In this Holiday Season, we are privileged to present to you the second feature article of our leadership series – Leadership Matters. This article was written by the Antiguan-born Dr. Eugene F. Daniel. Dr. Daniel, before his retirement, served as an outstanding pastor, theologian and denominational administrator. He is a former President of the Caribbean Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and in this capacity he served as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of the Southern Caribbean, his alma mater during the critical period of its transition to university status. Dr. Daniel is also an author who very recently published a book entitled Saturday’s Child Becoming: Where Life Meets Growth Learning Thought and Service (available on amazon.com).
As we celebrate Christmas with its almost inescapable sensory appeals – its food, music, decorations, olfactory delights the warmth of the love of family and friends and all else that engenders joy and goodwill, may we never forget that in our low estate God chose to be with us, to be one of us so that we could be with Him. No greater example of leadership can ever be found – Emmanuel!
Happy holidays and God’s richest blessings for the coming year.
Jesus: The Quintessential Leader
When we consider leadership in human affairs, a crucial inquiry arises: Which individuals have the qualities to effectively perform this significant role? Answering this question incorrectly can have far-reaching ramifications, leading to serious consequences such as bankruptcy, conflict, military defeat, economic decline, and even the downfall of nations. Therefore, organizations should engage in thoughtful decision-making and allocate sufficient resources to gather and analyze data, enabling them to make informed decisions in appointing persons to lead.
The University of the Southern Caribbean recognizes the importance of leadership as a valuable skill, and this essay serves as a meaningful contribution to the ongoing discussion. USC’s primary aim is to instill and nurture strong leadership capabilities in every learner because leadership matters. This essay offers readers a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics that inform leadership from above, or within organizations.
We begin our conversation by defining the term ‘leadership’ and thereafter explore the various roles and responsibilities we task leaders with. These aspects are indispensable for the triumph of an organization. Without a clear understanding of the role and responsibilities of a leader, any organization risks its proficiency in achieving desired outcomes. This proficiency goes beyond just having expertise; it also involves the capacity to inspire, motivate, and influence others toward a shared goal.
A successful leader learns and develops leadership skills. The ideal candidate for this leading role should demonstrate the skill of self-awareness, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and be open to receiving feedback from their team. Cultivating an environment that fosters a feeling of security is part of their responsibility—empowering individuals to explore new avenues and courageously embrace diverse ideas and perspectives.
One of the major factors that determines the effectiveness of a leader, as discussed in the leadership literature, is their capability to prioritize the needs of others above their own. This approach gives priority to key elements, such as humility, service, empowerment, and sacrifice. Dedicated leaders create an inclusive and empowering work environment and prioritize serving their team, making sure that each individual feels valued and motivated to contribute through their unique talents.
Over the years, I have been involved in the discipline of leading and developing leaders with the craft and will to effect change. Sometimes I voiced the view that a leader in an organization is not necessarily the person with the title. Many times, the leader is the individual asking and answering the important questions relevant to organizational success.
In discussions about leadership styles and types, especially those based on positions or functions, we frequently find it effortless to navigate through them. This is because we inherently associate leadership with a hierarchy. We develop leadership theories to facilitate this, whether we are discussing democratic, autocratic, or transformational frameworks which we develop to produce efficiency toward ends.
While titles can be influential in earning respect and establishing authority, true leadership is ultimately determined by one’s actions and qualities, rather than by simply holding a position. I will now elaborate on the rationale behind this statement.
The essence of genuine leadership lies in the skill of influencing others. Leaders possess the talent to bring individuals together, motivate them to pursue a shared task, cultivate collaboration, and empower them to make their best contributions. If one wants to excel in this, it is necessary to have effective communication skills and unfeigned empathy.
As mentioned earlier, organizations delegate power to individuals to make decisions, allocate resources, and hold others accountable. However, this authority alone doesn’t guarantee effective leadership, for a title can signal experience and expertise, leading to a natural deference from others. However, leaders must consistently show their commitment to earning and maintaining respect through their leadership actions.
While some individuals may exploit their titles to exert control or manipulate others, we should note that such behaviors do not align with the principles of authentic leadership. The significance of it remains the same, whether this occurs in a democratic, autocratic, or transformational manner.
The hierarchical leadership approach, known for its longstanding history, has gained widespread adoption among various organizations. The pyramid structure is commonly used to symbolize the flow of power and authority, with the top being the source and the bottom receiving it. It has its strengths and weaknesses, and understanding both is crucial for making informed decisions about leadership style.
