In accepted leadership we look at leadership from the team’s point of view. This needs to be specifically considered alongside the seven leadership practices that we looked at in The Effective Practices of a Servant Leader and then integrated with the other areas we have studied in the Growing the Servant Heart programme so far. As we shall see, servant leadership, and in our context, Christ-centred servant leadership is the foundation for leading effective teams.

Opening Reflections

Take a Moment

  • Reflecting on the things you have learned about Christ-centred servant leadership, why do teams have leaders?
  • What conditions are necessary for an experienced leader to actually be able to lead his team?
  • Why might a team have more than one leader?

The Volunteer Team

For a moment consider a team in an organisation for which people are paid to work.  The team is give a task and the members are required to perform within their function to accomplish that task. It’s what they are paid to do and doing this requires that they do nothing more than comply with the requirements of those who pay them.  Such a situation, led by compliance, generates acceptable performance but not exceptional performance.

Exceptional performance needs something more that compliance. It arises when team members are committed to the task, whereas compliance arises from one’s contract of employment. Commitment is volunteered because team members have bought in to the goal, the common purpose, and they want to achieve it for themselves as much as for the organisation. They are aligned with the purpose and own it for themselves and thus they volunteer themselves to bring it about.

Volunteers need to be led, they cannot be managed. Management applies to the compliance relationship because it’s about contracts and voluntary efforts cannot be covered by contracts. It is these voluntary efforts that add the extra effectiveness to the team and which deliver exceptional results.

Pat MacMillan puts it this way:

“Volunteers are not “managed” but demand leadership capable of calling out the levels of initiative, and creativity that motivate exceptional levels of both individual and collective performance”[1]

Serving and Empowerment

This volunteer nature of teams means that the members must accept their leader. They voluntarily choose to follow their lead as together they seek to be exceptional. This is far more than contractual compliance, i.e. simply doing what you’re paid to do and stopping there.

As we move beyond compliance we see a mutually dependent relationship develop.  In order to achieve the exceptional performance desired by the team, because they are sold out to the cause, the leader must facilitate their exceptional and creative efforts. This is so that as individuals, and as a team, they can achieve their full potential. To achieve this, the leader must serve the team, they must be a servant leader.

As the leader serves the team and delivers on what the team needs to perform the team members voluntarily give the leader the authority to lead them. They empower him, or her, to be their leader and they choose to follow them. So the team (including the leader) have moved from management by power because of relative positions to leadership by permission and influence.  This is what it means to be an accepted leader. It is an entirely different dynamic and is a hallmark of a servant leader and an effective team. This is the serve/empower circle the more the leader serves the more the team empowers the leader to lead.

Conventionally empowerment is considered to be something that the leader grants to the people he leads. In our context it is also something that the team members grant to the leader. So it becomes a situation of mutual release. The leader is releasing the team members to be the best team members they can be and in turn they release the leader to be the best leader they can be.

The Perspectives of a Team’s Servant Leader

Pat MacMillan summarises the attitudes required of the servant leader who leads a team:

They appreciate the team’s collective wisdom

In the new model of leadership you will recall that the leader doesn’t have to have all the answers. When there is a problem or challenge they call upon the collective wisdom of the team to address the issue. This is because as a team they all own the team’s purpose and this means they all own all of the issues and can contribute to addressing them. This liberates the leader and releases the team’s capability, experience and creativity which is greatly enhanced by the team’s diversity.

They recognise the contribution of diversity

Different people with different skills, different backgrounds, different experience, and different outlooks bring power to a team. Not only do they bring their functional and technical talents to the team but together their difference allow them to find better and innovative ways of working together and solving challenges.  Such diversity can also cause conflict and so the leader will seek to release its benefits whilst keeping it focused on the team’s common and shared purpose.

They understand that leadership is a role not a position

As we saw in Exploring Leadership in the Kingdom, this leads straight from the Christ-centred servant leader’s character. The voluntary nature of the team draws the leader and their team closer together because they are committed to a common cause. As the leader is accepted by the team, the divisions blur and they all become the team. The leader releases team members so they can achieve their best individually and collectively while the team empowers the leader to be their leader.  Thus the leader is better able to serve their team.

The servant heart is the most crucial dimension in leadership in the Kingdom as we discovered in the module Exploring Leadership in the Kingdom.

They see leadership and power as something to be released and shared

The servant leader recognises that creativity, energy, initiative and indeed leadership are attributes of every team member. His goal is to release the individual members of the team so that they can perform to the highest possible level. This is the new model of leadership at work.

As we discussed earlier in the programme, the leader gets to know his people; their strengths, weaknesses, preferences, joys and dislikes so that he knows how to release them to achieve.  Such a leader will not allow his position and status to get in the way, blocking the team’s achievement. They all own the common purpose.

The diversity of the team means that its members have a range of expertise and specialisms. Thus, for any given task one member may have greater insight, experience and understanding than the others, including the team leader. Consequently the most suited member, the one with expertise in this area, would be allowed to take the lead for that issue or task. In such a team an external observer can find it hard to identify the team leader because leadership flows between its members as necessary.

They understand the balance of the needs of the task and the needs of the team

Achievement of the task is what the team is about but the wise leader will not allow this to dominate at the expense of needs of the team members. Just as without the task the team would not exist, without the team the task cannot be achieved. The servant leader will manage the tension between these factors and account for both, neglecting neither.

The Team Leader’s Role

In the previous section we considered the issue of team roles. So now it’s time to look at the role of the team leader. These are directly in line with all that we have learned about leadership so far.

Set and Maintain the Direction

It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that the team has a clear direction, which the team members understand and so buy-in to the journey’s destination. The leader does not have to be the originator but they need to ensure there is a clear purpose owned by the team. In fact, as we have observed, the team will have greatest ownership when they have been able to devise how they express the team’s destination, its purpose.

When storms strike the team, the leader will make sure they keep their direction in view. They recognise when mid-course corrections are needed and negotiate the changes with team and those who commissioned the team.

Manage the Borders

Every team has borders. These are the boundaries with other teams and also with the broader organisation to which they belong. The team leader negotiates with these other entities as needed to enable their team to fulfil its purpose. In more complex situations it means that the team leader must network with others, building ongoing relationships with them. This establishes the foundations of trust that are necessary.

Facilitate the Team

Facilitation is not simply about meetings but enabling the team to make progress, overcoming the challenges that may hinder them. It is about: ensuring that individual team members have what they need and are able to complete their part of the task, bringing the collective wisdom of the team to bear on problems and challenges, resolving conflict and so on. This again means that the leader needs to know his team members.

Negotiate with Others

The leader represents the team to those to whom the team is accountable and those who can provide necessary resources and negotiates their availability.

Coach Team Members

The servant leader seeks to grow the people he leads, working with them to develop skills and overcome problems. We looked at coaching in The Effective Practices of a Servant Leader. In Exploring leadership in the Kingdom we also saw that the leader needs to encourage spiritual growth and maturity.


Take a Moment

  • Reflect upon your team
    • Have your team members moved from being compliant workers to volunteers?
    • If not, what do you think is blocking that growth?
    • If they have, what has brought that about?
  • How can you take the “serve /empower” cycle to the next level in your team?


Take a Moment

  • Review and reflect on the seven practices of a Christ-centred servant leader that we looked at in the last lesson.
  • How would they workout for your team, as you seek to be an accepted leader?


[1] The Performance Factor pp97