and Authentic Leadership
national leader is accused of deceiving the electorate when he
abandons key policies that contributed to his previous electoral
success, because “circumstances have changed”.
opposition leader admits to a television interviewer that not
everything he says is the “Gospel truth” and implies that
those who wish to know what he stands for should read the fine print
in his party’s carefully scripted press releases.
champion football team is humiliated by forfeiting two national
premierships and incurring a hefty fine and other sanctions because
it egregiously breaks salary rules.
leaders admit to shareholders that they have fudged profit data to
keep taxes down and stocks high, while banks face a class action suit
for “punitively” over-charging customers.
of leadership, or “business as usual”?
the above (true) scenarios simply cultural issues, or are they
symptomatic of some of the great moral failures of this (and every
other) generation? In the final analysis, where do the protagonists
and their followers end up?
hear a great deal about “effective leadership”. There is
no shortage of courses, conferences, books, DVDs, “how-to”
manuals and websites on the spectrum of becoming better leaders.
“Positive leadership” (meet Dr Martin Seligman, Director
of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Centre) is
having a great (and arguably well-deserved) run, in response to the
weariness of people the world over with negative or manipulative
leadership, combined with disappointment that leaders who promise
much often have little to deliver.
that one hears much about “effective followership”. My
spell-checking tool tells me there is no such word as “followership”
– but there should be. Every leader needs to be following
am leader of a team whose collective work ultimately impacts
thousands of clients every year. I take my leadership
responsibilities very seriously. I am under no illusion that I can
do the entire job myself, or that I have all the requisite wisdom.
As I direct, strategize, delegate, respond to issues and manage tasks
up and down the line I am challenged by the awesome responsibilities
associated with leading the lives of men and women who depend to a
large extent for their job satisfaction and work outcomes on the way
I do so and the atmosphere I create. This is humbling. It is why I
ask God every day for wisdom, favour, ideas and His blessing and
protection. I know that I cannot afford to be false, manipulative or
uncaring. God sees my heart. Others see a lot as well.
Christ was a leader, if ever there was one. He had a lot to say
about authentic leadership. We need to understand the principles He
taught and take them back into our day-to-day work and family arenas.
Leaders and “Sheep”
of the content of Jesus’ teaching was drawn from daily life in
his time. Growing up around Middle Eastern shepherds, he likened men
and women to sheep, in terms of the needs and decisions they faced,
and the search for a secure “place” to find protection
against storms and predators.
one likes to be called a “sheep”. The term sounds
pejorative. Sheep are “dumb”, aren’t they? They
blindly follow other sheep. They belong to a “mob” and
typically don’t think for themselves. Their lives are short,
sharp and seemingly meaningless: they eat grass, produce wool that
others peremptorily take from them and then die, due to disease,
being ravaged by wolves or dingoes, or end up on the dinner table.
However, Jesus had another view. He saw sheep (and people) as
individuals, thriving on relationships, needing to be able to trust
those they follow, and doing so if the circumstances are right. Try
to force them to go one way, against their will, and they will run
down his strongest opponents in Jerusalem, in the lead-up to his
betrayal and crucifixion, Jesus drew on the shepherd/sheep analogy to
test the attitudes of those who came to Him: those who made life-long
commitments to follow Him; and those who felt threatened and sought
to put Him out of business. John records one such encounter in
Chapter 10 of his Gospel account. Jesus’ comments in this
passage have a lot to say about personal relationships and the nature
of leadership, whether in the family, church, work, or more broadly
in the community.
in mind that those who confronted Jesus in the passage cited were
fundamentally antagonistic to His mission, his response is
challenging and contains lessons for all of us, especially those who
lead teams. Consider the following.
who rely on “back door” access to leadership roles and
management of people cannot be trusted
tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the
gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.”
comment at this point is quite confronting.
through the front door poses logistical problems for some would-be
leaders. The front door is too obvious, too meritocratic, too much
of a leveller; that’s the way everyone else goes in. So, they
look for the back door, the short-cut, people in power who can give
them a “leg up”. Jesus called such people “thieves
and robbers”. Instead of approaching people and problems in a
transparent way they come in through the side window, like burglars
(Jude verse 3 is instructive here – in fact the Greek language
uses the same analogy).
too often, leaders depend on behind-the-scenes politics and “deals”
to get what they want. They gain positions of power and influence,
but not enduring confidence. They consider it a matter of honour to
be known as “a numbers man” or a “toe cutter”.