Unfortunately, the abuse of hierarchical leadership is a recurring issue in many organizations and institutions, despite the benefits of efficiency. When individuals who hold positions of power engage in the inappropriate use of their authority, they create situations where those under their control become targets of exploitation, harm, or manipulation. There are multiple ways in which this can manifest, not limited to:
- Verbal abuse: This can involve yelling, insulting, belittling, or threatening subordinates. The creation of a hostile work environment poses a serious threat to the mental and emotional well-being of employees, as well as the overall health of the organization.
- Micromanagement: This involves excessive control over employees’ work, often to the point of stifling creativity and initiative. The potential consequences of feeling demoralized are twofold: not only can it have a detrimental effect on one’s morale, but it can also result in a decrease in productivity.
- Favoritism and unfair treatment: A variety of factors can contribute to this, including discrimination and unequal advancement opportunities. When there are injustices in the workplace, it can weaken employee morale. This can also lead to a decrease in productivity, as employees may feel undervalued or discouraged.
- Withholding information: Leaders keep important information or decisions secret from their employees. Unfortunately, when leaders conceal information, it leads to the development of organizational distrust.
When individuals abuse hierarchical leadership, the consequences can be quite severe, affecting not only individuals but also organizations. This harms various aspects of the workplace, including decreased productivity, increased employee turnover, higher rates of absenteeism, and the potential for legal action. It also creates a toxic work culture that stifles creativity, innovation, and collaboration.
Leadership theories, particularly those that address ethics and integrity, aim to prevent the misuse of power and positions of authority by proposing proactive measures. Ultimately, leadership is not about titles, position, privilege, and power; it’s about the impact on the prosperity, longevity, and well-being of people and organizations.
Leadership matters because it cultivates an environment of trust and respect. Through their commitment to fairness, honesty, and reliability, genuine leaders foster a strong bond of loyalty and support with their team. These leaders commit themselves to driving progress, overcoming challenges, and keeping their promises.
Wilfred Drath et al. (2008) argue that the conventional definition of leadership is becoming less effective. The past emphasis on leaders, followers, and shared goals is diminishing in its ability to explain the nature of leadership. Their integrated theory of leadership from within states: leadership is about direction, alignment, and commitment. Drath proposed a unique perspective on leadership, known as relational leadership theory. He challenges the traditional notion of leadership as solely residing in individuals and instead emphasizes the dynamic interplay as the true source of leadership.
Direction is the shared desired outcomes and collective agreement on vision, mission, goals, and aims to facilitate change from current reality towards a future state.
Alignment refers to the process of configuring organizational structures, skills, processes, performance management systems, governance, and technology to move the organization toward its desired future direction.
The ultimate result of commitment is the ability to inspire individuals to willingly dedicate their time and energy towards the advancement of a common aim. By shifting the focus of the conversation, organizations can address the subject of leadership by emphasizing the production of three outcomes: direction, alignment, and commitment.
The core tenets of Drath’s relational leadership theory are:
- The essence of leadership does not lie in one person at the forefront, issuing instructions, but it is a collective achievement.
- Systems create leaders, as leadership qualities are not innate attributes, but emerge through active participation in interpersonal dynamics within a group.
Drath’s theory provides a wealth of valuable insights that can enhance our understanding and application of leadership principles. By engaging in relational dialogue characterized by open, honest, and respectful communication, individuals establish trust, foster understanding, and develop a collective sense of purpose. This enables them to collaborate effectively toward the attainment of shared objectives.
The nature of leadership is not static but contingent upon the context in which it occurs. The exact styles and ways of leading will inevitably differ based on many factors, such as the specific circumstances, the individuals involved, and the unique obstacles being encountered.
Drath’s theory shifts the attention from individuals to integrative connections. By recognizing the significance of collaboration and open communication, organizations can foster leadership practices that are more cooperative and inclusive.
Despite its optimism, the relational theory has not been exempt from critique, with several valid counterarguments raised against it.
The emphasis on relationships and context can create ambiguity when trying to determine the actual leader or person responsible. Hence, transitioning from traditional hierarchical models to relational leadership practices poses significant challenges for organizations and individuals familiar with top-down approaches.
Notwithstanding these criticisms, Drath’s relational leadership theory has garnered attention in leadership practice. The focus on collaboration, communication, and shared purpose reflects the complexity and interconnectivity of the workplace. Individuals and organizations can foster more meaningful forms of leadership by understanding and applying the principles of relational leadership.
Descending or Servant Leadership
Throughout history, countless individuals demonstrated remarkable leadership abilities beyond the above and within styles. However, no one has done it more perfectly than Jesus Christ. Regardless of one’s profession or background, leaders can look to his life and teachings as a timeless guide. How did Jesus display leadership superior to the top-down and within principles?
