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The Heart of a Servant Leader

  • Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges
  • Updated Apr 20, 2006
The Heart of a Servant Leader

Most leadership books and seminars focus on leader behavior and try to improve leadership style and methods.  The emphasis is on the hands of the leader.  They attempt to change leadership from the outside.  Yet in reaching people to lead like Jesus, we have found that effective leadership starts on the inside; it is a heart issue.  We believe if we don’t get the heart right, then we simply won’t ever become servant leaders like Jesus.

In one sense, we all enter this world with self-focus.  Is anyone more self-centered than a baby?  A baby doesn’t come home from the hospital asking, “How can I help around the house?”  As any parent can attest, all children are naturally selfish; they have to be taught how to share.  A mature adult realizes that life is about what you give rather than what you get.

In Phillipians 2:1-4, the apostle Paul urges us to look out for others’ interests, not just our own.  He says, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

A heart motivated by self-interest looks at the world as a “give a little, take a lot” proposition.  People with a heart motivated by self-interest put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of those affected by their thoughts and actions.  Cutting people off on the freeway or the church parking lot, punishing those who disagree with you or challenge your position, and exploiting the weaknesses and fears of others to get what you want are all actions that come from a self-motivated heart.

As you consider the heart issues of leadership, a primary question you have to ask yourself is, “Am I a servant leader or a self-serving leader?”  The fact of the matter is that we all fall short of perfection and give in to the temptation to behave as self-serving leaders in certain situations.  This question, when answered with brutal honesty, reveals your motivation as a leader.  It also reflects your heart’s EGO: do you seek to Edge God Out or to Exalt God Only in the way you exert influence on those around you?  The answer to that question reveals whether you are driven to protect and promote yourself or are called to a higher purpose of service.

Edging God Out is the self-serving way we seek to influence others.  Few leaders would admit to being self-serving, yet we observe self-serving leaders all the time.  Self-serving leaders say, “Given the choice, I’ll make a decision that benefits me.”  If these leaders are working in an organization, all the money, recognition, power, and status move up the hierarchy with them.  If they are in a family, they treat their children and spouses as supporting cast members in their quest to fulfill their personal agenda and self-image.

What makes people self-serving?  In his classic book Ordering Your Private World, Gordon McDonald identifies a helpful distinction.  He says there are two types of people in the world: driven people and called people.

Driven people think they own everything.  They own their relationships, they own their possessions, and they own their positions.  In fact, they perceive their identity as the sum of their relationships, possessions, and positions.  As a result, driven people spend most of their time protecting what they own.  We see this in a family when a parent makes sure everyone knows that his the father (or she is the mother) and authority.  Driven people think and act as if “he who dies with the most toys wins.”  And if you mess with any of their toys, you’re in trouble.  The possessions of driven people become an important expression of who they are and end up possessing them.

Called people, on the other hand, believe everything is on loan.  They believe their relationships are on loan; they know that we have no guarantee we will see those we love tomorrow.  Called people also believe their possessions are on loan and are to be held lightly, to be enjoyed and shared with an open hand.  Finally, called people believe their positions are on loan from God and the people they are attempting to influence.  Rather than protecting what they own, called leaders act as good stewards of what has been loaned to them.


Excerpt from Lead Like Jesus by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, W Publishing Group, 2006. Used with permission.