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Position or Power?

November 11, 2004

In one of my all-time favorite movie scenes, Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart sums up real leadership while addressing the self-centered cowardly Scottish nobles: “You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position.  I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom.” Position or people? What is the focus of healthy leadership?

Only Jesus had a better description of leadership when he said: Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all (Mark 10:43,44). Should the people serve the leaders? Or, should the leaders serve the people? That is the question we all must ask ourselves about our motive for leadership.

I think some of those ancient Scottish nobles would have fit in perfectly with some of Jesus’ position-hungry disciples. James and John had the gall to make the most absurd request ever: Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask (Mark 10:35). Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Aren’t we supposed to do whatever He asks us to do? 

They went on to say, Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory (Mark 10:37). They wanted positions on His right and left, positions “in glory.” Unfortunately gory, rather than glory, is often a more apt description of leadership in the real world. 

When the disciples asked Jesus for position and titles, glory and recognition, authority and power, they showed that they completely misunderstood leadership. This prompted Jesus to try, once again, to explain the heart of leadership: For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

If not position, power, and glory, what then is real leadership?

Real leadership is influence, not position.
Some of history’s greatest leaders lead without official positions or titles.  Consider the following.

– David had no crown or throne, only a harp and sling, yet the people followed him, not King Saul (2 Samuel 5:1-3).

– Nelson Mandela freed South Africa from Apartheid with no title and no position. While his body was wasting away in a prison cell for twenty-seven years, his ideas were taking down a seemingly invincible government.

– Ghandi had no title and no authority, yet despite being incarcerated four times, his influence crushed the British Empire and freed India.

– Ninoy Aquino was in a Philippine prison for seven years, then in exile; all the while, his influence brought an end to the Marcos regime, though he held no official position, authority, or title.

– Jimmy Carter left politics in humiliation in 1980. The US economy was in shambles, the embassy in Iran was held hostage, and he suffered one of the worst defeats in US presidential history. For the next twenty years, he served his way back to a place of influence by building houses for the poor through Habitat for Humanity. Some say he is more respected and influential today than when he was in office.

– William Wallace, not the titled and landed nobles, led the Scotts in their fight for freedom from the English. His leadership lesson to the Scottish noble says it all: “Your title gives you claim to the throne of our country, but men don't follow titles, they follow courage.”

This list could go on and on, but space does not permit. Real leadership is influence with or without a title. 
 
Real leadership is service, not glory.
The disciples didn’t want to serve people; they wanted to sit in glory. But real leadership is not about the leader getting a plaque, a standing ovation, or some kind of temporal glory. It’s about service.

In 1970, when AT&T executive and future Harvard lecturer Robert Greenleaf published his leadership essay, “The Servant as Leader,” it was heralded as a new and radical management and leadership concept. Radical, maybe. New? Not if you consider 2,000 years old to be new.

Servant leadership is what Jesus was trying to get his disciples to grasp. (See Mark 10:43-45.) D.L. Moody, 150 years before Greenleaf, got it when he said: “The measure of a man is not how many servants he has, but how many men he serves.” 

Real leadership is guidance, not authority.
While the disciples did not specifically ask for authority, Jesus knew their heart and addressed the authority issue anyway, telling them that the pagan gentile leaders exercise authority over them (Mark 10:42).

Authority over people—that is exactly how many people view leadership. Jesus went on to address this type of authority trip disguised as leadership by saying: Not so with you. Whoever wants to become great must be your servant (Mark 10:43).

Leadership is more about guiding than demanding. Guides go first and set an example for others to follow. They do not push, pull, or drag. They simply lead.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  Mark 10:45

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