
Greatness is defined by Jesus as becoming a servant to all for the sake of the Lord. And that’s exactly where truly great leaders come from—the long, thankless trenches of servanthood.
What we really need today is an emphasis on followers—men and women who’ve learned what it means to become a servant in spirit and in deed: to serve the unjust employer respectfully, even though they hardly know you’re there (1 Peter 2:18); to work diligently no matter how insignificant the task you’ve been given seems; to refuse to speak ill of those who slander you all day long, and so on.
We first need to learn how to be great servants and followers.
What does it mean to be a great leader? What does it mean to be a great follower?