Yesterday, I was watching a set of pigeons waddling around Washington Square Park. I have no idea what they were doing, but there was this one big fat pigeon at the front of the pack. It sort of looked like they were following him, something like a kids’ game. A couple times some of the weaker pigeons tried to flutter in front of him and the big fatty snapped at them, biting at their necks and sending them cowering back in the strange conga line.
The whole dance made me think about leadership.
Isn’t this how we all view leadership. We want to be the top dog. We want to be the boss. The one in charge. The one leading the way.
Leadership roles are a great prize for the insecure because they are convenient masks. If I’m a leader, I’ve got to be doing something right! If people are following me, it’s got to say something pretty great about who I am.
And so, we make ourselves loud and aggressive, rich and ambitious. We learn the lingo, jump through the hoops, and climb the ladders.
There is perhaps no greater false validation in the world today than the role of the leader. It has become a power play. A grab of greed. We’re playing King of the Mountain and we mean to squash all challengers.
There is little debate that our world is a sad state of affairs. We’re a bunch of pigeons, circling one another, playing some absurd power game. We are all trying to outdo one another, to shame or coerce others into our way of doing things. We buy stuff to try to gain power over others and to try to gain power over our own lives, overwhelming our insecurity by the weight of accumulation.
In the meantime, we’re dying. The mask leaves us unseen. Our roles don’t provide the deep validation we thought they would, so we reinforce them via the same means by which they were acquired. The people we lead see themselves as expendable tools and learn, therefore, to treat others as expendable tools. We harbor resentment, comparing ourselves to one another. All of our relationships devolve into a pissing contest. Use or be used.
Jesus’ model of leadership is perhaps the most radical thing our world has ever seen. He came not for power but for influence. As He said, “not to be served, but to serve”. Jesus’ leading was focused on loving people, providing for them, walking beside them. His power was humility. Two thousand years later, it is still a radical idea.
The world is experiencing a famine of good leadership. Sacrificial leadership. Servant leadership. The world has malnutrition of love because it has malnutrition of leadership.
True servant leadership is about supporting others, not exploiting them. It is influencing others to their highest potential. Not because it says something good about you or because it reinforces your power over them, but because people are incredible and you can do few things in life better than helping them realize it and own it for themselves.
Leadership means you are the first one over the wall, the lead horse on the battlefield, and the last one out of the office. The leader works for everyone else. Being a good leader will cost you. It is a death sentence. Look at what Jesus had to go through. And He did it perfectly. He was God.
If you find yourself in the blessed and terrifying position where you have some influence with others, please handle it with care. Souls are on the line. Yours. Theirs. Ours as a collective species.