This post is part 1 of 2. Check out part 2 of 10 Behaviors of Servant Leaders here.
A servant leader is someone who uses their influence to take people from where they are today, to somewhere better. You can be a servant leader whether you have an official position of leadership or not! I have a position of leadership as a pastor and as a dad. And it’s my responsibility to influence the people of my church and my kids, not for selfish gain, but so they might grow and flourish in life—that their future would be better than their past and present. But I can also be a servant leader in my kids’ schools, sports teams, with my peers/friends, in the community, and other places where I don’t have a leadership title or job description. It’s all about influencing others for good.
A servant leader is someone who uses their influence to take people from where they are today, to somewhere better.
I’m guessing you’re in the same boat. Maybe you’ve been given the responsibility to lead a department, team, or your kids at home. Or maybe being a leader is something you aspire to do one day. Good! But if you have the responsibility to lead, you have a responsibility to improve yourself as a leader. Everyone benefits when leaders grow. In all of history, there was never a better servant leader than Jesus of Nazareth—or a better person to teach us about leadership. In just one passage from Mark, chapter 10, Jesus brilliantly demonstrates 10 behaviors of servant leaders:
1. Leaders go first.
“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way…” (v. 32a) Leaders lead! This may seem obvious, but far too many people with a leadership title (parent, supervisor, CEO) expect their people to follow their orders instead of following their example. Jesus is out front, leading the way. Kids learn best when their parents go first. More is caught than taught. If you want your kids to learn about repentance and forgiveness or about how to show affection to their future spouse, you need to go first. Employees learn about honesty, corporate values, and productivity when their supervisors go first. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Servant leaders go first and serve as a model/guide for the people they lead.
2. Leaders cast vision.
“…Again he [Jesus] took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.” (v. 32b) Jesus had a compelling vision for the future that he repeatedly shared with his disciples. He didn’t lead by accident. His mission was to break the power of sin and death through the cross and his resurrection from the dead. He was 100% sold out to see this accomplished and helped his followers connect the dots to this preferred future. Life is busy, and people get distracted all the time from their potential destination. Kids don’t naturally see the importance of becoming mature. Teams don’t always understand how the tasks of the day contribute to a win. This is why servant leaders must remain focused on the vision and communicate again and again where they’re leading and why.
3. Leaders do hard things.
“They will condemn him [Jesus]…mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him…” (vv. 33-34) Jesus had an incredibly hard assignment. But he was willing to do the hard things that were necessary for accomplishing his mission. His followers didn’t understand initially, but Jesus was willing to be misunderstood for doing what he had to do to serve the ones he loved. Sometimes there’s praise and recognition for doing/saying the right thing, but more often than not, there’s a steep cost. Kids often resent discipline at the time. Employees don’t always welcome constructive criticism or being moved to a role that’s a better fit for the organization. This is especially hard for people-pleasing leaders. The desire for people to like you may outweigh the cost of doing the right thing. But servant leaders are willing to pay the price and do hard things for the benefit of the people they lead.
4. Leaders listen.
“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’” (v. 35) Jesus had the most crucial mission in the history of the world (far more significant than what I have on my plate right now!). He had his target set for Jerusalem, he was out front, leading the way…and his followers started asking questions that seem to be a distraction from the mission. How easy would it have been for him to blow off this question?? But leaders actively and consistently listen to their team. Listening is loving. Listening isn’t always convenient, in fact, the busier we get, the more difficult it is to really hear what people are saying. We have to fight to listen. Whether that’s taking your daughter out to lunch to find out how she’s doing with her friends at school, setting up an offsite meeting to encourage candid feedback from your work team, creating a focus group, etc. Servant leaders actively create space to listen.