From Fear and Pride to Effectiveness
I was tired but energized by the response of the audience. I had completed my ninth day of teaching business and leadership skills in several remote villages on a mission trip to Kenya. And now, we weren't quite sure how many would attend our business women's conference at this location. We knew God would honor our efforts, even if only 20 people showed up.
We were overjoyed when on day one, the rural church sanctuary was overstuffed with women, many seated on the dirt floor. Countless others piled into flimsy plastic lawn chairs, spilling out every opening of the cracked block walls under the shelter of the sweltering corrugated tin roof. Scores more strained to lean in through pane-less window shaped holes to glean wisdom, and even more lined up on curbs outside. We were impressed with their desire to learn – no matter what obstacles they faced to get there or the discomfort they experienced to listen in.
A Surprising Response
When we arrived for the second day, we were moved outside to a vast grassy field, under a rented tent. This time, we could estimate there were at least 200 women and men who yearned to learn more about being better leaders. My session discussed how effective leadership begins on the inside; it's a heart issue. I explained, "We must keep our hearts right. To lead like Jesus, we must begin with a heart change – from selfish to selfless." Then, I gave an overview of what happens when pride and fear get in the way.
I explained the components of a prideful leader: "an overly high opinion of yourself, exaggerated esteem of self, haughtiness, arrogance," and the effects of pride: "promoting self, boasting, taking all the credit, showing off, doing all the talking, demanding all the attention."
I was unprepared for the raucous laughter and affirming claps of the audience as they related to their experience with such leaders. I expounded using Scripture from Romans 12:3, explaining that pride is "thinking more of and about yourself than you should."
And then I gave the definition of a fearful leader: "This leader has an insecure view of the future, producing self-protection. Effects: protecting self, hiding behind position, withholding information, intimidating others, hoarding control and revenues, discouraging honest feedback." I closed with Proverbs 29:25, "the fear of man is a trap."
My teaching was met with a thundering roar of screaming, yelling, and hollering from those who realized what had happened to them was wrong. They had been treated contrary to what Scripture commands; the oppression they'd experienced was from prideful and fearful leaders.
Leading with Pride and Fear
An insightful and pensive article about the seven top leadership challenges from Lynda Silsbee discusses this stance of leading from pride and fear. She explains, "The fourth biggest challenge facing a leader would be that they lack the skills to lead from a place of influence rather than authority. When you only use your authority—your position as boss, or VP, or director – those around you will often only do what they are required to do—they are compliant. Managers often end up micro-managing task lists with employees making sure the minimum gets done—not an efficient use of time. However, when you lead from a position of influence, using your relationships and knowledge, people will do their tasks to the best of their ability."
In Lead Like Jesus Revisited, Ken Blanchard, Phil Hodges and Phyllis Hennecy Hendry state that self-promotion (pride) and self-protection (fear) dominate today’s leadership style. Many leaders act as if the sheep are there only for the benefit of the shepherd.
The Lead Like Jesus alternative approach to leadership is driven by four basic beliefs that have become central to the LLJ ministry:
- Leadership happens anytime we influence the thinking, behavior, or development of another person.
- Jesus is the greatest leadership role model of all time.
- Servant leadership is the only approach to leadership that Jesus validates for His followers.
- Effective leadership begins on the inside, with our hearts.
- Leading like Jesus is a transformational journey
Service and Humility
Now I am home, yet I can still feel the echoes of the agreeable laughter and thunderous clapping reminding me of the negative connection to leadership. My Kenyan audiences' own experiences with insecure leaders leading from pride and fear had left an impression. Not a good one, I am sorry to say.
I pray for myself, and I continue to pray for them, to practice service and humility. Each day, we can recalibrate our commitment to be constant learners, to be students of leading and servants like our Lord Jesus. We must continue to seek the ways of our Master.
Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me." John 14:23-24
And with our Lord Jesus' available help and mighty strength, we can keep our hearts in tune with His, to lead from a place of love, humility and service. As we ask Him to actively help us seek His ways and to love without reward, we can let Him transform us into leaders who make a difference.