As leaders, in a business environment or at home with your children, it’s important that your leadership toolbox is full and robust so that you can access the tools that you need in any given situation. If you’re familiar with the concept of Situational Leadership, then you’ll understand practical application of the “when and how” to apply certain leadership tools. If the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, then your protégés will potentially learn how to lead by responding to your continuous example of anger and rigidity. While we can agree that there are situations when the hammer is required (as your child is chasing the ball towards the traffic-filled street, when a military regiment is required to move quickly, or when a potential safety mishap is to be averted), it is not the preferred tool to be employed in all situations.
Where do we first begin to learn to lead? Sometimes we learn without even knowing that we’re learning. Our parents, guardians, and teachers were our first examples that we learned from and you can take the good attributes from them, and throw away the not-so-good attributes from them. As a leader, I’m continuously evaluating myself for effectiveness and often reflect on what should be intuitive and ask myself simple questions for those that have others within their sphere of care such as parents, pastors, or business leaders. If you call yourself a Christian, and if you have direct or indirect leadership of others, you have to consider the following questions: “How would Jesus lead in this situation?” What does the Servant Leader’s toolbox look like?
“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” Luke 22:24-27 ESV
How important is it to have love in your toolbox? It’s so important, that Jesus highlights this as the greatest over all of the commandments.
“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” Matthew 22:37-40
But how are we to lead others from a position of love? Love compels us to do things that are often out of the ordinary, or are beyond the capacities or expectations of our role. In the business environment, this might pertain to a situation where a person needs to leave work, for one reason or another for what is only revealed as a pressing personal issue. However, the deadline is rapidly approaching and that person is one of the only people that can answer the data call. What do you do? Do you decide that the needs of the business are greater than the needs of the employee, or do you let love lead and excuse the person knowing that the data call will be critically impacted? As a parent, this is easier as we love our children as parents do but as a business leader, this might be an uncomfortable area for you as you learn to love your subordinates. Keep love at the ready in your leadership toolbox and relationships will be deeply rooted in trust and respect, and work productivity can flourish as a result.
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 ESV
2. Lead With (or from) Weakness
We want our subordinates or protégés to see us as confident and strong leaders, exuding qualities and traits from which they can emulate. Any signs of weakness can reduce their respect for you, as they become disappointed as the chinks in your armor are revealed, right? Wrong! Studies have shown that in a work environment, subordinates are more likely to respond to a personable and human boss that can admit and take ownership of his or her mistakes publicly and with humility. This fosters an environment of inclusion and productivity is directly impacted in a positive manner.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV
From the time that we are children, God has blessed us with a natural ability to care for one another, on an internal and often subconscious level. We are all connected through this internal bond that can be associated with the “mother’s instinct” where “mama bear or papa bear” are revealed when their cubs are found to be in dangerous situations. We place ourselves in the paws of our cubs, or the feet of others as we empathize with them in their given situation, whatever that may be.
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Romans 12:9-13
But how are we to lead with empathy? We have deadlines to meet and requirements to uphold. Adults are adults and professionals are expected to carry their own weight. We’re not running daycare centers (well, maybe we are but you get the point). Does empathy and compassion have any room in a production or military environment? Should it? Let’s “take-it-to-the-book” and see what our leadership examples have shown us:
“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45
As we serve others, we’re to do so from a position of empathy, where regardless of the business requirements, establishing and fostering the human element, as with a “family first” regimen, workers are more likely to support the infrastructure and provide quality workmanship and pride in delivered product as a result.
Empathy and sympathy go hand-in-hand. Jesus compels us to address each other’s needs and carry the burdens of others on a personal level. Where we’re stumbling and find ourselves in a position of need, we’re required to help each other through whatever circumstances those may be.
“But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?” John 3:17 ESV
But how are we to lead from a position of sympathy? We can’t be expected to physically help out everybody in our shop through situations of need, can we? Everybody arrives to work with their own sets of struggles that they’re working through, how can I help them all and still be a productive leader?
The answer may be simple, and may not require much time but for the body of the workforce, as leaders we have one crucial sympathetic tool in our toolbox, and that is the power of prayer! Pray for your coworkers, your students, your flock, your soldiers, and your children. With a sympathetic ear, hear their trials and pray for them individually and collectively.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4
The Bible tells us that if we’re to seek with our whole hearts, then we’ll find our answers there, within the text. Wisdom and discernment not only assist us in making critical ethical and moral decisions, but if we rely on wisdom before we react, then our ability to lead others through every situation becomes more predictable, credible, and sustainable.
“Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” Proverbs 3:13-18 ESV
As somebody that serves their followership by leading with wisdom in their toolbox, we then create an environment of approachability and an open forum for creativity and ideas to flow freely through the workplace. This methodology impacts a culture and the work culture that you create through your leadership traits then permeates through all functions and elements of the business, or church, or battleground, or household.
6. Active Listening
Have you ever heard the expression about having two ears and one mouth for a reason? Active listening can aid in your servant leadership attributes by allowing your responses to be in alignment with the needs of the persons or body that you’re serving. Listening is a vitally important tool to have in our leadership toolbox as it’s one of the first things that we’re taught as children. “Pay attention” or “listen to me” are words that I heard often in my early childhood and leadership development. We want our protégés to hear, and practically apply our instructions in order to accomplish tasks. And with that reasoning in mind, we’re to offer them the same benefit by actively listening to their needs, hearing and affirming their circumstances (empathy and/or sympathy), and enacting a course of action to assist in the resolution of their needs.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” James 1:19 ESV
7. Offer Sage Advice
You know what they say about advice and opinions? Everybody has an opinion and with regards to advice, you’ll want to consider the source. As leaders, we are the source! So for those to consider, listen to and follow your advice, you’ll want to establish credibility by lovingly offering sage advice to your employees, soldiers, protégés, or children.
The apostle Paul offers: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29
To have the above tools for your toolbox and the knowledge of each is just one element to the entirety of your leadership strategy. The other elements of your leadership strategy arrive during your “boots-on-ground” real world practical application of tool usage in your work, home, church, or military environments. The ability to incorporate critical thinking skills and discern the tools to employ in dynamic and fluid environments will help to sharpen you as a leader, and benefit greatly those in your charge. Until next time, think of ways where you can be of service to those that you lead.