An oft-repeated concept and term that we hear today not just in Christian circles but also in corporate sectors is ‘servant leadership’. This has gained acceptance in contrast, and as opposed, to professional leadership.
A professional leader extracts work from a team and treats those who work under him or her as not deserving attention beyond what their work entitles them to. To such a leader, a team is only a set of people appointed to follow commands and do the job to produce results. His or her relationship with the subordinates is limited to the sphere of work.
In contrast, servant leadership is a leadership philosophy wherein the main goal of the leader is to serve. This is different from traditional leadership where the leader solely focusses on the success of his or her company or organisation. Here, the leader goes beyond the work sphere and comes to an understanding that his people are his to care for. He or she does not consider them as those who serve, but feels equally responsible to serve them. A servant-leader steps into the personal space of his subordinate; not invading it, but seeking to build a relationship. Due to this, he or she is able to empathise and not just criticise; working to produce results, not by a rod, but by motivating and gaining the team’s trust.
There is a third, higher and nobler, leadership strain or trait that exists, especially in the Bible—that of ‘parent leadership’. We see this in the epistles where Apostle Paul addresses his young mentees or apprentices—Timothy and Titus—as sons (I Tim 1:2) and appeals for ‘my son Onesimus’ (Philemon v. 10). John also write, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). Paul tells the Thessalonian church that they—Paul, Silas and Timothy—cared for them as nursing mothers and dealt with them as fathers (I Thess 2).
The mark of a parent is to desire the best for his or her child, and a parent is happiest when they see their child superseding them in achievement and overtaking their position. So, a parent-leader is also the one who is thrilled when a team member or a subordinate or a disciple outgrows him or her, to take on a higher position or post. Such a leader is happy to have groomed a genuine talent.
Parents think nothing of laying down their life for the sake of their children and will not complain one bit about the sacrifices they make for them. Parent is the one person in the whole wide world who never minds the cost involved and the price they pay to see their child reach where they couldn’t. Similarly, a parent-leader welcomes the role they play in the life of trainees or apprentices enabling them to push their limit and raise the bar of success. In fact, a parent-leader takes pride in the success of team members.
A parent is intuitively aware of their child’s strengths and weaknesses, and then work on and with them in a way that fits the child’s unique makeup. A parent then sets goals and milestones that challenge yet motivate their child, both boosting the child’s morale and prodding him or her until they achieve what they deserve. A parent-leader, likewise, is able to assess their team members’ personality quirks and traits that they know whom to entrust with which task. They also know whom to push and prod, and whom to cajole and encourage in the process of getting the desired output.
A parent may deal with their child in anger or with sorrow, but never will they give up on them. They will always accept and have a soft corner for their child irrespective of how many times they fail. Till the end, they will never give up on their child but always expect he or she will turn around one day. A parent-leader, likewise, is ready to give their subordinate a second chance and in case they fail, they do not mind handing over their protégé to other leaders for his or her betterment.
A parent may expect returns or remuneration from their child, not as a right or as a payment for their work in reading them, but more as a token and an acknowledgement of their input in their child’s life. Their child’s growth and progress are all the thanks they need to know that they have been honoured.
A parent-leader does not feel neglected when he is not acknowledged for the role he played in his disciple’s achievement but will rest on the fact that his laurels are from the one who sees all and rewards openly.
Finally, a parent is never jealous of or in competition with his or her child, for he knows who he is and what role he has played, even when his child does not accept it. So also, a parent-leader is never insecure that he has to fight to gain or hold his own. He rests in the satisfaction of a job well done.
Can there be such parent-leaders and will we find them in this world?
Certainly, and for sure, because there have been such people of old! Many a teacher or instructor functions as a parent-leader, going the extra mile with their students whom they adopt as family. To be a parent-leader needs guts, humility and compassion. Which type of leader are you? What type of leader do you desire to be?