I’m a huge proponent of servant leadership. It’s the way I try to lead, and I believe it is the best leadership model. I’ve read many good books on the topic, with the first, and best, being Lead Like Jesus: Lessons from the Greatest Leadership Role Model of All Time by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges. In this two-part series on servant leadership, I’ll first look at takeaways from that book, and in part two, I’ll look at what I’ve earned from a few other books on the subject.
- The world is in desperate need of a different leadership role model. Many leaders act as if the sheep are there only for the benefit of the shepherd. The good news is that there is a better way. There is one perfect leadership role model you can trust, and His name is Jesus.
- Self-promotion (pride) and self-protection (fear) are the reigning motivations that dominate the leadership landscape today. But Jesus is clear about how He wants us to lead: He asks us to make a difference in our world by being effective servant leaders. For followers of Jesus, servant leadership isn’t an option; it’s a mandate.
- Leadership is a process of influence. Anytime you seek to influence the thinking, behavior, or development of people in their personal or professional lives, you are taking on the role of a leader. The key question is going to be whether we seek to be served, or to be served.
- The authors describe two primary types of leadership – life role and organizational. Life role leadership functions in enduring relationships (parent, spouse, sibling, friend, citizen), while organizational leadership involves positions and titles bestowed at the convenience of the organization to serve the perceived needs and culture of the organization. The most dramatic difference between life role leadership and organizational leadership involves the permanence of the relationships the leader is trying to influence. Most of the leadership that shapes our lives does not come from leaders with titles on an organization chart; it comes from leaders in our daily life role relationships.
- Every leader must answer two critical questions: 1. Whose am I? 2. Who am I? The first question— “Whose am I?”—deals with choosing the primary authority and audience for your life. The second question— “Who am I?”—deals with your life purpose.
- Leading like Jesus is a transformational cycle that begins with personal leadership, then moves to leading others in one on one relationships, then to leading a team or group, and finally to leading an organization or community. Leading like Jesus involves the alignment of four leadership domains: heart, head, hands, and habits. When your heart, head, hands, and habits are aligned, extraordinary levels of loyalty, trust, and productivity will result.
THE HEART OF A SERVANT LEADER
- Effective leadership starts on the inside; it is a heart issue. If we don’t get the heart right, then we simply won’t ever become servant leaders like Jesus. The most persistent barrier to leading like Jesus is a heart motivated by self-interest.
- The authors introduce the concept of your EGO. Do you seek to Edge God Out or to Exalt God Only in the way you exert influence on those around you? The answer to that question reveals whether you are driven to protect and promote yourself or called to a higher purpose of service.
- Edging God Out leaders have problems with pride and fear.
- Three distinctive patterns of behavior mark the difference between self-serving leaders and servant leaders: how you handle feedback, how you handle successor planning, and your perspective of who you think leads and who follows.
- A leaders’ legacy is not just limited to what they accomplished, but it includes what they leave behind in the hearts and minds of those with whom they have had a chance to teach and work.
- The mirror image of Edging God Out is Exalting God Only. The key to this transformation is altaring your leadership EGO. Here, false pride and fear are replaced by humility and God-grounded confidence.
- Leading like Jesus means leading with humility, which requires knowing whose you are and who you are. Humility is realizing and emphasizing the importance of others. It is not putting yourself down; it is lifting others up.
- To successfully combat the temptation to be self-serving in your leadership, every day you must put your EGO on the altar and Exalt God Only.
- One of the most frequent tests of whether we have the heart attitude required to lead like Jesus is how we deal with the failures of those we lead to perform according to plan. Forgiveness is a hallmark of what it means to lead like Jesus.
THE HEAD OF A SERVANT LEADER
- There are two parts to the servant leadership that Jesus exemplified:
- A visionary/direction, or strategic, role – the leadership aspect of servant leader. This role sets the course and the destination.
- An implementation, or operational, role – the servant aspect of servant leadership. This is about doing things right, with a focus on serving.
- To engage the hearts and minds of others, you must be able to communicate the following three things as you cast a compelling vision:
- Your purpose. A clear purpose sets the direction for where you are going.
- Your picture of the future. What will the future look like if things are running as you planned?
- Your values. What will govern how you behave in your organization? Values are the nonnegotiable principles that define character in a leader. True success in servant leadership depends on how clearly the values are defined, ordered, and lived by the leader.
- Without a clear vision, the rest of your leadership skill and effort won’t matter.
- Once your vision is set, you can then establish goals to answer the question: what do you want people to focus on now?
- Once people have a picture of where you want to take them and why, the leadership emphasis switches to the second role of leadership— implementation. The leader then becomes, in a sense, a servant of the vision, by serving the people who are being asked to act according to the vision and accomplish the goals.
- The traditional pyramid hierarchy must be turned upside down so the frontline people who are closest to the customers are at the top, where they can be responsible – able to respond to the customers. In this scenario, leaders serve and are responsive to the needs of their people, training and developing them so they can accomplish established goals and live according to the vision they have of the customer experience. When the frontline people are empowered to take care of the customers, the role of the designated leader moves to the bottom of the hierarchy, where leadership becomes an act of service.
- When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, He was, in a sense, transitioning His focus from the visionary role of servant leadership to the implementation role. He demonstrated the true essence of servant leadership and challenged His disciples to do the same.
- The implementation role of leadership is where most leaders and organizations get in trouble. The traditional hierarchical pyramid is kept alive and well so that all the energy is moving away from the customers, up the hierarchy, because people feel they must please their bosses, leaving the customers neglected at the bottom of the hierarchy.
- Servant leadership starts with a vision and ends with a servant heart that helps people live according to that vision.
THE HANDS OF A SERVANT LEADER
- You show what is in your heart and head in what you do with your hands: your motivations.
- A key activity of an effective servant leader is to act as a performance coach, making an ongoing investment into the lives of those who follow. There are three parts to becoming a performance coach: performance planning, day-to-day coaching, and performance evaluation. When it comes to day-to-day coaching, the hierarchy starts to turn upside down, and servant leaders begin to work for their people. Coaching is the most important servant leadership element in helping people to accomplish their goals.
THE HABITS OF A SERVANT LEADER
- Your habits are those activities you do in order to stay on track with God and others. Jesus stayed on track with His mission by applying five key habits:
- Study and application of Scripture
- Accepting and responding to God’s unconditional love
- Involvement in supportive relationships
- Adopting these same habits is essential for those who seek to follow Jesus as their role model for leadership.
These are my primary takeaways from the book, though I could list many more. If you have read the book, what would you add?