What makes a leader and what entices people to leadership positions? Possessing the qualities of leadership is one thing that marks a true leader, but what happens when a person that is marked as a leader does not step into their place?
First of all, should all those that are marked as such, automatically step into roles of leadership? My belief is that those who possess the character of a leader will not only feel led to that place but others around them will follow accordingly. True leaders have a way of acquiring a following, without trying very hard; this is called influence. This is not always a good thing but when someone possesses the skills of a natural born leader, there is a great deal of responsibility that must be acknowledged, both by the leader and those who follow.
Jesus was (and still is) a perfect example of a natural born leader. What is interesting is looking at how He might have felt regarding the following that occurred during His time and how He dealt with it. The Bible gives us accounts of Jesus own words regarding how, in my opinion, He tried many times to stifle the effect of His leadership. I understand by reading the scriptures that Jesus was making a case first for the intent of the hearts of His followers and was concerned for what would become of these people after He was gone. Jesus had the clarity of knowing His future and how He would only be with these people for a short amount of time. It is important to realize that His concern was the long term effects of following Him and that those around Him during that time were not aware of what was coming.
Leaders in the world, that are of the world, are consumed with a following as well as maintaining a popular view in order to draw as many people to them as possible at that moment. Most leaders are not concerned about their following after they are gone, it is only in the here and now. Leaders who are thrust into their roles early in life are naturally consumed by a certain level of celebrity once a following is established. It is difficult to contain those feelings once they manifest themselves. Ultimately, this type of leadership is mostly concerned with a ‘my needs first’ mentality.
A true leader will inevitably get out of the way so that his or her followers can become leaders and that process will multiply if each new leader shares the same vision. Leadership must start with humility because it is a humble person who can take the hearts of others into consideration before leading them in any direction. Therefore, leaders must also possess compassion in order to manage the tenderness of those that follow. Classically, it was Jesus who told His disciples that whoever would be first must be last and whoever is last will be first. Jesus was specifically referring to the concept of a servant leader. The term is an oxymoron in western culture, but for Jesus it was, and still is, someone who leads from a position of service, especially service to those closest to you that you are leading.
Here in America, we might view that type of leader as weak, or soft, and therefore dismiss their insight and prowess as a leader. However, we would do so at our own peril as it is typically this kind of leader that is thinking of the needs of others ahead of his/her own needs. It is not intrinsic to be this kind of leader as it takes coming to a point of humility first, before one can see the needs of others clearly. Interestingly, I find that people who have kids are more likely to possess the ability to be a servant leader, as opposed to those who have yet to have kids.
Ultimately, I would suggest that we beware of any person who considers themselves to be a leader but does so by ordering others around without compassion. It comes down to being able to count the cost and a good leader understands what is at stake. A humble heart and a tender disposition is key, because those who follow are often exceptionally impressionable. Understanding that is vital because leaders are looked to as motivational forces who hold the ability to shape and mold others. Future leaders will rise up because positive, bold and empathetic role models and leaders invested in their lives; not because they were ordered around on a whim.
Leading by example means leading by performing the steps necessary to teach, train and educate those who follow. This is no small challenge but it cannot be met by simply telling others what to do. Leadership will never be just words, it must be an action. And the first action must be a step in that direction.