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Real Leadership (4 of 4)

This is the final installment of a four part series on servant-leadership.

There are three different threads that weave together to make the tapestry of servant leadership: humility, bravery, and forgiveness. When one of these three is removed, the whole thing unravels.

One thread, humility, can be understood as the experience you might get looking at the Alps or the Grand Canyon or out of the airplane window. It’s an encounter with something so beautiful that is leads us to a slack jawed expression where all you’re left to say is, “Wow!”—if only you could find the words to say anything in the first place.

In this way, humility takes us to a weird paradox of listening and confessing. The nature of humility is a place of breathlessness where we are simultaneously at peace and afraid—where we are in gratitude and awe.

In the experience of humility, we can’t help but see our mistakes. And if we are really honest, most every leader knows that he carries some level of incompetence. But, too often leaders try and hide, ignore, spin, manage, compensate, or strategize around their weaknesses. It is impossible to serve when the energy of leadership is spent covering and managing the leader’s shortcomings.

So what is a leader to do with all of his blunders? Good question.

There is only one thing to do if you hope to serve well: acknowledge your mistakes to yourself and name them out loud to those you serve. Admittedly, exposing your own incompetence is really hard for many leaders. This is the only work that will transform our character and provide you a platform for authentic respect and legitimate power. But these shortcomings must be more than just acknowledged and exposed; they must also be dismantled in front of those we lead.

In our humble confessions, we are compelled to stop and we become open to the impact and predicaments of others around us—we are made to listen. Listening, which includes concepts like empathy, curiosity, and awareness, is a foundational practice of servant leadership. Almost everything else flows out of a commitment to listen carefully to what others have to say.

All this takes an incredible measure of bravery. To live out humility with those who we are called to lead is a scary proposition. Admission of our own mistakes exposes the leader to the possibility of criticism, distrust, and isolation. It’s like saying “Hey, I’m a goofball and a screw up. I’m not really sure of all that I’m doing, and I know that the last time I really messed this whole thing up, and that it hurt you, but I’m kind of thinking we need to do this. You want to come along and help out?”

Exposing our mistakes will immediately expose our greater character defects and our need for other’s help. Brave and humble leaders are dependant leaders.

The art of servant leadership requires that we give power away. In his book Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender writes about how authentic leaders use their own power to make sure power is used fairly. Real servant leaders shun pride and ambition and find joy in helping others achieve their goals and dreams. This does not mean choosing false humility and refusing your gifts, authority, and experience, but authentically letting go of power so that others may be more present.

Give up power?

This is a scary proposition and requires a whole lot of bravery for most leaders. A servant-leader is only as effective as his willingness to suffer and sacrifice on behalf of others. Which means a servant-leader that is leading well will end up getting hurt. He will have to give his heart to the care of those around him in way that he will inevitably experience the sting of betrayal, the shame of mockery, or the loneliness of abandonment. In his passion to serve, he will almost always be harmed because the very people he is fighting for will resist, disregard, or sabotage the process.

Conflict is a part of all relationships, and navigating the waters of conflict is much of the work of leadership. Sometimes conflict is friendly and constructive and other times it is hostile and destructive. The pain of conflict takes its toll on relationships, and in the process a leader and those he serves can become hurt, angry, sad, afraid, and ashamed.

This is why forgiveness is such an essential thread in the tapestry of servant leadership. If a leader is unwilling to offer forgiveness and seek forgiveness with those he is committed to serving, he will begin to carry resentments. In this bitterness there is no chance for relationship because the possibility of reconciliation becomes a pipe dream, and the ability to trust wanes.

You see, the most humble and brave thing a leader can do is not just openly clean up his messes and to share responsibility with others. The most humble and brave thing a leader will ever do is forgive others for the mistakes they have made and seek forgiveness for his own.

To lead well, one must forgive, but forgiveness requires the bravery to risk and humility to recognize oneself as a wrong doer. In forgiveness we recognize the way things really are, complete with all the hurt, dysfunction, anger, and contempt, and we risk moving beyond current circumstances and not carrying the past into the future. At its core, forgiveness is the willingness to cancel a debt in order to open a door for the opportunity for restoration.

Without forgiveness the leader’s vision becomes clouded by past events, and his capacity to hope and cast vision evaporates. Without forgiveness there is no future. In this way, forgiveness is often the mechanism that unleashes the talent and energy of those being led to realize their potential because it demonstrates a level of trust and lets them be free to risk being more of themselves.

When these three things are present (Humility, Bravery, and Forgiveness), a leader becomes propelled toward maximum service for others and others toward maximum service of each other. The leader and those he leads come to a place where classifications become fuzzy and where the structure of hierarchy dissolves. They begin to encounter each other as equals, they posses deep mutual respect, they develop a sense of trust and community, and they all share power in the decision-making.

See Also

Here is how all of this plays itself out together.

• Humility King Love

• Bravery Prophet Hope

• Forgiveness Priest Faith

What a picture to live into at work and at home and everywhere in between!

So many men within our culture abuse the use of power. The abuse of power isn’t leadership at all—it’s reckless and dangerous. Too many men, especially Christian men, have abused that power and done so in the name of God. They have justified exercising power over someone without attention to their true calling—the calling we have as husbands, and fathers, and friends, to love and lay down our lives as Christ did for his bride, the Church. This is the art of servant leadership.

Servant leadership differs from other styles of leadership by shunning a top-down style, and instead emphasizes humility, bravery, and forgiveness, At it’s heart, servant leadership requires that we make a conscious serve better, not because we desire power, but because we long for other to realize their God created potential in Christ.

In his mercy,

Stephen

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