As wisdom would have it, you cannot be a good leader until you learn to be a good follower!
We’ve all heard the advice: You have to learn to follow before you can lead.
It may be cliché, but it’s also true!
So while I usually write to current business leaders, for just a moment, I’d like to write to you future business leaders—those of you who dream for bigger and better, and yet, find it hard to remain faithful to your “lowly” position as an employee.
A Perspective Problem—A Story from the Bible
I make no apology for the fact that I am a Christian. I bring it up here because there is lots of great biblical wisdom when it comes to business building!
A concept you’ll hear about a lot in some Christian circles is that of “servant leadership.”
Servant leadership is the idea that you lead by serving others well and carrying the load with them, not by bossing them around and demanding them to do the things you feel “above” doing.
This stems from a divine source: Jesus himself.
Jesus was the ultimate servant leader. Just before that final act which would forever cement Jesus of Nazareth in history as the Savior of the world, what did he do?
Washed the feet of his disciples.
That may sound strange to you and me, but in their context, this was considered to be one of the humblest of acts. Only mere servants washed the feet of others.
And yet, Jesus was not merely a servant. He was king. A claim he would demonstrate with his very life.
Now, I realize the life of Jesus is not meant to be an “Introduction to Management” course. To treat it as such would rob it of its divine context and significance.
However, since none of us can be exactly like Christ, it is reasonable to think our goal ought to be to emulate him in the ways we can—those which make sense in our own individual contexts.
The perspective problem is simple then: Most people think leadership is to be above. Jesus’ example demonstrates that true leadership is measured by one’s ability to serve from the bottom.
Serve to Lead Like Jesus
When we serve others well, we create leadership.
Put another way, leadership is not merely positional. You can lead from any position! Even if you don’t feel that is true right now, by implementing a few new daily work-life habits, I think you will find that the idea is sound.
What, then, can we do to create leadership in whatever role we are in?
- Create leadership by being a good listener. This sounds very practical, and it is. When you listen well, you understand what is expected of you. You understand what others have asked you to do, and you take action on their request with speed, integrity, and thoroughness.
- Create leadership by being willing to go beyond. There is nothing worse than an employee who is willing to do only what is in their job description. Such a person may, by mere chance, eventually be in a place of positional leadership, but will never create leadership that is respected by others. Do what others will not. Go and above and beyond the call. Real leaders always do things “below” them, sometimes to their detriment (some have not learned to delegate and take on too much responsibility).
- Create leadership by being a team builder. Are you able to rally others on the team for the “cause” of your company? Most companies start and run to accomplish a need or serve a niche that goes well beyond what lower-level employees are made to understand. I work for lawyers full-time, doing IT and marketing work. It’d be easy to see my role as a mere button turner so that the attorneys can make more money. But the real vision is so much more! As a result of just some of the work we do, families have affordable housing options, entire cities and towns are running on renewable energy sources, and individuals can have confidence their wishes are respected after their death. What we are accomplishing is huge, and I get to be a small part of it! That’s amazing!
Of course, Christ did all of the above. He understood exactly what the Father wanted him to do, and accomplished the goal. He went and beyond by coming to Earth as the lowest of the low and living a life of willing, cheerful, unwavering servitude. He built his team of followers from the ground up!
Literally, he led by example.
If you want to lead a business one day, take this advice to heart. Leadership comes to those who first learn to follow well and create leadership from the bottom, up.
To your success!