I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
In Genesis 12:2-3, God promises to bless Abram and through him to bless “all the families of the earth.” Abram is blessed to be a blessing.
In a similar way, we who have been given leadership responsibility, whether in work, education, church, community, or some other context have also been blessed to be a blessing. We have received gifts that are essential to our leadership so that we might bless others.
What are these gifts? As I began to reflect on my own experiences of leadership, as a pastor, a writer, a retreat leader, and now an executive director of a leadership center, the first gift that came to mind was the gift of followers. I wouldn’t be much of a leader if I were a pastor without congregants, a writer without readers, a retreat leader without retreatants, or an executive director of a center without a constituency. Yet, God has given me people who have chosen to follow my leadership, and they have been blessings, not only because they make my leadership possible, but also because they have helped to shape my leadership even as they have been influenced by it.
In his wise book, Leadership Is an Art, Max De Pree points to the extraordinary importance of followers for a leader. He writes, “The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers. Are the followers reaching their potential? Are they learning? Serving? Do they achieve the required results? Do they change with grace? Manage conflict?” (p. 12). Max explains further, “People are the heart and spirit of all that counts. Without people, there is no need for leaders” (p. 13). The people who follow a leader are blessings to that leader.
Scott Cormode, a professor of leadership at Fuller Seminary and a Senior Fellow of the De Pree Center, uses different language to refer to the people I’m calling followers. Scott encourages leaders to think not so much in terms of followers as “the people entrusted to our care.” This perspective underscores the sanctity of the people whom we lead and the sacredness of our leadership responsibility. It also points to God as the one who does the entrusting.
If I think of the people who follow my leadership as those whom God has entrusted to my care, if I think of them as blessings given to me, then I will envision and exercise my leadership in ways that honor people and their contributions. I will be less inclined to take them for granted and more encouraged to see their gifts and thank God for them. I will seek, not only that they follow my leadership, but also that my leadership is a blessing to them that enables them to flourish in their life and work.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Do you think of those who follow your leadership as blessings from God? How might your leadership be different if you saw them this way more consistently?
Do you think of those over whom you have authority as people entrusted to your care? If you did, what difference might this make?
Gracious God, as I think of the blessings you have given me as a leader, I think immediately of the people who have followed me, the ones that you have entrusted to my care. Thank you, Lord, for this blessing. Thank you for their receptiveness, collegiality, support, and love. Thank you for the partnership we have experienced in our common work.
Help me, Lord, to see the people I lead as blessings from you. May my leadership be a blessing to them. And may our shared work bless others in your name. Amen.
Photo Credit: “Follow the Leader” – CC by David Spinks.
This post originally published on September 15, 2015.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: Abraham’s Faithfulness Contrasted with the Faithlessness of Babel (Genesis 12:1-3)
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