When it comes to leadership, being your authentic self is essential. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. The world needs you to show up fully as you, because you’re one of a kind and have something to give that no one else can. However, if you are anything like me, at some point in your leadership journey you will have asked yourself this: I feel like I’m a mess, are they sure that putting me in charge is a good idea?
Luckily, I’m not the first person to have had doubts in my own abilities. When God asked Moses to lead, his response was, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11) Jeremiah’s response to God is even better, “I do not know how to speak, I am too young.” (Jeremiah 1:6). Every time I have stepped into a position of leadership, I’ve felt out of my depth – unqualified and inexperienced. The truth is we all are.
God’s response to Moses and Jeremiah wasn’t, “You’re the bomb Moses! Of course you can lead” or “No Jeremiah, you are in fact a talented speaker despite your age.” His response is, “I will be with you. I have a purpose for you.” He makes no attempts of assuaging our insecurities, in fact He says they will bring Him more glory! But He makes certain that we know what our identity is. This is a non-negotiable for the Father, He wants His children to know His love and know Who they belong to. His qualifications make up for our lack. In the realization of our inability to do it on our own, we become more dependent on Him which keeps drawing us back into relationship, which is what the Father has wanted all along anyway.
I feel like I’m a mess, are they sure that putting me in charge is a good idea?
Leadership can often become the magnifying glass to all of the hidden insecurities that have simmered under the surface, those things less visible that have been lurking behind the smoke screens of our defense mechanisms.
Fear of man?… Oh hey, I didn’t see you there!
Fear of failure?… Have you really been there all along?
Pride?… Wait, so the world doesn’t revolve around me?!
Because of this magnification effect, we need to be secure of our identities in Christ in order to serve others really well through our leadership. We need to settle our worth in the secret place, find our significance and purpose in our heavenly Father. We need to know that we’re part of the family, that we’re loved sons and daughters.
In other words, we need God to continually wash His Father’s words of affection and affirmation over us. We need to first be secure if we really desire to see others run further than us and look better than us and receive the praise that we didn’t. We need to be secure if we hope to add value where we serve and to see others celebrated. We need to be secure so we’re not unhealthily obsessed with being recognised, thanked or seen. Melissa Helser says it this way, “If our hearts are not marked with the Father’s pleasure, we will strive for His approval when we already have it.”
God is always reminding us that He is more concerned with what is going on inside our hearts, than with our external behaviour or performance.
We have to be secure in knowing that God is enough aside from leadership positions and titles and accomplishments. It helps keep our motivations pure. The motivation to serve others needs to be checked all the time. God is always reminding us that He is more concerned with what is going on inside our hearts, than with our external behaviour or performance. We need to ask ourselves, am I serving because I want to receive something in return or am I serving because it is a joy and privilege to honour and love others well? Paul writes in Galatians 1:10, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
For many years, I believed the false narrative that leadership was the top rung of a ladder and we all had to climb our way up there. The trouble with ladders is that you can usually only have one person on them at a time. The downward mobility of Christ’s leadership is demonstrated to us in this, the further along in His ministry He got, the more He kept climbing down the proverbial ladder.
In His upside down kingdom, down is up. He stepped down from heaven to clothe Himself in flesh. He stepped down for thirty years to serve his earthly father Joseph. The one who needed no forgiveness of sins humbled Himself to be baptised in order to fulfil the scriptures.
At the Last Supper, He knelt down to wash the feet of His disciples. And finally He lay down His life to die a shameful death on a cross and was lain in a borrowed tomb, as the perfect and ultimate sacrifice for our sins. Through this level of serving, He is then resurrected in glory and made a way for all of us to be reconciled to the Father.
In God’s kingdom, the last will be first, the least will be greatest. Jesus never relied on His position to gain the respect of those who followed Him. He consistently went after people’s hearts, loving and serving them extravagantly. Nelson Mandela describes servant leadership in this way, “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”
Another incredible leader was John Wooden, the University of California, Los Angeles basketball coach who led the team to win 10 national championships, 7 of which were straight in a row. He said, “For sixteen years, I helped our managers sweep and mop the floor every day before practice because of the dust stirred up from the other activities.” He served by example, demonstrating a level of security in his own leadership. He was also consistently reminding his players to, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
I hate to break it to you, but we don’t get to graduate from being servants. Servant leadership refuses to rest on this idea of a position but desires to empower and serve others from a place of security. If you want to be like Jesus, it’s about lowering yourself. Leaders are good team players. They are just as ready to lead as they are to follow and all of this comes from a place of security in their identity as loved sons and daughters.
This post is part of a three-part series of reflections from Lizete on leadership. You can see them all right here.