Perhaps you can help me out of a conundrum?
You see, I’m really interested in leadership development; it’s a passion of mine. I’ve read nearly every book one can read on leadership from Peter Drucker to Dr. Seuss (yes, Dr. Seuss gave us many wonderful thoughts that can be applied to leadership).
But, when I look at Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, I expect to find clear leadership principles I can model and teach to others in my role here at The Leadership Institute, as a pastor at Relevant Community Church and in my business. What I get instead are more confusing questions about just what leadership is.
Here’s my biggest conundrum…
How in the world did Jesus create so many followers without ever forcing anyone to follow?
Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. – Dr. Seuss
At the heart of most forms of leadership development is the idea of extending influence. Leaders want to influence. Plain and simple. I see nothing wrong with that.
However, if we are honest with ourselves, we leaders desire compliance more than influence. We want people to go where we lead. We want them to obey.
Interestingly, when the bible uses the Hebrew word for obedience (mostly in the Old Testament), shama, it means to hear, listen and obey. And when the Greek work is used (in the New Testament), hupakouo, the meaning is to listen under, to obey.
This was eye-opening for me. How many times have you thought of obedience in terms of listening?
One of the most important ways we lead is to create space for people to hear. (Tweet This)
Recently, I had a conversation with a ministry leader who asked, “What do you do when someone on your team wants to go a different direction, and they invoke the God card?”
I don’t know. I truly don’t know.
If you are going to take a step forward into the dark, it’s better to do it together.
Sometimes, leadership struggles result from our stubborn egos. Sometimes, we just come up against our finiteness as human beings. We have to take a step forward into the dark because we just don’t understand how we could see things so differently.
So, here are some complicated, Dr. Seuss-style questions for you…
Does unity lead to clarity or does clarity lead to unity?
I find God usually reveals Himself through unity. However, we often make the mistake of thinking that unity only means everyone being on the same page, with the same vision. What if unity can also mean each of us having our own individual visions, but letting go of them to step into some unknown destination and unclear path forward – together.
Do we expect or demand submission from those we lead when they want to go in a different direction?
That’s what this ministry leader thought when he said, “In the end, the leader has to lead and set the course.”
This is a popular leadership sentiment. Jesus followed His father. He didn’t try to come up with His own mission and get people on board. He listened to His Father, He followed His Father and He spoke of His Father. He certainly set the course, right?
Listen. Follow. Lead.
That was the rhythm of Jesus’ life. He willingly let people go when they didn’t want to follow Him. I think it was possible for Jesus to let people go because He had let his own plans go. He wasn’t about his own vision, but His Father’s. Other people’s agendas don’t bother us as much when we aren’t holding so tightly our own agenda.
Should we expect people to submit to our leadership? I don’t know. I know that submission biblically, as I understand it, is always a two-way street.
How does understanding that the firstfruit of obedience is listening help us as leaders?
First, I have to ask myself if I have truly listened to God’s agenda. Have I made space in the rhythms of my life to hear from God in order that I may obey Him and lead out of that?
Then, I have to ask myself if I have truly listened to my team member’s agenda. Have I made space in the rhythms of the organization I lead in order for my people to hear from God in order that they may obey Him and lead out of that?
Jesus forged vision out of God’s work in the lives of those around Him.
I find that leaders often feel the pressure to create vision themselves for the organization. But when I look at Jesus, I see a man who spotted God’s work in the people around Him. He knew His Father’s plan was progressing when He saw God’s fingerprints in John the Baptist’s life, for example, and He moved into the next steps of where He knew He was supposed to go.
I challenge you to re-read scripture and look at all of the ways Jesus was able to discern His Father’s plan by looking for His Father’s presence in the lives of those God brought around him. I promise you it will be fruitful.
Leadership conflicts can be not only avoided, but turned into opportunities to grow into a higher functioning team. Leaders can learn to see those they lead as clues to discern God’s plan, instead of as obstacles to their own plans.
A listening culture creates listening-inspired obedience.
Finally, by remembering that the firstfruits of obedience is listening, a leader who purposefully creates space for herself to be heard by her people will naturally create an invitation-based conversation, instead of a proclamation-based directive. Listening creates the type of culture for team member buy-in to occur! Remember, if you want obedience, your people need to listen to you first. True listening happens in a dialogue far more than in a command.
Dr. Seuss reminds us that the questions can be very complicated but the answer we hear from Jesus is profoundly simple. Listen. Follow me. That’s how we lead.