Refocusing on Jesus’ Leadership Model

By way of introduction let’s spend a few moments reflecting on what we’ve learned about leadership.

  • Take a Moment
    • List the key points that you have learned so far about leadership modelled on Jesus.

Hopefully you will recall Mark 10:42-45. Jesus explained to the disciples that, in the Kingdom, a servant heart was key to leadership. It was not appropriate to use power and status to one’s own advantage and lord it over others. He cited his own example of servanthood as the model for the disciples.

Jesus is called the Servant King because at the heart of his character is servanthood and his servant heart shows in all he does. Paul’s hymn to the sacrificial servanthood of Christ (Philippians 2:5-11) highlights Christ’s servant character, a character that is to mature in all Christians and work out in the leadership style of Christian leaders. In this way they are called to be Christ-centred servant leaders modelled on the character of Jesus Christ. This character will be concerned about enabling and growing others to fulfil their potential in serving God; to be the people he has called them to be.

Consequently we see that Christian leadership:

  •  Possesses a Christ-centred character

As we have just reminded ourselves, it is the maturing character of Christ that is to work out of the heart of the Christian leader. It is a character that is concerned for others; that is those whom we lead.

  • Stands on God-centred Biblical values

That means that the Christian leader’s values are to be Kingdom values, not secular or worldly values, and our view of Kingdom values is to be informed by the Bible. Thus leadership practices must be godly and be consistent with and challenged by Biblical principles and values.

  • Is filled with God-given wisdom

When it comes to it, the way the world works and thinks is not to be the model for any Christian let alone a Christian leader. We need God’s wisdom not the world’s as we seek to lead others in their service of him. Through James, God promises his wisdom to those who ask for it (James 1:5). He knows we lack wisdom and so he promises it without finding fault.

  • Is fuelled  by a Spirit-led Servant Heart

We are challenged to attain maturity to the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). This maturity, whilst needing our cooperation, can only come about through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Our growth into the servant heart of Christ must be led by the Holy Spirit who works out the power of God in us.

The Christ-centred servant leader:

  • Serves those who are led

It is not about self but about collaboratively working with others to complete a journey with a shared goal. The leader is the one who serves others, those he leads, facilitating their achievement and the fulfilment of their journey.

  • Nurtures others to achieve full potential

The servant leader not only facilitates the achievement of others but nurtures them so that they may grow and mature, becoming able to achieve greater accomplishments next time. Not primarily for the benefit of the organisation but for the fulfilment of those whom he leads.

  • Serves a higher/common purpose

From the perspective of the Kingdom we are about fulfilling God’s plans and purposes. The Bible gives us the broad, big picture view of these. The specific works and goals we are called to are to be about serving God by doing his things his way. This purpose is common to the leader and those he leads and it is this shared higher purpose to which they are committed and which binds them together.

  • Inspires others to commit to the journey

Leadership is about taking people on a journey to achieve a goal, a shared vision of the future. It is the leader who is responsible for inspiring them to embark upon this journey and enabling them to reach its end.

  • Grows servant leaders

The Christ-centred servant leader nurtures those whom they lead to fulfil their potential not only in their technical skills but as servant leaders. There may only be a few who are formally appointed leaders but everyone becomes a leader at some point, even if it’s “only”  looking after the newcomer. A goal of the servant leader is to shape the formal or informal leaders under his care to mature as servant leaders.

Leaders Lead Teams

Leaders lead people, and in most cases these people are formed into teams.  In the next part of this module – Leading Teams with a Servant Heart – we will look at teams in more detail but for now we need to sketch out the characteristics of a really effective team. This will give us a setting for our consideration of the practices of exemplary leadership.

Leadership quality is important because global studies of hundreds of organisations and tens of thousands of staff members show that team performance is not so much dependent upon the team members as the leader. The most exemplary and effective leaders achieve the highest level of commitment and thus performance from their teams. Independently of the team skill level, the least effective leaders have the poorest levels of commitment from their teams.

Studies on 50 companies with over 110,000 respondents reported by Zenger and Folkman in 2007 showed that the top 10% of leaders, in terms of leadership effectiveness, had teams who ranked a commitment level of 75%. Whereas, the teams of the lowest 10% of leaders scored just over a 20% commitment level.

Levels of commitment are directly related to individual and team effectiveness.  Levels of commitment are about how much the individual cares about the organisation to which they belong.  If one’s sense of commitment is only 2 out of 10 then there is a significant lack of care about the organisation, colleagues and clients.  By way of illustration, the Sears organisation showed that a 5% improvement in commitment resulted in a 1.3% improvement in customer satisfaction and a 0.5% increase in store sales.

