Sunday, September 23, 2012

Christlike Leadership

This semester I have the opportunity to co-teach a class on leadership at one of America's great universities. The class spends most of the time focusing on the works of James Kouzes and Barry Posner, who have published several bestselling books on leadership over the last 25 years.

As I've studied the course materials and interacted with the students in the class, my thoughts turn frequently  to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Jesus Christ is much more than a great philosopher. He is the son of God, the source of light and goodness, and the leader of the cause of righteousness. He stands at the head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Though the vocabulary may be different in religious versus business or government settings, becoming a great leader requires us to become more like Him.

Kouzes and Posner wrote in their bestseller, The Leadership Challenge, that the first of five attributes all great leaders have is that they 'model the way'. Christ is called 'the Great Exemplar' because his life was the perfect example of what our lives should be (see 1 Nephi 31:9). Though powerful and of noble heritage, he lived a humble life of service to others. Peter taught the ancient church:

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye are healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls (1 Peter 2:21-25).

The second attribute Kouzes and Posner identify is to 'inspire a shared vision'. Christ taught that the faithful would have a 'crown of immortality, and eternal life in the mansions' of heaven (D&C 81:9). Millions of Christians have taken hold of that vision, unconfirmed by science, and press forward with faith and hope to their common goal.

Attribute number three is to 'challenge the process'. Christ did what was right regardless of tradition or the expectations of those around him. As a twelve year old, he stayed at the temple when his family headed for home because it was where he needed to be. To the surprise of the John the Baptist, Christ was baptized to fulfill all righteousness.

Christ challenged his disciples to have the faith to walk on water, to become great through service to the least, to allow the little children and strive to be more like them, and to believe in the resurrection. He challenged the uninspired laws instituted by the scribes and pharisees and invited them to 'cast the first stone'.

Fourth, great leaders enable others to act. The atonement of Christ gives each of us access to his grace, which the scripture guide defines as the, 'enabling power from God that allows men and women to obtain blessings in this life and to gain eternal life and exaltation'.  He taught that 'all things are possible unto him that believeth' (Mark 9:23).

Finally, Kouzes and Posner round out their list with the note that great leaders encourage the heart. Anyone who has turned to Christ with their burdens has felt the hope and joy of their relief. Christ asks us to 'fear not' but be believing. He comforts the sincere heart with the knowledge that all our trials will be 'but a small moment' and that if we endure well, we will triumph (D&C 121:8).

There are many examples from the life of Christ that show he was a great leader by the standards set by experts among men like Kouzes and Posner. The challenge for us as leaders-- that is, as parents, business managers, volunteer coordinators, teachers, scout or activity day leaders, examples to our neighbors, etc.-- is to live up to the standards set by the example of Christ.

Jesus Christ loves all people. He was never patronizing or hypocritical; he lifted others' burdens and put into action all that he taught. His leadership inspired those around him to rise to new levels and achieve things they had previously never believed were possible.

Do our children feel as uplifted in the way we treat them? Do we motivate our employees through trust and love? Do we respect the agency of others? Do we validate the need our friends and family have to feel valued and important? Do we love others?

Long before there was a bestseller, Christ taught each of us how to lead in this oft-quoted passage:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile-- Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou has reproved, lest he esteem the to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and... the Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion (D&C 121:41-46).

Though speaking directly to priesthood leaders, the counsel here is valid for leaders in every setting. As our children know that our love for them is stronger than the cords of death; as those in our stewardship at work and at church see our patience and understanding; as we serve our friends and neighbors with charity and love unfeigned-- then we will be leading as Christ would lead.

As we seek to be better leaders in our homes, our workplaces and our communities, we need only to strive to walk in the footsteps of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is more than a great leader. He is the source of truth, our great Exemplar, and our friend.To be a better leader-- a better parent, disciple, manager or civil servant-- we need only to become more like Him.

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