Henri Nouwen famously said that “Downward mobility is the divine way, the way of the cross, the way of Christ.” I have often wondered what this would mean for a leader. What would it look like for leader leave behind the pursuits of power, prestige, and position and to instead desire downward mobility? How would a leader forego acclaim, achievement, and accolades to pursue the sort of downward mobility Nouwen speaks of?
These sorts of questions germinated in my mind and soul and grew the idea that the way to becoming “more” is to choose the path of “less.” The way down is the way up for a leader.
The leader who pursues downward mobility, servanthood and humility is a leader who recognizes that the pursuit of more ends in emptiness and self-absorption, but the pursuit of less is the path to becoming more of who you were meant to be, to become more like Christ.
Matthew writes, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.
It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” Can we as leaders be content with being like Christ, not higher than him? We see the fruit of this temptation all around us as leaders pursue the fruit of fleshly and worldly power.
John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Here is a leader who understood that that downward mobility as a leader was his call and desire. Paul writing to the Philippian church cautioned them to, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” This was Paul’s call to less— less of ourselves, less of our ambition, less of our pride, less of our flesh and strength.
So, in honor of 2017 being the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, consider this my leadership version of Luther’s “95 Theses.”
I give you L.E.S.S. Leadership: 80 Steps Down
L-Leadership Truth & Desires
S-Leadership Practices and Postures
S-Leadership Roles & Realities
Part 1: Leadership Truth and Leadership Desires
LESS Leaders are leaders under the Lordship of Christ. Everything about a LESS leader begins with this truth. LESS leaders and people under authority. Before they ever exert one ounce of power or direction over another, they understand they are first under the jurisdiction and lordship of Jesus.
Many leaders ask, “What do I want to do?”
LESS Leaders ask, “What have I been called and commissioned to do?”
A Poor leader seeks advancement so that they might be Lord of a kingdom. A LESS leader seeks to serve the LORD and advance His Kingdom
The truest leader is first a follower.
Leadership begins with Love. If you want to lead them, you better love them.
We don’t so much “know” our way into being a servant leader as much as we “love” our way into being a servant leader.
What we do flows from who we are and who we are flows from what we love.
Leadership begins with love.
A leader owes much to their followers…but the first thing they owe their followers is to love them.
Leaders listen. To listen is to give to another.
Growing is learning. Jesus developed as a child in wisdom because he was learning. Jesus is taught a skill from his earthly father. He learns. A LESS leader learns, not only to grow themselves, but so that they might share knowledge and grow others.
Leaders go first. You can’t delegate being in front.
Leaders must be prepared to lose themselves and to accept that loss as a way of leading so that they may gain something greater.
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” ~Matthew 10:39
Love…”It does not insist on its own way;” ~1st Corinthians 13:5
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” ~Philippians 3:7-8
The first will be last and the last, will be first. A LESS leader puts others first and is content to be last.
Leaders should desire to be one of the “least of these.” This is a stepping down the path to being “greater.” LESS leaders know the way of decrease is the path that brings the increase.
“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” ~Matthew 11:11
Leadership is a set of identity shaping actions. These liturgies aim at grabbing hold of the hearts and minds, the hearts and imaginations of followers through repeated practices, habits, rituals and routines. These are out leadership liturgies.
Many leaders fail because they have enlisted the intellect of others but not their imaginations. They have their heads, but not their hearts
Many leaders fail because they have enlisted the intellect of others but not their imaginations.…
Great leaders do not so much command us to follow, but shape our hearts and imaginations so that we desire to go]
What things have our loyalty?
What things have our hearts?
We are what we love.
We become what we worship
Who is our king? Who or what demands our loyalty?
LESS leaders do not demand loyalty, but they give both love and loyalty to those they lead and the One who leads them.
11. Life (they share their life)
Leaders who do not let their followers completely know them prevent their followers from completely loving them. A Leader cannot hope to lead a community while trying to remain hidden from that community. The most neglected of leadership actions is the confession of brokenness and seeking of forgiveness from those a leader leads.
12. Long (long game & long haul)
Leaders are farsighted. Power is not a shortcut.
There are no shortcuts.
Poor leaders leave no legacy. Good leaders leave a legacy of things behind. But, Servant Leaders leave a legacy of people behind. Leadership legacy is less in what you get done and more about who you become and who other become because of you.
14. Long Tail
The “blockbusters” of Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Execution are at the front of every leader’s mind. In the Long Tail of Leadership, one finds the things often overlooked, neglected or viewed as not as impactful by leaders are the things that are incredibly valued by their followers.
• Followers are seeking truth from their leaders.
• Followers are seeking justice in treatment from their leaders.
• Followers are seeking love from their leaders.
• Followers are seeking faithfulness from their leaders
What follower does not value these things ahead of vision, mission, strategy, and execution?
We always want to pursue the “Large” of the world. Jesus pursued and embraced the “little.”
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 19:14
God loves the lowly, even lowly leaders. We are not called to be high and mighty. LESS leaders do not look to the world’s standards.
“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.” ~ 1st Corinthians 1:26-29
LESS leaders embrace their lack of influence, ignobility, foolishness, and lowness. For it is here where dependence becomes a strength.
Leaders need to be somewhere, not everywhere. The choice to be in one place excludes the possibility of being everywhere else. During Jesus’ time on Earth, he was in a location at a time. He was localized. He was in one synagogue, one home, one city, one mountaintop, one boat, and dusty road at a time. The Incarnation was a limitation. Jesus was local. Jesus was not everywhere, he was somewhere, one somewhere at a time.
Jesus’ incarnation was the embrace, the embodiment of limitation. Jesus emptied himself of “God-like” power and emptied himself of the desire to pursue and grasp it. No, Jesus knew limitations in his power were part of his calling. Throughout the Gospels, you see Jesus, again and again, refusing himself “god-like” omnipotence to walk in loving limitation through the lives he encountered. Let us be clear; this is not saying that Jesus was not divine. Jesus was. But, did he take every problem, remove every pain, solve every issue? No. And neither should you. Jesus understood his calling enough to embrace the limitations of that came with it and so should you.
Leaders should desire to be “like” their master and serve their followers. They do not need to be “liked,” but desire “likeness.”
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” ~ Matthew 10: 24-25