I was recently reading a devotion about leadership and I started to reflect on some of the many things that I have learnt over my time as a teacher and school leader. I have read numerous books about leadership, some very good and some not so inspiring. Even now if you go to any bookshop, or Google “books on leadership”, you will discover hundreds of titles. A great many focus on how to influence people, how to make a name for yourself, how to acquire leadership positions, and so on. The one that has had the most impact on me is the Bible. While it doesn’t have a catchy title such as ‘7 Habits of Effective People’, ‘Effective Leadership’ or ’21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership’, it certainly has some sound advice on how to be a successful leader.
Leadership really isn’t a new concept; there have always been leaders, but when Jesus came along, the concept of leadership changed dramatically. In Matthew’s Gospel 20:25-28 (NLT), this is what Jesus said about leadership:
“But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In other words, leadership is all about serving. It is from here that we have coined the phrase Servant Leadership. Leadership isn’t about making our names known. It’s about making God’s name known. Its about having the capacity and desire to love, respect and care for the people we are asked to serve.
There are many aspects of being a leader. But to me I think of five areas, all are explained within the Bible and are a great guide to how to be a Servant Leader.
To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:3
As a servant leader, perhaps the most important quality is integrity. It is the foundation on which all other leadership qualities are built. Proverbs 21:3 is a reminder that we are called to walk in the ways of righteousness and justice — our actions should reflect our faith. We are called to be honest in all our interactions. Over many years in schools, I realised that the best way to develop trust amongst, staff, students and families is through honesty. Once relationships have been developed on honesty and trust you can effectively lead change and even make difficult decisions and the community will support you because they know you are honest and trustworthy.
Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. — Colossians 3:12 (NLT)
This was one of the first attributes I learnt as a leader. On my first day as a Principal, I can remember going into my office, which had a large desk and very yellow vinyl desk chair. I can recall sitting in the chair, putting my hands behind my head and feet on the desk. Thinking “I have made it, I am a principal”. At this precise moment the leg on the back of the chair gave way and I ended up flat on my back on the floor. I am sure it was God saying “be humble”. It’s not about the badge you wear, the title you hold, or the office you work in. As leaders we are to be humble, tender-hearted, kind, gentle, patient and show mercy. (Colossians 3:12). We need to accept that we don’t know it all, we have to be willing to learn from the skills and experience of others. There are staff, parents and families and dare I say students in our schools that we should listen to, they might have a better idea or a different perspective we haven’t thought of. It’s important to not be afraid to say “I don’t know”.
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12‑13 (NLT)
Servant leaders practise resilience each and every day — they need to be willing to adapt to their situations and surroundings. They need to recognize that life can throw them into unexpected situations or challenges. If you think about the many challenges that face us in schools each day, managing behavioural issues, parent concerns, curriculum expectations, critical incidents and so on. The key is not to allow these events and challenges to make us angry or cause confusion or even panic, as a servant leader we just need to recognise that God is present in each every one of these situations and with Him we can navigate these challenges. Taking time to pray about an issue or situation really does help.
Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. — Romans 12:15 (NLT)
Empathy for a servant leader is simply being able to visualize yourself in someone else’s position and walking alongside them. It helps you to understand what someone is feeling. Empathy is a key aspect of leadership. It’s easy to focus on tasks and the work that we do. Work is important. But if we’re not careful, we can begin to see people as problems to be solved instead of human beings to be loved. There are many times that I have been confronted with an angry parent or student. In one example a parent, who was upset with me over a decision I had made regarding their son, came into my office and let fly at me. While I asked the parent to leave and to make a time when they were calmer to come back and talk, I also discovered that she was struggling with mental health issues and was trying to raise four children on her own. The next meeting, we talked not just about the incident but about ways we could support her and her family. It is so easy to just get angry back, the art is trying to understand what that person is experiencing. In most cases we don’t know all the things that are going on in a person life and the challenges they are dealing with.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:37
As a leader we need to forgive those who perhaps have done things to hurt us, but more importantly we need to seek and ask for forgiveness when we do the same to others. No one is perfect we all make mistakes and cause hurt or resentment. I certainly don’t have enough room in this devotion to list all the multitude of mistakes I have made, but I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my career to have worked with wonderful people and communities who have forgiven me when I have made a bad decision or created hurt.
In summary, I have tried to use a very tried and true method when it has come to leadership. It’s a summed up in a very simple expression but one that really does provide a great premise on how to lead, and that is “What would Jesus do?”. And the answer to this is found in the Bible.