Jesus on Leadership

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

I quote a lot of people. Quotes are a great way to encapsulate a nugget of truth and also to summon the authority and reputation of the speaker. Great quotes are inspiring, calling us to a new elevation, above our normal attitude and outside our everyday circumstances to a place of nobility; where Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela lived.

On Easter, I thought it might be good to quote the person I consider to be the best leader ever, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus had an interesting slant on leadership. His understanding of the human condition was above and beyond any education he could have received. He had an understanding of people that could not be explained by his past as was evidenced by eyewitness accounts during his life.

It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you, shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. – Jesus

Up until his time, most leaders were monarchs or military leaders based on rank and position. Leadership wasn’t a very noble profession. In fact, it was probably much worse than today. But in Jesus time, no one did public opinion polls. The public served the leaders. It was pretty black and white.

Once, some of Jesus’ disciples asked if they could sit at his right hand when he came into power (Matthew 20:20-24 and Mark 10:35-41). They wanted to be at the pinnacle of authority. Their assumption was based on the way leadership worked in that time. They wanted the best position. In fact, this was probably a regular point of contention among the 12 men closest to Jesus. (See Matthew 18:1 and Mark 9:34.)

Jesus answered them, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” (Matthew 20:26-27) He said something similar on many other occasions as well. (See Matthew 19:14, 19:30, 20:16, Mark 9:35, and Luke 13:30.)

Jesus is simply asserting the value of servant leadership; the very model he applied. Jesus never coerced people to follow him. He never manipulated. He simply stated facts. He said he was here to serve (vs. 28) and so anyone willing to truly lead must truly serve.

People are most free when they choose to follow. Leaders who serve their people find energized volunteers rather than “puppets” or “resources.” Servant leaders inspire cooperation and contribution. People choose to respect, cooperate with, even follow people they believe operate in their best interests.

So today, think about how you can serve your team better. How can you put them first? If your team properly understands the vision, you might be surprised at the progress they make pursuing it if you stop trying to pull them to the vision and just serve them in their pursuit. You demonstrate respect, trust and confidence when you serve your teammates. And your best teammates, and your team, will flourish in response.

Scripture references New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

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About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Janna Rust  |  04 Apr 2010  |  Reply

Hi Mike,

Jesus was indeed the best leader who ever lived. A true humble servant with tremendous people skills. Thanks for point this out on this Resurrection Sunday.

.-= Janna Rust´s last blog ..The Productivity Paradox: Slow Down to Speed Up =-.

Mike King  |  04 Apr 2010  |  Reply

I definitely concur. The leadership of Jesus applies in everything where love and connection are something of even the slightest value. The only people who argue against (and have a case to some degree) are those looking for a materialistic leadership win. That’s NOT leadership at all to me though so it is really an argument for something else. Perhaps, how NOT to love and connect with others but still lead something.
.-= Mike King´s last blog ..My eBook Released! Building Better Relationships =-.

Mike Henry  |  04 Apr 2010  |  Reply

Thanks Mike. You’re correct that if love and respect are of no value, you’re not a leader, you’re a selfish pig. Unfortunately, I act that way sometimes too. I can’t get too far pointing at others in that regard. :-)


Nickey Hollenbach  |  05 Apr 2010  |  Reply

Great post to start the day with, Mike – thanks!!

davidburkus  |  05 Apr 2010  |  Reply

Good post. I go back and forth on whether or not Jesus was a transformational leader or servant leader. He certainly advocated servanthood, but often acted more like a transformational leader.

Mike Henry  |  05 Apr 2010  |  Reply

I think words like “servant leader” and “transformational leader” as descriptors of Jesus rather than labels for him. We all serve our friends in different ways over time. His was the greatest service and the greatest transformation, so I guess you could go with either. Mike…

raymundmitchell  |  05 Apr 2010  |  Reply

When I think about all of the leadership attributes applied to Jesus, they are the same one’s I aspire to, and hope that others apply to me when they think of my leadership style. Counselor, Teacher, Friend

John Barcanic  |  06 Apr 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for the encouraging words, Mike. They help refocus us on the real goal of leadership: helping people move in a direction that benefits them and the organization.

Lane Baldwin  |  07 Apr 2010  |  Reply

An excellent article. Great to see others promoting servant-leadership. Are you familiar with the Spears Center for Servant-Leadership? (www.spreascenter.org) Larry Spears has carried on Robert Greenleaf’s mission to spread servant-leadership for many years.

(Disclosure: I am honored to be a newly appointed member of the Spears Center board.)

Again, great article. Jesus is indeed an excellent example of servant-leadership, one from whom we can all learn.

Best wishes,

Lane Baldwin
Servant-Leadership Solutions

Mike Henry  |  07 Apr 2010  |  Reply

Lane, thanks for the excellent suggestion and no disclosure is necessary. There are many great resources and we need to be sharing them. Thanks for the suggestion.


JakeHillman  |  12 Apr 2010  |  Reply

This was awesome Mike. It really encourages me in a concept that I have been tossing around, and that is Relational Management. Management by itself is just focusing on tasks and results. Jesus showed us what it means to identify a task or purpose and effectively accomplish it through leadership and relationships with people. I think that it’s a good reminder that people are what make most of our businesses successful, both employees and customer alike. Why then is it so difficult to be relational and treat them like another task to be managed.
I also want to thank you for publishing a somewhat risky post. It sets a good example for some of us that need to not be afraid to speak about that we believe in, no matter what.
You are a blessing.

Mike Henry  |  13 Apr 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for the encouragement Jake. It’s helpful to be reminded that what we do matters. Mike…

Beverley McClure  |  13 Apr 2010  |  Reply

Mike, I know I’m a little behind in the comments, but wanted to thank you for articulating a philosophy I believed in strongly in my 20 years of executive leadership experience. When you “wash the feet” of your employees, you also model what they are to do with their customers, both internal and external. Thanks for your insights and beautiful testimony.

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