The path to greatness as a leader
June 5, 2009
- Leadership lessons outlined in 'Chaplain's Corner'
- Great leadership is being a servant to those who are led
''Who is the greatest leader who ever lived'"
This question was posed to me by my company commander as I reported to his office back in 1997. I can remember throwing a couple of popular names out and then waiting for his response.
I was shocked when he said, ''Jesus Christ is the greatest leader who ever lived." My commander went on to explain the leadership style that Jesus specialized in: servant leadership.
As a young butter bar at Fort Benning, I was receiving a heavy dose of training from ''boot in the backside" school of leadership. So when I heard this model of servant leadership pitched, I felt like I was thrown a curve.
After all, Jesus was so humble and loving, how could that be great leadership' The question puzzled me for a while, but as I read the scriptures, I began to realize how true my captain's words were. Let me share some significant lessons learned.
Lesson 1: Great leaders step off their pedestal to walk with their people. Jesus' pedestal was heaven and his step down was a greater step than any of us will ever make as leaders. The God of the Universe stepped into human flesh and walked a lifetime in our shoes. This is what great leaders do. They are humble enough to spend some time walking where their people walk, for example, coming alongside them in the motor pool and turning a wrench or two.
In doing so they take the time to really hear what is going on in the lives of their people. As a result, leaders develop trust, and their subordinates in turn desire to be led by someone who shows genuine concern for their welfare.
Thankfully, I have seen abundant evidence of this type of leadership in my Army career.
Everything from a team leader coming alongside a Soldier on a PT test to a division commander hearing his Soldier's post-deployment concerns and instituting a strict no one works past 5 p.m. policy. I hear the stories of this type of servant leadership every day in Arlington National Cemetery.
For instance, just last month I stood before a grave and spoke about a Soldier who pulled his wounded buddy to safety in the midst of an artillery barrage and shook the hand of a military spouse who cared for her retired Soldier as he suffered from the effects of Agent Orange.
These stories and the others each of us could mention are servant leadership at its best. Unfortunately, most of us have experienced what occurs when this picture of great leadership is turned on its head.
Lesson 2: Poor leaders step on the backs of their subordinates to reach the next pedestal. Two of Jesus' disciples, James and John, desired greatness. So much so, that their mother went to Jesus on their behalf asking him to place them in high positions. Jesus responded to both of them in Matthew 20:26, 28 when he said, ''...whoever wants to be great among you, let him be your servant... just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."
As we aspire toward greatness in this life let us take these words to heart by choosing the path of serving others over that of serving ourselves. When we do this, we honor the Lord by our leadership and serve as a blessing to all of those serving under our authority.
May God bless each of us as we strive to be great leaders by serving those we lead.