Those closest to them know they cannot be trusted (there are no true
friends in politics), so they are wary of committing themselves,
unless they stand to gain some of the benefits - then they become
complicit. This occurs in business, politics, even religious
organisations and families; anywhere hierarchies and power structures
are located. Candidates for pre-selection in election campaigns are
often forced on local branches because they have close links to
national leadership or funding sources. Christian organisations, and
their cliques and dynasties, are not immune. What I find scary is
that those who live like this often do not perceive any ethical
there are burglars in the house, whom do you
trust? How can you be sure those who lead or follow you are not
self-seekers simply interested in what they can extract from the
relationship? I believe Jesus is warning all of us to be careful.
leadership enters through the front door
man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.
watchman opens the gate for him.”
the genuine man or woman of God there is no need for secret agendas,
no cabals or behind-the-scenes deals (see Acts 26:26). Their lives
are open, accountable, as transparent as possible; what you see is
what you get. They believe that God opens and closes doors according
to His will
yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by
everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of
our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living
God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
(2 Corinthians 3:2, 3).
leadership is “who we are”, not the “spin” we
sometimes put on our circumstances and relationships. Such
leadership is not common, but it is what the majority of followers
watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.
He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has
brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep
follow him because they know his voice.”
millennia, Eastern shepherds have walked ahead of their sheep. When
I lived in the Middle East I studied Bedouin shepherds in Jordan, who
walked well-worn trails with small flocks of sheep in their wake,
sitting with them in the cool of the day, leading them by pools of
water, treating them tenderly, calling them by name and speaking to
them, as a father would a group of small children. At the end of the
day they would lead them home to shelter from the elements. Bedouin
shepherds love their sheep.
needs good leadership. Everyone needs heroes, people to believe in,
to follow, to adopt as credible life models.
authentic shepherd goes ahead of the sheep. He (or she) does not
bark orders, but asks the flock to go where he has already gone.
People respect leaders who are prepared to empathize and get their
hands dirty, do the hard yards and speak from experience, not just
articulate aspirational targets or theory. This is the leap from
action planning to action. Followers respect integrity. They shy
away from leaders who do not “walk the talk”.
leadership is paramount. Everyone needs effective, constructive,
confident, communicative, godly leadership. Students and street
vendors need leadership. So do Prime Ministers, community organisers
and business leaders.
(“sheep”) are much more discerning than many leaders
realise and do not easily follow leaders they do not know
they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from
him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."
trap for those involved in leadership is avoiding what has loosely
been called the “hero syndrome”, where the accolades of
others get inside our heads, where they reside, echoing in our inner
chambers. Heroes are important, but when we begin to think we are
heroes it can subtly convince and then destroy us.
is when we start to believe that we have all the answers for
everybody and are indispensable, when we believe our own rhetoric.
Jesus said we should be careful when everyone appears to speak well
of us (Luke 6:26). People and circumstances change, as easily as the
direction of the wind.
best of leaders cannot meet everyone’s expectations; they
disappoint their followers from time to time. I have found that,
when this happens, only leadership relationships that are based on
integrity endure the hard knocks and harsh reverses. False and
calculating leadership gets caught out. Leaders who are not prepared
to admit mistakes forfeit the trust of others. When we need to be
liked and appreciated to feel validated, lack of support,
indifference, or criticism on the part of others can undermine us.
When the recognition and approval of our friends, family members and
work colleagues are all consuming, we become blinded to what is
really important, and durable. The tragic thing is that some heroes
do not realise others do not esteem and need them as much as they
think. Negative feedback ends up eroding their confidence and
undermining the leadership they aspire to model.
used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was
didn’t the leaders of Jesus’ day understand His anecdote?
Ironically, some were so ensconced in the political and religious
systems of their day that they simply did not grasp His message. It
didn’t dawn on them that He was speaking about them. Or they
were so filled with pride, presumption and prejudice that the truth
did not penetrate the shells they had constructed around themselves.
It is easy for leaders to believe they have the skillsets and
knowledge to do the job, but not be self-aware enough to realise that
they are being high-jacked by their own rhetoric.
Pharisees were “experts” in the law, which they used to
justify narrow pettiness and judgemental attitudes. The Sadducees
were close to the political power structures in Jerusalem, which they
leveraged to their advantage. Neither party was ready for an
outsider like Jesus to challenge the status quo and highlight their
bankrupt spirituality. In their hearts they had already rejected His
message; some were active members of a conspiracy to arrest and
execute Him. Their response was to call him mad, or demon possessed,
and make every endeavour to undermine His message and ministry.
Getting rid of Jesus was like taking the irritating stone out of
is our shepherd (1 Peter 2:25). The
religious leaders of His day were not His “sheep”. By
choice. They did not belong to Him. So they opposed Him.
Shepherds lay down their lives for the sheep
lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it
from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay
it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received
from my Father."
who has read Jesus’ description of leadership (Matthew
20:25-27) knows that His model was diametrically opposed to that of
the world. He taught that authentic leadership must stem from (and
be demonstrated by) acts of service. The prevailing secular model is
ultimately based on relationships of power.
often have you heard someone described as “Machiavellian”?
Nicolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) was an adviser to the Medici family
in Florence; he famously taught
prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise.”
Machiavelli’s world view, “Those princes who have done
great things have held good faith of little account, and have known
how to circumvent the intellect of men”. To Machiavelli and
his disciples, leadership was synonymous with the amoral exercise of
power, secured by “whatever it took”.
challenge for Christian leaders today is not to imbibe these kinds of
values, but to follow in the footsteps of one who said that genuine
leadership is not about driving, manipulating, using and discarding
others, but making the ultimate sacrifice, at personal cost, for
their ultimate good. Only by putting others first (even within
strict hierarchies) can leaders impact their lives. This applies in
marriage, business, church and public life.
makes all of this compelling reading is that Jesus was under no
obligation to lay down His life for any
came as the creator, the Eternal Logos, the expression of the Father.
Demons recognised Him as the Son of God. He raised the dead, healed
sickness, performed every kind of miracle, but espoused the principle
that the only standard of leadership that truly counted in the long
run was placing others at the head of the queue and serving them.
Jesus nowhere demanded His rights. He did not raise His voice above
the clamour, just to be heard. He did not engage in
self-aggrandisement, but became poor, and a servant, for our sakes.
a contrast is challenging; it is revolutionary. If God’s
standard of leadership were to become mandatory there would be few
candidates. No automatic honours, no rewards, no perks, nothing, in
this life, only service and sacrifice. I can hear people saying,
“But I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t study and
work hard so that my reputation could be of no account. Look at me.
Be impressed. Listen to the words of wisdom that come out of my
mouth. But don’t ask me to give it all up and go back to the
bottom of the greasy pole”.
declared that He had come to lay down His life for the world. Not
for a creed, or a doctrinal statement. Not even for the reputation
of Israel and its Law and prophets, but for people like you and me
leadership engenders a sense of security in followers
sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give
them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch
them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater
than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.”
you a leader worth following? Have a look around and see who is
following you. Who values your opinions and judgement? Why should
they? Whom do they really trust with their future?
you have the courage to put yourself in Jesus’ shoes and engage
those who look to you with an eye to serve, not just getting your own
way to achieve your personal or professional goals?
well and others will grow. They will give above and beyond, not out
of a sense of fear or obligation, but because you bring out the best
in them. Protect them, like a flock entrusted to your care, but not
in an overbearing way. Give them space to be themselves, as
individuals, with hopes and aspirations, mixed with occasional
disappointments. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you lead with attitudes
that promote stability, security, fruitfulness and mutual commitment.
If you lead like Jesus you will be in a minority, but you will not
be alone. Follow Him and those who follow you will be transformed by