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“Whoever would be first among you would be servant of all.”

Leadership. What does it mean? While on the surface Laozi and Jesus of Nazareth do not seem to have a lot in common, they both have some interesting thoughts on the matter. Laozi, a Chinese philosopher and author of the Tao Te Ching, thought that a leader should be invisible to the point that when the task at hand was completed those being led should believe the leader did not have a hand in it at all. Jesus believed that a leader should be a servant, saying “whoever would be first among you would be servant of all.” Both of these perspectives reflect a very kind and gentle way of managing people and events around you without putting a lot of flash and ego into the picture. A leader who does not seek the spotlight and aims to serve rather than be served will not come across in the manner of a Lord, Lady, King, or Queen, with all the attendant trappings of such an office.

Leaders in the community truly are there to serve. We are there to make a difference and to help those in our environs. If we approach it from the perspective of trying to make things better rather than doing it for personal glory, we will have a much more fulfilling and rewarding experience, as well as probably being more effective.

Another key component of leadership is motivating people. If people see you as humble and kind, they are more likely to want to help you. I found that this was very effective in classroom management with young students. Instead of approaching them as the teacher who “Did not smile until December” (advice I was given), I took a gentler hand with my kids. It does not always work as there are things for which you cannot always account: trauma, life circumstances, et cetera, In those cases you have to reach for other tools in your toolkit, like consequences and rewards, but that does not mean you are not being kind. Sometimes gentle discipline and/or setting boundaries is a way of being kind and serving because you are teaching that person what the expectations are in a particular situation.

Motivation can be a tricky thing for anyone, though, because it is not always intrinsic. This applies to leaders and those they lead. One idea from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that I particularly like is that “Sometimes action precedes motivation.” What this means is sometimes you just have to get up and do it whether you want to or not. In all honesty sometimes that is how to get out of a warm bed on a cold winter morning when staying snuggled under the covers is far more appealing.

What else do we have in our toolkit for when times are tough and motivation is lagging? I would have to say finding ways to tap into hope would be one of the first things that comes to mind. Everyone has their own ways of doing it. Through music, poetry, scripture, art, connecting with others, whatever you need to give you that glimmer to spark up your soul and bring light to the darkness. Hope can go a long way when motivation is waning and gumption is scarce.

If we approach the world, and even our positions of leadership, with a desire to serve and to guide with a gentle hand, and a dose of hope, it can only be a boon to those around us.

by Julie Morse

Community questions

Feel free to answer any of these questions or ask your own question below!

  1. What are the most important skills for a leader to have?

  2. What leaders do you look up to?

  3. Do you think your main response to conflict is healthy? Explain below.

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