Leaders Challenge the Process
“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:11&12
Leaders challenge the process in the sense that they are always looking for improvement, looking to do things better. The very nature of Christ-centred servant leadership, as we have seen, challenges traditional, secular views of leadership.
The tendency of natural, sinful man as leader is to be concerned about self, status and power. The character of Christ-centred servant leader seeks a better way that is modelled on Jesus. They exhibit a servant heart that desires that those whom they lead have the opportunity and help to be the best that they can be to God’s glory. Thus, through the focus on others not self, the style and approach of every Christ-centred servant leader challenges the whole leadership process. They seek to be better leaders and to enable others to be better at what they do.
The whole idea of vision and subsequent journey seeks to bring about something different and in that sense it challenges the status quo, how things normally are. Also, the leader will look at how the team are doing and will seek improvements, to make their method better and more fulfilling – more on this when we look at teams.
So on these three points the leader challenges the process, how things are now in order that they may be better in the future.
Seldom is everything so good that no improvement can be made. So the effective leader seeks to identify opportunities for improvement. But recall what we have learned about the “Traditional Leader” model for a moment. They would seek to maintain the status quo because it secures their position but when things need improvement it would be according to their definition of “need”. They would then work out the solution and hand it down by command. It’s in these two places that their power resides. In Matthew 20 Jesus explains to his disciples that the leaders of the gentiles lord it over people and it was not be so with them.
The servant leader encourages innovation by encouraging those he leads to identify areas for improvement and then facilities them to identify and implement the solution. The improvement becomes theirs. With humility he recognises that neither does he have all the answers, nor even the ability to identify all the issues that matter. (We will look more at the process of innovation and creative problem solving latter in the Growing the Servant Heart programme.)
Effective, exemplary leaders also recognise that the trigger and inspiration for improvement can arise from almost anywhere. Consequently they keep an eye out on what is going on around them in order to draw understanding and inspiration. This is sometimes referred to as having “outsight” in addition to insight.
Raising the Bar
This is about encouraging those whom the leader leads to exceed their previous levels of performance that they may go on to achieve their full potential. In this way they raise bar, but it’s done gently, a step at a time and by engaging the people so that they willingly own the challenge, growing in confidence and capability. With that ownership they develop a strong sense of purpose and meaning. Raising the bar too quickly is demotivating just as the traditional style of leadership is demotivating, or at least never draws out the best from anyone.
Experiment and Take Risks
Permission to Fail
It said that innovation is risky and it is. Sometimes it fails but failure properly considered can be turned into a learning experience. Why didn’t it work? What could we have done better? Can we make it work? What can we learn?
For this reason exemplary leaders give people permission to fail. Interestingly, it seems that the overall quality of work improves when this permission is granted and people have a chance to fail. This is because there will be improvement when the process is challenged, even if some of the changes don’t work. Whereas, when failure is punished no improvements are attempted at all.
Failure Can Hurt
Failure can hurt but keeping in mind the vision, the desire for a better future allied by seeing it as a process of learning will help you as a leader to be resilient. As Christians we have God to turn to in order to work things through and seek wisdom. You can also talk with those spiritually mature people that you trust. In fact if you are in that painful place then talking it through with a someone you trust is a good place to start putting it back together.
Big Dream, Small Steps
You must have heard this question and answer:
Q. “How do you eat an elephant?”
A. “One mouthful at a time.”
Actually there is no other way, whether we are seeking to achieve something big or small we can only ever achieve it “one step at a time.”
Thus exemplary leaders will ensure the task is broken down in to a series of achievable steps with measurable goals, clear milestones, understood methods and show how progress can be made “one step at a time.” Of course, not being a traditional leader, the Christ-centred servant leader will collaboratively engage the collective wisdom and skill of his people in working this through so they all own all of the task together.
One Hop at a Time
42 year old Don Bennett of Seattle (USA) had a boating accident. His right leg was severed and the left leg was mangled. Rescue came and he lost the one leg, but the other, despite needing nearly 500 stitches, was saved.
Don did not give up on life and he is quoted as saying. “Since my accident I’ve been very busy. Very busy,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of things as an amputee”. He won medals in amputee downhill skiing. He was the first amputee to climb Mt. Rainier and more.
Mount Rainier is the highest mountain in Washington State in the Cascade Range in the USA, with a summit elevation of 14,411 ft, which is greater than K2 in the Himalayas at 13,189 ft (4,020 m). It has 26 major glaciers and a total of 93 km2 of permanent snowfields and glaciers. The summit is topped by two volcanic craters, each more than 1,000 ft (300 m) in diameter. When asked how he achieved this feat Don said “I imagined myself on top of that mountain a thousand times a day. When I started to climb I said to myself, ‘Anybody can hop from here to there. And I would.” And so Don Bennett accomplished this achievement, keeping his vision in view, one hop at a time. That is how things are achieved.
- Take a Moment: Think on the things that matter to you about the world around you.
- In your heart what would you love to see being different (big or small, near at hand or far away)?
- What would that different future look like?
- What do you know that other people have done that might be an inspiration or guide to you in achieving this vision?
- Who would you need to help you accomplish this?
- “One hop at a time.” – What would the steps be?
- Take a Moment: Recall something you or your team attempted that didn’t work out as you hoped.
- What can you learn from the experience?
- What went wrong?
- What would you do differently?
- Try again, improving how you went about it because of what you have learned?