The Leader’s Pursuit of Service

It is unfortunate that “servant leadership” has become little more than a corporate buzzword. While the concept is proven and good, the practice is hard and rare. In his classic “Good to Great“, Jim Collins correlates the humility of Level  5 leaders with the concept of servant leadership. People have even equated Jesus Himself as the greatest of all servant leaders, and I would agree.

If this virtue of leadership is so powerful in transforming companies, and even the world, why is it still such a rarity?

The problem is, leaders are pursuing leadership through service. Rather, leaders should pursue service itself, and let leadership follow.

“But, Ira!”, I can hear you say. “Surely pursuing leadership through service is a noble pursuit?! How could you fault someone for that?”

Truly great leaders are often reluctant leaders. [tweetthis]Truly great leaders are often reluctant leaders. [/tweetthis]When you look at the story of Joseph of the Bible, he did little to pursue the leadership role he was awarded at 30 years of age. Rather, from the age of about 16 when he was sold in to slavery till the time he was set in place as Prime Minister of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself,  he served. It was because of his service and the blessing of God on his life that came through that service that he was able to achieve greatness*.

Fast forward a few generations and we see Moses was a similar story in that when he was 40, he tried to achieve leadership forcefully. He killed the Egyptian that was persecuting a fellow Hebrew, but God didn’t want Moses to deliver the Israelites in his own strength. It took 40 years in the wilderness to get Moses to the point that he was humble…and reluctant…enough to be used by God in delivering His people. At 40, Moses was well equipped to be a leader. At 80, he was well equipped to be a servant.

God does not share His Glory with anyone. When we have pride in our lives, we tend to rob God of His Glory. We strive to accomplish much, and often succeed in doing so. Once we get there, we are unlikely to attribute the glory to God.

The difference between pursuing leadership through service, and pursuing service itself is a matter of the heart. The person who is pursuing leadership has leadership as his goal, and the service is a means to an end. While you may be able to fake this for a while, it is not sustainable. However, a person who genuinely pursues service itself, with no ulterior motive, does not care if he becomes a leader. There is no hunger for power. No thirst for recognition. Their goal is servanthood, and this is where true leadership originates. It can’t be imitated. It won’t be forced.

Leadership is a worthy attribute and one that we should all aspire to. However, don’t consider service as another tool to help you on the way to leadership. Consider it the goal in and of itself. This is where truly great leaders are born. Don’t try to fake it. Don’t think you can make a “paradigm shift” and then move along on the same path. Take a long, hard, painful look inside yourself and ask what your true motives are. If there’s an ounce of pride, don’t take another step till you root it out.

God wants to use you despite of you, not because of you. [tweetthis]God wants to use you despite of you, not because of you. [/tweetthis]Ask yourself honestly “Am I pursuing leadership, or am I pursuing service?”. Consider “Would I be happy to only serve, and never lead?”. The answers to these questions may truly change your life.


*For more excellent parallels on how the life of Joseph shows God’s plan for our lives, read “From Dream to Destiny” by Robert Morris. It is highly recommended. 

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