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The MYTH of Leadership

Subconsciously, I held this erroneous view of leadership for a long time.

Although I read everything John Maxwell wrote, as well as dozens of other leadership books, deep down I believed that to lead I needed authority. I could only exercise the skills I’d learned if I had the right position from which to lead.

As I moved up the positional ladder, I exerted control through authority. I thought I was leading, but all I was really doing was treating people like 3-year-olds. Inside, I longed for more authority, a higher position, so I could exercise more leadership.

I understand how this blind spot about leadership becomes destructive.

Over the past few years, I’ve finally come to understand that leadership, the kind of leadership Jesus demonstrated, is influence that flows from relationship.

Growing as a leader isn’t about exerting more control from a higher position, growing as a leader is experiencing more influence through deeper relationships. As a leader matures, control and authority fade.

People follow not because they are have to, they follow because they know their leader loves them, listens to them and wants to see them become the fully developed person God created them to be. They follow because they know the primary goal of their leader is to serve.

After three years leading a group of 12 men, Jesus had a choice; he could exert his authority as God to force these followers to execute his vision, or he could get down on his knees and wash their feet:

“Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.” John 13:3-5 (NLT)

As pastors (and spouses, parents, managers and coaches), we live as though Jesus’ model of leadership doesn’t apply to us.

We control, we dictate and we require rather than serve. Outwardly, we agree that leadership is influence flowing from relationship, but internally we believe leadership is control flowing from authority. That is why followers are fearful, wounded and bitter, and elders ask successful pastors to step away from the church they love.

What are the implications of Jesus’ model of leadership?

Here are a few ideas on applying relational leadership to our everyday situation:

  • An org chart doesn’t make a leader.
  • You don’t need more authority to lead at a higher level.
  • If you want to grow as a leader, invest in relationships.
  • The ultimate test of a leader’s heart is how well he serves his followers.
  • Growth doesn’t always equal health; nothing grows faster than weeds.

What about you, do you lean more toward leadership from position or leadership from relationship?  

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Geoff has served on the leadership teams at Seacoast Church and Saddleback Church, and as Managing Director of Exponential. He is the author of several books, including Together: A Guide for Couples in Ministry written with his wife Sherry. Along with writing, Geoff coaches churches and leaders around the U.S. and in Europe. Geoff lives in Denver, Colorado. Twitter: @geoffsurratt