Healthy Leaders


The Transformational Power of Leading Like Jesus

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

There are essentially five reasons why people follow someone else, or five kinds of power:

We’ve talked about these in detail here. But let’s zero in on the power with which Jesus led: servant power.

All four of the other kinds of power would have been appropriate and right for Jesus to use.

Instead, He served His followers.

Consider John 13:3-17 – another of the great servanthood passages. We can gain some insights into the true nature of servant leadership from this passage:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28; see also Mark 9:33-35; Matt. 26:35)

Servanthood is not weakness.

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; (John 13:3)

Jesus’ servanthood was not out of personal weakness, but personal strength. He knew who He was in God. He knew He was God. He was very secure in who He was.

Only those who are secure in Christ can exercise true servant leadership. Those who are insecure become dominating and possessive, ambitious and competitive. They intimidate others through their expertise, manipulate them through coercion or reward, or dominate them through position.

Servanthood must be chosen.

… so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. (John 13:4)

Jesus chose this style of leadership. No one made Him do it – no one even expected it!

In reality, few men choose this style of leadership (Phil. 2:20-21). Moreover, servanthood must be chosen daily. It is not a one-time event. We must take up our crosses daily, allowing God to put to death our own agendas and ambitions.

Servant leadership is genuinely selfless.

After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. (John 13:5)

… He knew who was going to betray Him … (John 13:11)

How many pairs of feet did Jesus wash? Twelve! Jesus knew Judas was going to betray Him, yet still washed his feet. This reveals the selfless nature of true leadership. The true Christian leader will not only serve those who can benefit him or who are assured of succeeding in the future. The godly leader will also serve those who he knows will let him down – even those who he knows will stab him in the back! He serves not only the loyal but also the disloyal; not only the strong but also the weak; not only those with great potential but also those without apparent potential.

Servanthood does not mean weakly letting everyone else set the agenda.

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.” (John 13:8)

Jesus’ servanthood did not mean that He gave up being in charge, and just naively let others set His agenda for Him. He was always the leader. Servant leadership is not “people-pleasing” but doing the will of God.

“You call Me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.” (John 13:13)

To be a servant does not mean you don’t lead, but it establishes your motive for leading and your attitude as you do lead. Some think that true servant leadership means that you give up leadership and let others set the course and the agenda. Servant leadership does not mean you give up leadership. It refers to the motive, style and the attitude with which you exercise your leadership. You must lead, but you must lead as one who serves.

The Characteristics of Servant Leadership

The following are some essential and biblical characteristics of servant leadership:

The first four kinds of power (coercive, reward, positional and expert) all involve exchanges of some kind. But the final kind of power does not involve any exchange. Servant power is transformational power.

Transformational leaders understand and attempt to meet the tangible needs of their followers, but they go beyond the mere exchange process by empowering and inspiring their followers to fulfill their highest potentials in the calling and purposes of God. Thus, while it is more complex than transactional leadership, transformational servant leadership is considerably more potent.

The servant leader’s goal is that the highest potential of the people be fulfilled. Will you seek to be like Jesus, and lead your followers this way – with a servant’s heart?

Are you interested in writing for Head on over to our Write for Us page to submit an article!