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Helping Others Win: Jesus Christ As The Epitome Of Servant Leadership

Helping Others Win: Jesus Christ As The Epitome Of Servant Leadership
Image by Vicki Nunn from Pixabay

American author, business consultant and motivational speaker Ken Blanchard spent much of his life advocating for servant leadership. One of his best examples for embodying such principle is no other than Jesus Christ because of his situational leadership (SL II) approach.

Blanchard talked about this in an episode of “Breakthrough with Boris Joaquin,” which was streamed live on The Philippine STAR and Career Guide Facebook pages last Sept. 5. Essentially, SL II is about adjusting your leadership style depending on the development level of the people you work with.

This became the bedrock for the “Lead Like Jesus” (LLJ) organization he co-founded with his friend, Phil Hodges, that builds on the promises of transformational leadership. It started with the success of one of his books called “The One Minute Manager,” which Blanchard co-wrote with Spencer Johnson.

The book posits that effective management can happen by setting one-minute goals, praisings, and reprimands or redirects. When Hodges asked him why his book was so successful at the time of its release in 1982, the leadership expert replied: “I don’t know, but somehow God must be involved.”

Blanchard later made a guest appearance on the program “Hour of Power,” hosted then by the late televangelist Robert Schuller, who loved the book and pointed out that Jesus was the “greatest one-minute manager of all time.”

Jesus was the type of leader who was clear on His goals, which enabled Him to do so many things through His disciples. He wandered from one village to another praising anybody that showed interest in what they were trying to achieve, and He also knew when to draw the line, according to Schuller.

Blanchard acknowledged these points, especially upon realizing how Jesus spent time investing in the people who chose to follow His path, beginning with His 12 disciples, as well as His commitment to serve the needs of others before His own.

“Everything I had ever taught about leadership, Jesus did with these 12 incompetent guys He hired. You wouldn’t hire that particular lot. So, He really became a great SL II situational leader because He changed His leadership style over time,” noted Blanchard, referring to how Jesus transformed His apostles.

Analyzing Jesus’ journey through the Gospels, Blanchard recognized that He went from directing His disciples to coaching and supporting them. Later on, He delegated to each one the responsibilities He once held, so they could also create opportunities and make a difference in the lives of others.

These character traits made Him the perfect archetype for “servant leadership,” a concept that sounds familiar and quite easy to understand for many, but difficult to execute, considering the fact that most leaders in modern society would most likely assert control and authority over their followers.

“There are two parts of servant leadership. The leadership part is about vision, direction, values and goals, and it echoes from the hierarchy. It doesn’t mean that you don’t involve your people in setting those things,” Blanchard said.

“Once that’s clear, then you get to the servant part, now what you do is philosophically turn the pyramid upside down and now you work for your people. Your job is to help them win. Help them accomplish their goals and that’s really the main thing,” he added.

Blanchard explained the reason why some leaders fail in both these departments is because they misunderstand the theory. They fall into the “inmates running the prison” mindset, where those in charge are incapable of handling huge responsibilities, and because “they get their egos in the way.”

“What’s ego? That’s edging God out and somehow thinking that they’re the center of the universe and not realizing that it’s all about humility. It’s all about being there for your people. It’s not about you. Effective servant leadership is about ‘we’ not ‘me,’” the leadership expert noted.

‘The Way of the Carpenter’

Blanchard elaborated on the concept further by describing how Jesus used his skills as a carpenter to bring out the best in people. At the LLJ, there is a workshop called “The Way of the Carpenter,” which teaches individuals four tools of strategic leadership that Jesus applied on his disciples.

He said every leader will come across followers or employees at varying degrees of development levels: the enthusiastic beginners, the disillusioned learners, the capable but cautious performers, and the self-reliant achievers. For each one of these, there is a particular leadership style.

The directive approach works best on enthusiastic beginners, who need specific directions to get started. Once they get past this level, they might become disillusioned learners upon realizing their tasks are getting a little more difficult. This is where a leader has to shift gears and become a coach.

