No, that’s your name. Let’s try again.
Who are you?
You’re already answering that question with what you say, how you spend your time, how you spend your money, how you relate to other people, and how your emotions are triggered. But let’s look a little deeper.
Who. Not what are you, but who? I was scrolling through LinkedIn the other day and was fascinated by the “what” language people used to describe themselves. Of course, there are the standard job titles such as Senior Loan Officer and Whatever Bank. But then there are the more creative types like, “Thinker, Writer, Philanthropist,” “Dreamer,” and “Solution Architect.”
Sorta made me want to come up with my own list. Recliner tester. Dog herder. APA Policeman (if you have to ask what APA is, never mind). I don’t think I’ll list any of those, however. There is a difference between what you do and who you are.
Are. Not were or will be. Who are you? What do today’s reactions, actions, innermost thoughts or words suggest about how you see yourself?
You. Not somebody else. Not the somebody you’re aspiring to be, pretending to be, or running away from. The real you, when nobody else is looking but God. The you that may very well be like a whole lot of people, but the you that is also uniquely different.
What Does This Have to Do With Leadership?
Everything. You will always seek to influence people or teams or entire organizations from a framework of how you see yourself. And no less of a leader than Jesus Christ demonstrated that beautifully. In John’s gospel, Jesus revealed Himself as the bread of life, the light of the world, the door, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth and the life, and the vine.
But these were more than Jesus’ version of a LinkedIn profile. He lived and led with complete integrity. And nowhere was this more starkly revealed than in that stunning scene just before His crucifixion, when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. Just prior to that, John gives an interesting description:
Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father…. Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself (John 13:1-4, NET).
How did Jesus see himself? Identity for Him was a convergence of:
- mission (He knew why He was sent),
- relation (He knew who sent Him),
- communication (He revealed the heart of His Father),
- and destiny (He was rightful heir to all things).
That’s what leader identity is – the lens through which you understand your purpose, relationships, communication, and vision for the future.
What Does Any of That Have to Do with Serving?
Look at that list again. Doesn’t that look like leadership and authority? Isn’t that what leaders do? Wouldn’t you be humbled and gratified if, when somebody described your leadership they used words like that? Why then did Jesus, fully aware of who He was as being sent from God, get up and wash the disciples’ feet?
Simply put, Jesus had everything to reveal, but nothing to prove. He was gloriously free to be Himself and not a copycat of the local religious scene. In great confidence, He served his disciples, fully aware of who He was.
This is one of the moments of truth in anybody’s leadership – Are you confident enough in who you are to serve boldly? Or do you need your followers to somehow remind you (and be reminded) that you’re the boss?
Throughout the demonstration of his identity, Jesus displayed a confident, peaceful awareness of who He was, who sent Him, what His purpose was, and where He was going. He didn’t need to wash the disciples’ feet. He did not need to serve. He served because his followers had a need.
By the way, didn’t He have more important matters to attend to? After all, He was about to “go back to His Father” – John’s (literal) euphemism of what lay in front of Jesus. Who cares about dirty feet when they’re about to vacate the planet? Only the One who was secure enough in His identity to attend to the lowest needs of his team.
As leaders who want to follow in His footsteps, we need to figure out how Jesus was equally at home with the exercise of power and the humility of servanthood. Jesus was just as comfortable with a basin of water and a towel as He was walking on water in a storm. I think the key is detachment. Leaders have both power and opportunities for service. But you don’t need either to prove who you are.
Everything to reveal. Nothing to prove.
Meanwhile, Back in the Tower
Compare that image of servant leadership with insecure people in places of authority. There you’ll find them clinging to position and authority as if it were their only lifeline. Egotism runs rampant among such people, and it’s open season on who can be the biggest celebrity or stand on the tallest pedestal. They find their security in being the center of attention and perpetuating their grip on power, using whatever means they find necessary to achieve numerical and material success.
Does that sound like anybody you know? Please tell me it doesn’t sound like you.
As I’m sure you know, being a leader in a religious organization doesn’t make you exempt from that kind of power-mongering. Remember how Jesus described the scribes and Pharisees – the power hoarders of the day? They were unwilling to lift a finger to meet a need. They did all they did to be noticed by men. They loved the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues. They insisted on being called by respectful titles in public.
I’m having déjà vu all over again.
At any given time, you are capable of seeing yourself and your leadership role in one of two extremes, or maybe somewhere in-between. At one extreme is servant confidence – the complete security to serve without pretense, self-justification, or self-protection. And the other extreme is insecurity – the pride and fear of losing control that prompts you to protect your position at all cost.
The higher your place of authority, the more confident you have to be in your personal sense of purpose, relationships, communication, and vision in order to serve utterly. Position seekers, image manipulators, and disciples jockeying for places at the head of the table need not apply.
If you’ve read this far, I know you’re strong enough to lead the charge. My question is, are you secure enough to grab a towel?
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