What Teams Need

Pat McMillan[1] identifies the following elements that are required by an effective team and it is the leader’s responsibility to nurture these characteristics.

  • Common Purpose

The members of a team must have all bought-in to the vision and purpose of the team. It’s the reason they are cooperating with each other.

  • Crystal Clear Roles

Each team member needs a well-defined role and everyone in the team needs to clearly understand the roles of each team member.

  • Accepted Leadership

Team members must buy-in to and voluntarily accept the leadership of the leader.

  • Effective Team Processes

The team must have well defined process for how its members work together to ensure that they collaborate effectively.

  • Solid Relationships

There needs to be good, sound relationships between team members, built on trust so they can work well on the “good days” and overcome the “bad days”.

  • Effective Communications

Communication is the essential oil that lubricates the workings of a team. If it fails the team will seize up.

It is these six elements that bind an effective team together. Ensuring they are in place and operating is a key responsibility of the leader. To this end he needs to take practical steps and adopt essential practices. These we will explore in the next lesson, Leading Teams with a Servant Heart,  but first we will look at what a team needs from their leader and we will contrast authoritarian/traditional leadership attitudes – referred to as Theory X – with a more enlightened view – Theory Y.

What People Need in a Leader

  • Take a Moment: Consider the people who have been your leaders:
    • What values, personal traits or characteristics did they exhibit that you most admired?
    • Are there any other values, personal traits or characteristics that you hope to find in a leader?  What are they?
    • What values, personal traits or characteristics do you hope never to find in a leader?
    • How do your considerations compare to what you have already learned about leadership in the Kingdom of God?

Since 1987, in their work Kouzes and Posner asked what people looked for, or most admired, in a leader whom they would willingly follow. By 2007 they had asked this of 75,000 individuals from 6 continents (Africa, North America, South America, Asia, Europe and Australia). They found consistently over the years that, regardless of country, the top 4 qualities desired of a leader are:

  • Honesty
  • Being forward-looking
  • Being inspiring
  • Competency


The most important thing that people look for in their leader is honesty. In Kouzes and Posner’s surveys between 80% and 90% of respondents set this as the most important quality. They want to know that their leader is trustworthy. That is: truthful, ethical and principled, they will not lie and they will do what they promise to do. They want to know that the person is worthy of their trust. In some ways this is because the leader’s character becomes a reflection of their character. A dishonest leader hurts the reputation of those that they lead. Dishonesty undermines trust and lost-trust undermines people’s motivation.

Forward Looking

A shade under 75% of respondents set this as the second most sought after quality needed by a leader. In some countries this has an equal footing with honesty while others place it as being more important. This quality is the ability to identify a destination so that people are envisioned to join the journey to that destination. You will recall that we discovered in Reflections on Leadership that leadership is about the journey. People need a purpose, a reason for what they do and they need the leader to help them bring that to reality.


Enthusiasm, energy and positive attitude are inspiring and others catch the inspiration. It helps them be assured that there is meaning and purpose in what they do. This is important to people. Just think for a moment of the punishment that was often meted out to intellectuals in communist dictatorships. They were given the most menial and demeaning jobs with no real purpose in the expectation that this would crush their spirits. The encouragement of a leader is essential in the good times and absolutely vital in the difficult times.


Would you go mountaineering with leader who was not a competent and experienced mountaineer? Probably not. Similarly, in other enterprises the competence of the leader is important to those who would sign up for the journey. They need to be sure that the leader is competent both as leader and to take them where they need to go. As we will discover when we look at teams this does not mean that the leader must be able to do every task. He must, however, be able to call upon the skills of others when needed. No one can do everything. This competence de-risks the journey for those who choose to join.

When looking at the results by country the individual scores change but these are consistently the top 4. Far Eastern countries tend to reverse the order of Honesty and being Forward-Looking. As we look at the exemplary leadership practices you will see that these four attributes are essential characteristics for exemplary leaders.

Spiritual Maturity

Putting all the above characteristics together gives us a definition of what it means for a leader to be credible. However, in the Christian context we must also add spiritual maturity. That is a continual closeness to God and the development of a godly character founded on a Spirit-led, Christ-like servant heart.

A New Paradigm of Leadership

You will recall that in Reflections on Leadership we introduced the comparison between traditional leadership styles and servant leadership. The four qualities identified by Kouzes and Posner could be applied to both so we need to examine the contrast in little more detail, but first a review:

Traditional Leadership

Broadly speaking, traditional leadership, from a western, industrialised point of view at least, manages processes and this tends to be about viewing an organisation as a machine. Therefore, it is about maintaining smooth running, ensuring stability and consistency. It limits what people can do to previously prescribed functions and actions and constrains them to remain within the boundaries that have been set.

