The Call to Incarnational Leadership
I had a communications class recently, and was shown these familiar statistics of how people learn and imbibe:
- Hearing about a principle – 10%
- Seeing the principle at work – 30-50%
- Articulating and discussing the principle – 70%
- Engaging, interacting while practising the principle – 90%
The lecturer indicated these statistics were out-dated. In fact, he asserted that with current updates, they were even more true than ever—with people engaging, interacting and practising ending up imbibing a principle as much as 92-95%!
our people need to see, hear and engage godly leadership in order to grow to be good leaders—what you see is what you get!
When it comes down to imbibing good leadership, I believe that it also true that people learn best when they engage, interact with good leaders while practising them in their lives—that’s where incarnational leadership comes in.
When a leader lives and models good leadership principles, his followers will inevitably engage, interact with, and practise leadership under good mentors and supervisors. What they see, hear and do in these relationships are the best arenas, within which, to grow to become good leaders themselves.
Do we have enough leaders and supervisors who are committed to being good models and mentors in your organization?
Are you yourself mindful of personal modelling of leadership to your staff and followers?
Are you an incarnational leader?
The Bible show-cases negative examples of leadership models and their impact (eg. Through the books of 1 & 2 Kings). Yet, the bible calls us never to give up hope, but rather point us to God’s ideals.
Your organization may have its fair share of negative examples of leadership which inevitably have a negative impact on followers. Yet, we must not give up hope, but rather look again to biblical ideals.
And so, God sent His Son—Jesus Christ—to become a man, to engage and interact with us…all the while modelling godly leadership ideals through His life:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Philippians 2:5-7)
I submit to you that more than ever today, leaders need to model and live out godly ideals through their leadership, while engaging, mentoring and guiding their staff and followers. More than ever today, our people need to see, hear and engage godly leadership in order to grow to be good leaders—what you see is what you get!
A key tenet of incarnational leadership is the philosophy that the leader himself imbibes biblical principles that shape his own heart first. From the heart and personal life comes expressions of leadership practices that impact followers or the organization. While leadership practices may change in various contexts, cultures and generations, key biblical values that shape the leader’s heart remain largely the same.
There are several current leadership principles that impinge on how values affect the leader’s heart and life. Let me share 4 of them:
1. Being the first-fruit of God’s change
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:17-18).
When we lead people and organization into positive change, we believe God has good things in store for us! But He intends for His people to be the first-examples, the first-results of that change, especially the leader himself or herself.
For the commandos, he learnt that he could not lead them well if he could not run at the front of the pack.
A pastor I know was an officer in the paratroopers / commandos in his earlier career. He had just graduated from the officers’ training course. On the day he was introduced to his men as their commander, he could see respect for his rank in their eyes, but also a question: “can you run as fast and move as fast as the rest of us?” Later, when he joined his men for a training run, they were watching to see if he could keep an acceptable running pace with them! For the commandos, he learnt that he could not lead them well if he could not run at the front of the pack.
A leader lead best when he is personally convicted that the change for the organization also changes him. He leads best when he seeks to grow himself through the change, along with the organization.
- Are you leading change in your organization / team?
- Are you seeking to grow yourself (attitudes, posture, habits) through this change?
- Are you and your team the “first-fruit” of God’s work through your leadership?
2. Being considerate of your follower’s styles and needs
Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15)
The Bible tells us to use different styles to encourage in different situations, simply because people are different! Different contexts and personalities require a different touch to motivate them towards God’s purposes. Some may need a warning, another may need encouragement, another may need a help and propping up, and yet another needs time and patience.
A skillful leader seldom uses a “one-size-fits-all” approach, but rather is conscious of whether their followers have different needs and circumstances that affect their working styles.
- What will bring the best out in your followers?
- Are you aware of their dreams, hopes and fears pertaining to your organization?
- How are you motivating them in pursuing a godly mandate in their lives through this leadership journey with you?
3. Being honest about your own mistakes and learning from them
I remember working with a supervisor that once replied an email I had written in which he had questioned the validity regarding an issue I had raised. His words were careless and extremely blunt. Further, he had replied by copying it to an entire list of staff on the email list. I was really taken aback and felt a little humiliated by being questioned so bluntly and having it known by all the staff. However, the supervisor later approached me and apologized. He felt it was inappropriate to have been overly blunt and to have copied that email to all the staff. He was sorry about it and tried to make amends.
I always remember that as an example of a leader who was sincere in acknowledging a mistake that he had made. It was honest as well as healing to the relationship!
One of the most important traits that earns respect is when a leader owns up to a mistake they have made and tries to make amends. Situations and stresses often layer complexities to our leadership tasks, but owning up to mistakes and redress, or the lack thereof, often comes the state of our heart.
The Bible reminds us,
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
When God searches our hearts and speaks to us, we must remember that a leader’s first role is in standing before God with a clear conscience. We must first be honest with God in our motives for leadership. As God cleanses us and fills us again, the “baggage” is removed. This brings us back to that place of anointing—where we stand before the people to lead them as representing God’s purposes rather than our mixed motives. Incarnational leadership happens when the baggage of self is removed so that our leadership represents the best of God’s purposes and motives rather than our own.
- Is there a mistake / issue / relationship you need to settle to clear blocks / baggage to your leadership?
- Has God been dealing with your heart-motives in leadership?
- Will you honour your calling and leadership highly by clearing these potential blocks to your leadership?
4. Seeking God’s purposes for your organization / team above personal preferences
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)
Incarnational leadership happens when the baggage of self is removed so that our leadership represents the best of God’s purposes and motives rather than our own.
Jesus’ poignant call to His apostles was to serve others and be a slave to all, for God’s kingdom purposes. Leadership is a calling to be a steward to enable God’s purposes to be fulfilled in our team / organization. This means that God’s purposes for our organization / team should take precedence over our own preferences. The godly mandate for the organization / team should be the compass which navigates our decisions, our allocation of time and our expenditure of resources. This often requires us to step out of our comfort zone, to hold-back our personal style and preference, in order for the entire team to come around and give their best in fulfilling that godly mandate.
- Are you keenly aware of God’s purpose for this season for your organization/ team?
- What must be done in order to achieve?
- Is there a clash with your personal preference? What must you give up?
These are 4 current leadership principles-practices that impinge on the person of the leader. They express best when the leader has personally made a commitment for Christ’s values to flow through him.
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8-9)
The godly mandate for the organization / team should be the compass which navigates our decisions, our allocation of time and our expenditure of resources.
I submit to you that unless Jesus’ washing of Peter’s feet imparted a picture of the kind of leader God intended Peter to be, Peter would disqualify himself from God’s purposes because the surrounding environment constantly imposes a worldly picture of leadership in its stead.
Jesus’ feet-washing burnt a picture of godly leadership into the heart. It is that picture that should burn, forge and shape our leadership philosophy. When it flows in and through our persons, then it becomes incarnational.
This requires a constant pull-back on ourselves in order to make clear choices based upon godly values in our leadership journey. In other words, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:28-30, NASB)
When it flows in and through our persons, then it becomes incarnational.
May God grow in expressing the values of Jesus Christ consistently through good times and the bad, until what you see is what you get—an incarnational leader for Christ!
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