Serving and Leading

Serving and Leading

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Take a look. Your goal is to describe this object to someone who has never seen one. What would you say? Maybe something like this:

There is a block of wood about six inches long, three inches wide and 3/4 of an inch thick. The top side is smooth. The bottom side is covered in one inch bristles, each one about the thickness of horse hair, there are hundreds of them. The bristles are connected to the block of wood in groups but when you turn it over and look you can see no separation of the groups. Individually the bristles are very soft but together they are somewhat stiff.

Now that we have a good description of the item, lets think of what it can be used for. What do you think?

Obviously many of us know its purpose. It's a shoe shine brush but giving it a title often limits its potential.

I presented this object lesson to a group of high school students a few years ago. I had a specific leadership lesson I wanted to teach and eventually I did, however, I learned even more from them.

Here is what happened.

I entered the weekly meeting of a student leadership team I mentor. The lesson was all planed. There was one prop and I had planned one lesson. I left with a second great lesson, a new appreciation for this group of students and the realization that I should be open to learn from anyone.

The prop…a shoe shine brush

The lesson I brought…leaders must be willing to serve those they lead, taking care of their needs, even cleaning off their shoes.

The lessons they taught me from this simple prop went a different direction.

A leader holds everything together (the block of wood)

The leader organizes the team (the bristles) If you were to look where the bristles connect to the wood you would see they are organized in groups and the groups are organized in uniform rows.

The leader, the block of wood, gets people going in the same direction. As the block begins to move forward the bristles follow.

If the bristles don’t go in the same direction it will be hard to get the job done. Try it, if you put the brush onto a surface, apply some pressure where they push out in all directions it then becomes more difficult for the whole brush (team) to move.

Those were not the lessons I wanted to emphasize but they were great. This group of students were amazing and they really grasp the concept of leadership.

After the conversation slowly faded I presented what I thought was to be the only lesson of the day, Servant Leadership, as it was demonstrated by the ultimate leader.

A quick Google search of the term Servant Leadership returns pages of articles and illustrations, however one of the first examples of servant leadership was recorded long before Google started crawling website.

In the Bible, the book of John and chapter 13 we find a compelling scene. Jesus, was having dinner with his closest followers and after dinner he started washing their feet.

Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.' John 13:3-5,12-1

From his role and commission, Jesus was the ultimate authority. He could have easily commanded someone to wash his feet yet he humbled himself to do this for those he was leading. Think about it, a person with great power, getting on his knees to clean a follower’s feet. I love how he states, “I have given you an example to follow.”

In top-down leadership the leader constantly displays and protects his/her position of power, communicating ‘I’m in charge,’ ‘I’m better than you.’ However, a servant leader demonstrates compassion and caring.

A to-down leader collects and exercises power, but servant leadership shares power for the good of people and the organization.

We may not be faced with the opportunity, nor the need to stoop and wash a team member’s feet, however, there are other ways we can reflect that attitude, here are two:

  • Consider the needs of other first

  • Commit to helping others become the best person they can be

In my search to be better leader, I realized I am better when I put into place an attitude and the actions of service. I love how this thought is explained in another scripture from the Message paraphrase.

'Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.' Romans 12:9-10

One simple lesson prop generated multiple thoughts on leadership, but the greatest of these is service.

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