The leadership literature uses engaging theories to categorize the skills and personal requirements that seminars, workshops, and conferences aim to inspire. Yet flaws and failures marred the landscape of leadership, casting a shadow over attempts at leading—read about the scandal in highly supposedly prestigious organizations. Despite the efforts, none of the theoretical models of organizational examples presented generated a flawless model.
Dr. Stanley Patterson, a renowned leadership professor at Andrews University, researched the existing hierarchical leadership environment and delineated two distinct leadership styles: the Ascendant/Positional and the Incarnational/Descending. Patterson located the ascending leadership style in the biblical narrative of Isaiah 14:3-11, which prophesied the ascent and decline of the King of Babylon. Isaiah 14:12-21 presents a symbolic drama of Lucifer’s rise and fall. The phrase “I will” conveyed the desire for dominance and superiority.
Lucifer’s self-centered hierarchical struggle for preeminence and power would destroy anyone who stood in his path to the top, including God himself. Lucifer’s ambitious endeavor to climb the pyramid ended in disappointment as he failed to reach the summit. Instead of his original goal of attaining power, destruction became his end.
Leadership in the secular context often connotes power, authority, influence, and financial advantage. Ambitious individuals use various tactics, such as manipulating power dynamics, issuing threats, and employing subterfuge, to rise to the highest levels of power. When examining these traits side by side, it becomes apparent that the life and teachings of Jesus Christ are opposites.
Matthew’s gospel details Jesus’ indictment of a leader’s self-indulgent desire to ascend (Matthew 20:25-27). A person’s egocentric ascendancy of the hierarchical model of leadership is incompatible with the Incarnational or Christ-centered descendant framework as presented in the Biblical record. Jesus, rather than engaging in an ascendant design of leadership behavior, stepped down from His exalted state of being and emptied himself (Phil 2:7).
The Savior avoided status, rank, and privilege—for which modern leaders strive. Rather, He divested himself of His position to become a servant. The descendant model raised the requirements for Christian leadership, especially the genre proposed by the University of the Southern Caribbean. Jesus dismantled the hierarchical model and exceeded Drath’s relationship proposal with “I am among you as one who serves.”
I proffer that Jesus’ quintessential leadership integrates the hierarchical, relational, and servant by its emotive directive. Power, position, and privilege are not ends in themselves. These are the means to achieve the building up of people and organizations. This was the message delivered in that upper room by the God-man. In his account, John recounts how Jesus, during supper, made a significant gesture to model to his disciples the true essence of leadership. This object lesson involved Jesus getting up from the table and using a basin and a towel, teaching the importance of humble service over the pursuit of power.
Jesus, despite His divine status as the Son of God, exhibited remarkable humility by not seeking positions of authority or power. Through the embrace of a life of simplicity, He maintained a constant connection with and showed empathy towards those whom society marginalized and excluded. He showed humility by washing the feet of His disciples, a task typically reserved for the lowest servants. By performing this act, He taught his followers that true leadership involves selflessly serving others, making it a powerful object lesson in leadership.
He proclaimed, I your Lord and Master have given you an example to follow in my steps. The following day at noon, He humbled himself to be nailed to a tree. Paul asserts that Christ, One who is equal to God, took on the likeness of a sinful man willingly. The God-man took on the appearance of a man (as leader), and in doing so humbled Himself and obeyed until death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:7-8 NKJV).
Jesus, in performing that act, demonstrated the qualities of divine leadership. The act inverted the hierarchical pyramid and introduced a new leadership principle for which there are few takers—leadership means sacrifice.
To paraphrase James Allen Francis from his 1926 sermon, One Solitary Life: Twenty centuries have come and gone and today He is the epitome of leadership. I am well within the mark when I say that all the generals that ever marched, all the captains that ever sailed, all the politicians that ever sat, all the kings that reigned—put together—have not affected the cause of leadership on this earth as much as Jesus, the Quintessential Leader.
When we take the time to analyze Jesus’ leadership, we discover valuable lessons that are deserving of our attention:
- True leadership surpasses the mere pursuit of power or control; it entails motivating and directing others toward a collective goal.
- Exemplary leaders exhibit selflessness and humility by prioritizing the needs of others above their own.
- Leaders actively promote a collaborative and innovative culture to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute and gain awards. They focus on developing the skills and talents of the team to sustain success.
- Leaders understand that sacrifice is necessary to achieve a greater good.
Jesus is the Leader who sits situationally above, within, or below. Which alternative will ultimately define the practice that we prefer? By embracing Jesus’ mandate, individuals can develop and enhance their leadership skills, thereby creating a meaningful and influential impact on both their organization and the global community.
Eugene F. Daniel