What is a leader and what are the expectations of a leader? Is it someone who provides structure and guidance? Do leaders listen to their subordinates’ concerns? Do they do the task at hand and lead by example? These are all important qualities of a leader, but is it possible to achieve all of these? It feels like an intense and unrealistic expectation.
But isn’t that the whole point? Being a leader is a demanding responsibility. People look up to leaders and aspire to be like them. Leaders are put into positions because they understand the group’s goals, they are exceptional in lower positions or they have excellent action-plan skills. It is supposed to be challenging to be a leader. It is not supposed to be a “cakewalk.” It is supposed to be hard and demanding.
But why mention leadership and the qualities of a leader? Since the rise of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, I have been amazed by Ukraine’s president – Volydymyr Zelensky. The New Yorker reported that prior to the start of the Russian invasion, critics around the world were not confident in Zelensky. Critics did not think Zelensky was going to be able to stand up against Russia.
Some of these criticisms are mostly due to the fact that Zelensky is not a career politician. The New York Times wrote that Zelensky, prior to being elected president, played a president on a comedy show that mocked politicians. However, after one of the comments he made on his show, Ukranians immediately started to favor Zelensky. Before he knew it, Zelensky was President Zelensky.
During the early stages of the Russian invasion, many media outlets reported that Zelensky had fled Ukraine. However, Zelensky quickly combated these reports and released a video where he shares that he will fight for Ukraine, not flee it.
In this video, Zelensky’s eyes are bloodshot and he looks exhausted. Zelensky, despite being warned to flee and let his military handle the invasion themselves, stayed in his country to fight. Zelensky is leading by wearing his military’s uniform and fighting the Russian troops. I find this remarkable.
A president of a country, getting his hands dirty, risking his life to fight for his people. This is a leader. Leader’s inspire their followers by doing the task. They bring motivation, direction and morale. A good leader, no, a fantastic leader, is a servant leader. Servant leaders say, “do as I do.” and lead by example.
And, this idea, this concept of servant leadership, is biblical. Jesus was the servant leader. He never distributed directions and then sat on the side to watch. He got his hands dirty and led by example. Jesus not only called us to be better individuals, but his actions showed us how to live it out.
He calls us to deny ourselves, love others and to walk humbly. Jesus’s ultimate act of leadership was when he sacrificed his life and died for all of us. Leader’s do not just say, they do.
Martin Luther King is another example of servant leadership. He called out injustices and his actions showed others how to be fair. In fact, MLK took the teachings of Jesus and applied them to his fight for equality. He taught that we ought to love our neighbors and our enemies. Despite experiencing animosity and hatred, MLK continued to love those that opposed him. By doing this, he led his followers to love others too.
But why share about these three servant leaders? Servant leaders are needed now more than ever. In a time where people are divided and unwilling to waiver, we need individuals to step up and close the gap. Jesus, Zelenky and MLK are some examples of individuals putting themselves aside and serving others.
Jesus inspired a revolution, MLK shook the status quo and Zelensky is fighting for his country. Being a leader is not supposed to be easy. The things these men have done are nowhere near easy. Jesus took the death penalty so all of us could live. That alone should encourage us to stand up and continue Jesus’ message.
Today, let’s stand up and put the differences aside. Let’s turn the other cheek and work on loving our neighbor. Because for one thing, if everyone works on denying themselves and serving their neighbor, there would be a lot less violence and a whole lot more peace. It is a big ask, maybe even an impossible one. But if you can, take the initiative and lead by example. You will make a much stronger impression than if you sit back and remain silent.
Sources: The New York, The New York Times