“You have to move from directing to coaching, where you not only give them direction, but you gotta give them support. And if you can coach them through disillusionment, then you get them to a point where they are capable but cautious,” Blanchard said.

Capable but cautious performers are those who already acquired the skills, but still need pats on the back and constant encouragement. A leader has to remain supportive of these types to help them become self-reliant achievers, where they can finally be delegated bigger responsibilities.

“You do a supportive leadership to eventually (get to a point) where you can delegate to them and they can handle it themselves. Because that’s what Jesus wanted us to do… He knew He wasn’t gonna be around forever, but He wanted us to understand what it took for us to walk with the Lord,” he said.

At this point, Blanchard explained a leader has to walk a fine line between autocracy and democracy when exercising leadership and decision-making because “you need one of those or both of those in different situations.”

“The important thing, Boris, for people to understand is that you need to use different strokes for different folks. But you also have to remember, you have to use different strokes for the same folks on different aspects of their job,” he told Joaquin.

Blanchard acknowledged that this particular aspect of leadership is one of the most difficult to deliver, since not everyone has the heart and wisdom to care for people and support them, “but you just have to put in the work to make it happen.”

“You need to love it yourself. And remember, not everybody is cut out to be a leader. You know, (if) maybe you just don’t care about people or don’t want to listen at all, then be an individual contributor. Don’t be a leader,” he advised.

Blanchard also bared three aspects of performance management: performance planning, day-to-day coaching, and evaluation. Of these three, he said most managers tend to focus on ‘evaluation’ when they should be spending more time on the 'planning' part.

This is what he did back in the day when he was a college professor. He would reveal the questions that would appear on the final exams of his students during the first day of class, then spend the entire semester teaching them the answers.

Although this unorthodox style of teaching put him in trouble, Blanchard kept at it to ensure that his students would learn and get good grades at the end because to him, “life is all about getting As, not some stupid normal distribution curve.”

“Many organizations have managers sort their people out into a normal distribution curve… When we lose some of our worst people, we tend to hire some real losers to fill those slots. No, you either go out and hire winners, who already have the skills you lack or potential winners,” he explained.

“And your job is to bring out the best in them. It’s so exciting to see it come alive and people around the world, when they get it, they go ‘whoa!’ This is really interesting because I’m not using one leadership style all the time. I’m really giving people what they needed,” Blanchard added.

Leadership is a selfless responsibility

Another key element of leadership, therefore, is assessing the competency and commitment levels of your staff members to do a particular task. Here, Blanchard reiterates this must also not be taken as an “either/or” situation, but a “both…and.”

“If people have different levels of commitment at a particular time, you need to find out where they are in their commitment, and then how do you help them eventually get excited about what they’re doing, and then tie that into their competency so they could become winners,” he explained.

“You want them to be both competent and committed,” the leadership guru said. He underscored the importance of developing the right attitude not only among the people you lead and support, but for yourself as the manager as well. One has to get rid of the ego to do this successfully.

“The important attitude is to get your ego out of the way and to realize it’s not all about you. It’s about ‘we’ not ‘me’ when you’re an effective leader… That’s why it’s so much fun to be an SL II situational leader because you don’t have to go to sleep. It’s always about what can I do to help people win?”

Consequently, Blanchard encourages having open and honest communication between leaders and their team members. “What you do is you try to get their enthusiasm for doing the particular task. That’s what commitment is,” he said.

“You say this is one of your key goals: how do you feel about it?... So, you ask questions to find out what’s their attitude towards the thing… But you gotta be willing to probe to find out where they are on their commitment and their willingness,” Blanchard noted.

As a final note, “The One Minute Manager” author advised all aspiring or potential leaders to be ready to get out of their way and help others win, if they want to adopt the principles of servant leadership. This is what they have been constantly trying to accomplish through the LLJ organization.

“Can you realize that leadership is not about you, it’s about your people? It’s about ‘we,’ as I’ve said, not ‘me.’ It’s a really selfless responsibility where you’re there to help people win. Not as if you’re evaluating, judging them. No, you’re there to say ‘how can I help you win?’” Blanchard said.

Watch the full episode of “Breakthrough with Boris Joaquin” here: