When I mention the names of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Coach John Wooden, General Colin Powell, Pastor Bill Hybels and CEO Jack Welch in the same sentence, some of you may know what they all have in common. They have all written best-selling books on the topic of leadership. These famous people have exemplified what scholars and business executives have been teaching about leadership for over hundred years. Leaders get things done; they are change agents; they grow things. But most importantly, leaders influence others.
In fact, the word “influence” is the accepted simple definition of leadership. Koontz & O’Donnell write, “Leadership is influencing people to follow in the achievement of a common goal.” George R. Terry said, “Leadership is the activity of influencing people to strive willingly for group activities.” And John Maxwell boiled it down to this: “Leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less.”
Now, I have studied and practiced leadership for almost 20 years, and the accepted definition of leadership has not changed one bit in our enlightened, postmodern age. But what if leadership as influence has been the wrong emphasis all along? What if that accepted definition of leadership has put us on a trajectory not of success, but of failure? With all this great leadership wisdom in the world of politics, business, entertainment, and education, humans are still no less violent, no more tolerant of those different from us, or no more forgiving and merciful to the poor and suffering.
Maybe we need a more ancient definition of leadership. Maybe we need to learn and practice a leadership based on love, not on influence. Maybe being a spiritual leader is the most important type of leadership needed in the world today. And spiritual leadership can be defined conversely as “the activity of loving others, not by influencing them, but by giving away your knowledge, power, and resources to another person or group so that they can become all that God intended them to be.
Jesus said, “A new command I give you, love one another. Just as I have loved you.” Pretty simple, isn’t it? Leadership is rocket science. It doesn’t have to be studied and written about.
Jesus also said, “Let no one earth be called leader, for you can only have One leader, and that is the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah, God Himself. Because if any of you wants to be a leader, Jesus said, you must first become the least off all and a servant to all. (Matthew 23:10; Mark 9:35).
And then Jesus showed us, as well as taught us, how to be spiritual leaders. Jesus stripped down to his underwear in front of his disciples; the King of kings, the Creator of the universe, The Savior of the world, got down on His sand worn knees and washed their feet — their stinky, dirty, sin plagued feet. Jesus caressed them, He loved them, and cleansed them. And then He said to them and to us, “Go and do likewise to your brothers and sisters.” (John 13:5-17).
In the end your leadership will not be judged by how many people you influenced, but by how many people you loved.
© Paul Dordal, 2014