Leaders are servants

By Will Cunningham

A question often comes to my mind when it comes to leadership.  Does the person choose leadership or does leadership choose the person?  

It may seem a bit abstract, but I believe it is a worth-while question to ponder.  Many fine people have risen to leadership positions and even homed in on one of many theories and models of leadership with some success. Others, to their demise and to their organization’s demise, have fallen to a place of not being used in leadership any longer or worse, they have walked away from the potential of being better because they were trying to be bigger.  The military often removes key leaders and says the reason is due to “loss of confidence in ability to command. It is just a polite way of saying, “This guy can’t do the job.” 

All that being stated, it really does not come down to what effective traits do I need to practice or work on to make me a better leader.  Nor is it the choice of which leadership style is most effective for me to start practicing. Traits and styles are good and can be effective, but what really needs to take place in me in order to be a better leader is a reformed mind and heart from a moral perspective. 

It comes down to character. And yes, dare I even say with a spiritual perspective.  It would seem to me that the heart of the matter when it comes to leadership is the “matter of the heart.”  Leaders, young and old, new or seasoned, need a constant heart check on why they do what they do.   

Based on Organizational Behavioral scholars, there are different types of leadership theories. An individual leader has different ways to choose a leadership style that best fits him or her.  Some of the leadership behaviors or styles they have listed are Trait Theory; Behavioral Style Theory; The Fiedler’s Contingency Model (which falls under Situational Theory); the Path-Goal Theory; Transformational Leadership; Leader-Member Exchange Model; Shared Leadership and Servant Leadership. 

Each of these theories has been successful, although not necessarily effective in every situation as they are just theories or models.  They are principles that are practiced or tested in hope that they work.  Is there one better than another?  Is there one that works better in certain environments? For example, the Path-Goal Theory may work better in a blue-collar plant than a Servant Leadership model.  However, a Servant Leadership model may work best in a large ministry rather than Transformational Leadership.  There really is no answer to the perfect leadership model to adopt.  If we need to choose a default theory, it would likely be Situational Theory as it can be adapted to various situations and can attempt to manage each situation effectively while continuing to shift to different models.  This may prove to be exhausting. 

While becoming a better leader, there is one model that I would tend to lean toward based on my beliefs and traits.  That is the model of a Servant Leader.  If I were to choose tips or traits that would improve my skills, I would choose to listen first and speak last or possibly not speak at all.  Secondly, I would choose to focus on opportunities rather than problems.  It is often easier being negative than working toward succeeding at accomplishing positive opportunities. 

Leadership is often defined as getting things done the right way, at the right time, and for the right person. It is also thought that those who are in leadership positions  have been promoted to that position because they have proven themselves or have shown great abilities. That can be far from the truth.  

I would have to agree with the Apostle Paul, when writing to his young protégé Timothy, whom he left in the region of Turkey to administer, manage, lead, and pastor the church in Ephesus.  In the last chapter of First Timothy (1 Timothy 6), Paul writes about leadership principles that should be followed.  These are some principles that I would choose to adopt: 

Leaders are often servants: 

  1. Servants are to serve someone… even leaders have to serve someone. See Eph. 6:5 
  2. Servants are to serve the Lord, and no one else. 
  3. A leader is to worship first and serve second. 

Leaders or servants: 

  1. Disciple others (v.2) 
  2. Delight in doing good (v.2)
  3. Determine to relieve the stress of other leaders (v.2) ie… Hur and Aaron lifting the arms of Moses… (Ex.17:10-13

Leaders or Servants practice: 

  1. Seek to be wholesome or right hearted in their speech (v.3) 
  2. Seek to be right hearted toward godliness (v. 3) 
  3. Are not proud and do not carry on in disputes (v.4-5) 
  4.  Seek to be content in all things (v.6 -9)
  5.  Choose not to seek after riches for they know that it can ruin them, their ministry, and their walk. (Psalms 62:10)
  6.  Called to flee worldliness .
  7. Pursue righteousness. 
  8. Fight the good fight of faith. 
  9. Lay hold on eternal life and confess it to others. 
  10. Keeps this commandment… eternal life, through Christ… 
  11. Guard what they have been trusted with… In Timothy’s case, it was the pastorate in Ephesus, modern day Turkey. 
  12. Avoid profane and vain babblings and contradictions (teaching there in Eph. that Godliness will lead to material blessing… (see 6:5 & 6:11-21 if need be).

Why are these biblical principles so important? If you look at the first two verses of 1 Tim 6, you learn that we can dishonor God, His instruction for our lives, and also dishonor those above us we serve. 

Here is a summary:

First and foremost, leaders are servants and servants are to serve someone.  With that in mind, servants are to serve the Lord, and no one else.  They worship God first and serve second. (Serving is leading in this perspective).  God must be first.  If He is not, then all that we do and what we learn and put into practice, even our leading, will be in vain. 

Second, leaders or servants are to: A) disciple or teach others, B) delight in doing good. C) determine to relieve the stress of others, whether leaders or peers. 

Third, leaders or servants practice the following: A) seek to be wholesome or right-hearted in their speech, B) seek to be right-hearted toward godliness, C) seek to be humble and not carry on in disputes, D) seek to be content in all things. 

Fourth, a leader chooses not to seek after riches for they know that it can ruin them, as greed is not becoming to others, especially God.  

Finally, a leader and servant are called to: A) flee worldliness B) pursue righteousness, C) fight the good fight of faith, D) lay hold of eternal life and confess it to others, E) guard what you have been entrusted with and, F) avoid profane and vain babbling and contradictions. 

My desire to be effective in my leadership to others, to myself, and especially to God pivots around adopting these biblical traits as they tend to cause me to work on the heart of the matter, which is my heart or the inner man.

Inspired by: 1 Timothy 6

& Peter Drucker

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