Time was when the leaders we looked up to were mega-men and women. Great military officers, heads of government, business magnates - these were the types we often admired from afar.
Yet, today, experts say, the most influential leaders are more apt to be just around the corner. Or down the block. Or in your own home. They're people like teachers, nurses, Scout leaders, ministers, priests, moms, dads, grandparents, co-workers. "People feel they can admit to seeing inspiring stories in ordinary people," says British Industrial Society expert Jenny Davenport. "It's inspiration on a very local level," concurs Maher Tampoe of Henley Management College ("Local heroes win our respect," The Times [London], Jan. 26, 1998).
Along the same line, well-known American management consultant Stephen R. Covey says the most effective leaders in today's world are humble. Humble enough to believe in principles beyond themselves - principles like "fairness, service, equity, justice, integrity, honesty and trust." Humble enough to serve the people they lead. "Life is a mission, not a career," says Covey ("The Second Annual Worldwide Lessons in Leadership Series," Oct. 23-24, 1997).
So this emerging concept of leadership isn't about power or influence or money. It's about quality. It's about humility and principles and service. These things don't depend on where you are on the corporate ladder. They don't depend on whether you're an executive or a farmer or a plumber or a homemaker or a soup kitchen volunteer. Instead, they have everything to do with what's in your heart.
This concept of leadership might be relatively new to management textbooks, but it's not really new. It's been around at least as long as the Bible. Christ talked about this sort of leadership the night before his crucifixion.
His 12 disciples were having their final supper with him. At one point, they began arguing about which one of them was most important (see Luke 22:14-27). As one Bible commentary observes, apparently none of the disciples would serve the meal, because that might make them look "inferior" (see J. R. Dummelow, "A Commentary on the Holy Bible," pg. 797). So their Master himself showed them the spiritual power of serving one another. Jesus washed the disciples' feet. And dried them off with his own towel.
The disciples were dumbfounded. Only slaves washed feet! But Jesus explained it all so simply, so meekly. "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet," he said (John 13:14). It is an unforgettable example of leadership through service.
Mary Baker Eddy said something similar. "The true leader of a true cause is the unacknowledged servant of mankind," she wrote. "Stationary in the background, this individual is doing the work that nobody else can or will do" ("Miscellaneous Writings," pg. 266).
How can you or I learn to feel such humility, such caring? By following Jesus' example - through humbling ourselves before God. Through letting His love, truth, justice, and creativity become laws to us. Laws that define our very lives. Laws that tell us what to think and say and do, every moment of every day.
Leading through following. It may sound contradictory. But not really. It's just a matter of realizing that God is the real cause of anything good we could ever accomplish. Asking God to help us serve other people well is valid prayer.
Some people pray this way consciously. Others do it without calling it "prayer." Sometimes in ways that seem almost insignificant. Like the plumber who fixed the emergency leak in my kitchen. Within minutes, he figured out a way to correct the problem easily - and very cheaply. I told him I was surprised at how small his bill was. He smiled. "I wouldn't want to charge you any more than I have to," he said. To me, this man was a Covey-style leader. He followed his principles. He was fair-minded, trustworthy, and committed to giving his customers good service.
Home-style heroes like these are all around. That's because God is all around. Each one of His children is naturally a hero at heart.