Thus leaders tell staff what do, directing their actions according to a “big picture” only they know. This shuts down initiative, because it’s not required. It enforces compliance and causes workers to be protective of their jobs.

Traditional leaders, therefore, need to persuade and convince (sell) people that a change is needed and that it is worthwhile.  Where there is little trust of the leaders it becomes very hard, sometimes impossible to convince staff of anything.

Because only the leader(s) appreciate the overall objectives and it’s their job to “mind the machine”, workers, who have closely defined and limited roles, are never invited to help solve problems or rise to meet challenges. The leader must work it out and hand down the answers and decisions.

Their role of machine minder and repair man means that leaders seek to control exactly what the machine does and with that, their focus is on controlling and supervising the workforce (the human cogs) by the exercise of power, so the machine runs well.

The Servant Leader

The servant leader leads, which is about the journey. They relate to staff and value them as individual people with individual needs. Together they bring about the desired result but the primary focus of the servant leader is that each member realises their full potential.

They consult the team members, listening to them and seeking their views, ideas and insight, thus engaging the collective wisdom of the organisation. Together they work out the solutions to challenges and problems.

The leader facilitates the achievement of the individuals and helps them coordinate their activities to collaboratively achieve the common purpose, which they all share. Everyone has a view of the “big picture”.

The leader tends to coach individuals rather than control them and seeks to release their initiative and creativity because the leader knows he doesn’t have all the answers.

From the Christian, Kingdom perspective, servant leadership is about valuing people and giving them significance as they are recognised as individuals who are called to bring honour to God in the living of every aspect of their lives.

Theory X and Theory Y

Douglas McGregor (1901-1964) was a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, amongst other places). His book The Human Side of Enterprise (1960) had a profound impact on western management theory. He contrasted two management views, Theory X and Theory Y.  Theory X is very much in the Traditional mould, it was the dominant form of industrialised management after the early decades of the 20th century. It assumes that workers are essentially lazy and need to be motivated by a combination of “the carrot and the stick”. Theory Y is very similar to the outlook of servant leadership. It recognises that workers are in reality self-motivated, responsible and intrinsically desire to achieve.  A terrifying Biblical example of a Theory X type attitude is Nebuchadnezzar’s edict that we looked at earlier: worship the golden image, or be thrown into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3). The carrot – stay alive, the stick – be burned alive!

Each theory is based upon a particular set of contrasting assumptions:

What are the assumptions that underpin Theory X?

  • People do not like work and try to avoid it.
  • People do not like work, so managers have to control, coerce, and threaten employees to get them to work toward organisational goals.
  • People prefer to be directed to avoid responsibility, and to want security.
  • People have little ambition.

The assumptions behind Theory Y are:

  • People do not naturally dislike work; work is a natural part of their lives.
  • People are internally motivated to reach objectives to which they are committed.
  • People are committed to goals to the degree that they receive personal rewards[2] when reaching objectives.
  • People will seek and accept responsibilities under favourable conditions.
  • People have the capacity to be innovative in solving organisational problems.
  • People are bright, but under most organisational conditions their potentials are underutilized.


  • Take a Moment: 
    • Imagine yourself into a place where you held to Theory X.  How would you approach the leadership of your staff? Note down in bullet form the style your leadership would take.
    • Now try that exercise for Theory Y

Theory X renders an authoritarian style of management, tightly defining roles, specifying performance and maintains a “prod the cattle” approach to motivation. It sees staff as expendable, interchangeable cogs in the machine and fails to develop their potential. Staff members become disengaged and demotivated and the primary means of motivation will be money. Job satisfaction is an alien concept that does not fit the scheme of things. The inability, lack of capability and poor motivation levels of the work force are ready made excuses for failure. Theory X has the potential to be self fulfilling.

Theory Y is generates a participative style of management. It recognises that work fulfils the vital need for fulfilment and achievement and so people can be self-motivating. Thus it seeks to engage staff and recognises that job satisfaction and fulfilment are key motivators. Also, it understands that staff can contribute to working out how to be more effective. It shows that quality of leadership has much to do with success and failure.


[1] Pat MacMillian is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Triaxia Partners. He has worked with secular and Christian organisations around the world in the area of leadership development and team building practices.

[2] Rewards include non-monetary factors such as  job satisfaction and pleasure in accomplishment.