But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
As I prepare to leave my service in the military, it has come to me that while multitudes abound of books on the principles of leadership, most of these are directed towards the business world and towards maximizing the production of those under you for profit and gain, but there are very few works that point to leadership as a whole, and the concept that we learn from the Bible of leadership through serving those we lead (Matthew 23:11). In my experience, the higher you climb through the ranks of leadership, whether in the military, the business world, politics, or even in the leadership of your own family, the leader strives less and less to serve their own interests to accomplish tasks, but serve the interests of those he leads, that their worries are lessened to do the task at hand. It demands setting aside your own agendas in order to serve the wider body. However, it has also been my experience that the further you push your own agendas to the side to serve others that your own agendas coincide with those of the body, and are fulfilled through your service of the body.
That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
1 Corinthians 12:25-26
The first principle that every leader must have in order to properly serve the people he leads is empathy. You see there in the verse above that we are called to have empathy for one another. However, in today’s modern times, I think that we often confuse empathy with sympathy. Let us look at the definitions of the two words from Merriam-Webster:
Sympathy: the feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune, etc. : a sympathetic feeling
Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this
Basically, it boils down to this – sympathy is hearing of someone’s misfortunes and feeling sorry for them. Empathy is hearing the misfortunes of another and sharing in their hurt. In both, there is hurt on the part of the person hearing of the misfortune, but in empathy, the hearer of the misfortune shares in the pain of the one that is hurting instead of creating new pain in the form of feeling sorry for them. But empathy is much more than that also – because it can be in sharing joy and honor, as well. I can tell you that it is indeed a great feeling as a leader when one of your people is recognized for the great things that they are doing – that is empathy.
And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
The good leader needs discernment – to tell the truth from a lie, the good for his people from the bad, and the intentions of both the people he leads and those appointed over him. As a leader, there will be many times when your judgment will be tested by those that seek to deceive through their intentions. Often times in leadership, this will come in the form of those that seek to gain your favor through playing to your own likes and dislikes (brown-nosers). It is only through having discernment that we may tell the truth of the matter. Other times, those appointed over us might not have the communicative skills to properly convey their vision – or perhaps they purposely seek to hide details from you – this again is where discernment will carry you through.
The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.
Integrity is something that is becoming a rare commodity in these days of glorification of compromise and “going along to get along”. In TV and movies, we see integrity of many of the characters tested and that often the moral is to let your integrity go in the name of political correctness. However, a man that stands on his principles and doesn’t compromise them, knowing that any lessening of those principles invites further erosion of his own character, builds a better leader-follower relationship in that each person knows what to expect.
At the same time that we use integrity to hold those that we lead accountable for their actions, we must strive to hold ourselves accountable, as well. The leader that says “do what I say, not what I do” is doomed to not only failure in his endeavor, but also a loss of respect on the part of his followers. This is hypocrisy and hypocrisy has no place in leadership that follows the teachings of Christ, nor in any successful endeavor.
Additionally, we must have the integrity, after using our empathy and discernment to know what our people need, to go to our own leaders and demand this in the name of our followers. We must have the integrity that if our leaders ask for that which is not honorable or right, to speak plainly with our leaders, that they may know the truth of the situation. While it can be difficult to must the courage to say to our leaders that they are wrong or that they err, I have found in dealing with leaders at all levels of the military hierarchy that more times than not they value someone that speaks the truth to them, and I don’t think it is any different in any other sector.
By using empathy, discernment, and integrity, we build a better environment to accomplish the task set out before us, no matter what sector we are talking about. Followers will value your leadership because you show that you truly care about them, that you make decisions with their best interests at heart, and that you set a standard for them that you follow and that you demand from those over you, as well. Those above you will value it because they will see that your leadership creates harmony in the workforce, that you have the best interests of your people at heart – and that leads to loyalty and hard work from your people, and that you speak plainly and give counsel that has the best interests of the team and body in mind.
In an age when we celebrate those that compromise their ideals, and when everyone can see that those that look to deceive seem to get ahead, by using these principles in leadership, we can not only counter that deception and hypocrisy in our workplaces, but we can instill these values in those that we lead and change the face of the society that we live in. Use these principles not only in the workplace, but in whatever it is that you take part in, and also in your home life. These are the principles not just of leadership, but of living a life that is honest and moral. This is not just what is good for you and those that follow or lead you – but this is what our Lord and Savior told us would enrich our lives and bless our endeavors.