By Kathy Bruins
Did you love playing Follow the Leader as a kid? One person leads the group in words or actions, and the group mimics perfectly in order to stay in the game. One wrong move and a player is out. The last person standing wins and becomes the new leader.
Some believe this Follow the Leader imitation models good leadership. I felt it showed success in my early leadership journey. Yet over the years, I learned that people are so much more than robots, and I am glad I discovered the beautiful offerings each person can make.
People bring an interesting twist to all work environments. Each individual has personality and characteristics that develop during life. While this helps us all grow, it is not always easy.
PRACTICE SERVANT LEADERSHIP
Leadership is a term that often brings the corporate world to mind. But all leadership is important. It doesn’t matter if someone is getting paid or not for leading. School volunteers, community event planners, ministry team leaders, parents, and others all have the opportunity to be servant leaders to those who follow them. The impact made by servant leaders makes a difference in the world.
Being a good leader means to engage or serve your followers by providing opportunities for their development. This will help them make the best choices working under your direction. According to S. Chris Edmonds, author of The Culture Engine, “I define servant leadership as a person’s dedication to helping others be their best selves at home, work, and in their community. Anyone can serve—and lead—from any position or role in a family, workplace, or community.”
Jesus did this with his disciples. Many times he took them away from the crowds to mentor them and allowed them to try out the new concepts. Jesus taught them and gave them clear instructions but also warned them of what may happen: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues” (Matthew 10:16, 17). He wanted the disciples to succeed and prepared them to overcome challenges. Isn’t that what a good leader wants for their followers?
Why would you want to serve your employees in a corporate setting? Didn’t you hire them to serve you? Actually you hired people to help you meet a goal. In fact, you may not reach your objective without them. Your job as the leader is to equip them to do a great job for you. It doesn’t mean only physical tools but also coaching them. This is where attitude comes in—yours and theirs.
Poor leadership creates poor followers. The bad attitude of the boss reflects in the actions of the employees. This type of leader drains their workers by demanding more to make themselves as the leader look good. All they are really doing is building walls of separation between them and their workers. The workers’ commitment to the goal is deadening from the resentment building inside them.
Jesus has a better way. “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44). What a foreign concept this is to many in the business world today. We see the media capitalize on bad behavior bosses, and if someone isn’t doing exactly what they want, they say, “You’re fired.” What investment have these leaders put into their people other than pay them? Money is not the answer. It doesn’t matter how much a person is paid, if they are not mentored and coached, the leader will most likely be disappointed and the employee feel like a failure.
Being a servant leader isn’t easy. It’s helping followers to develop into the people they were meant to be, which means service from you to them. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus knew that the best way to get the disciples on the same page in regard to working for the kingdom was to give his time to them and walk the journey with them. In community or workplace settings, your team members may not know Jesus, but that does not mean you don’t need to act like him to them. In fact, what better opportunity to show them the love, grace, and mercy of Jesus than leading with a servant’s heart.
MAXIMIZE YOUR IMPACT
What can you do to be a leader who impacts the lives of their followers?
Listen—Take time to really listen to your group. Maybe they have a great idea that you need to hear. Perhaps their hearts are heavy and you can encourage them. Listening is a great gift to give to your team.
Empathize—Show understanding to your followers by empathizing with them in whatever situation they are in. Help them to see that you recognize the struggles and you care.
Encourage—Inspire them to go to the next level of their development. Be their best cheerleader.
Give—Provide opportunities for them to grow. Whether it is adding to their position or training, it will benefit them and ultimately you in reaching the organization’s goals.
Pray—Lift them up in prayer. The power of intersession can move mountains in a person’s life.
Create community—Create a caring and committed environment with all who work with you. It has to start with you as the leader, but others will follow.
RESPOND TO CHALLENGES
You as the leader are given a special opportunity to have an impact on others. As you direct, you will be helping to mold their thought structure about life. Instead of relying on the old way of handling challenges, you can demonstrate a healthier manner.
When I led a large group of people in a ministry, there were challenges like any other scenario where people are working together. Everyone had their ideas and talents, which made us different, but we needed each other to get the job done. While leading a meeting about how we should plan a ministry for children, I introduced a children’s protection policy. Many voiced their opinions, both supportive and not. Some against it said the church didn’t need it; something like that was for bigger urban churches. They felt we knew all our people and none were a threat.
I realized that instead of enforcing this policy right away, it was important to hear everyone’s hearts on the subject. It was also imperative for me to bring good information to them to show them why this was crucial for us to do. So I listened to them verbally and physically showed that I was hearing them. Then I expressed understanding by empathizing with them about the changes in society and the challenge to change things in a place like a church. I applauded the community that had been built in the church. Next, I gave opportunity for them to join me in the journey of finding out more about the need for the protection policy. Last, I acknowledged our differences and asked that we all pray about it and see what God would tell us. I also prayed over the whole situation, beginning with praise for what God had already done in the ministry and for the caring hearts he created in each person present. I made sure everyone felt cared for and respected. So much good came from that meeting, and the program was not marred in any way. People still felt good being a part of the ministry.
Putting the time and energy into others for their development is a huge investment. It’s worth it. “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10). Being a servant leader worth following shows your commitment to God and to his kingdom. That’s the kind of leader that God uses for his service.
Kathy Bruins is an author, speaker, and dramatist living in Southwest Michigan.