The Humility of Leadership

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.                                                                                                            Philippians 2:5-8 (The Message)

I have been a student of leadership principles for a number of years, and I will be sharing some of these elements of leadership in the next few blogs. I have always believed that humility is a fundamental character trait for leadership, and I was gratified to see that Doris Kearns Goodwin, a giant of scholarship, agrees with that principle. When I teach, I use various historic world leaders to amplify that point, and one I always use is George Washington.

Washington was a unique leader. After having led the Continental Army to victory over the British in the Revolutionary War, he went to Congress and turned over his sword to them, yielding to the authority of that elected body. Remember, at that time, the only tangible power that existed in the newborn country (indeed, at this point, we did not even have a Constitution) was the standing army. He led that army, and he turned over the power of that force to the civil government.

The rest of the world was astounded at this gesture. Military leaders of that era could be expected to simply assert their military might into ruling the country they represented. Washington gave an example of the principle of submission to civil authority. The rule of law would supersede the rule of might.

What does a great leader do with his/her power? They use it for the good of the people they lead. They empower others to act rightly for the common good. The paradox is that great leaders find a way to give away power responsibly- not hoard it for themselves. In this way, real authority is exercised, not just the flaunting of raw power.

When Jesus humbled himself to come to the earth as a baby, he exemplified this principle in the most dramatic fashion.

Great leaders give themselves away to serve those whom they lead.  

Prayer: Thank you Father for the example of servanthood as true leadership, Amen.

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