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There must be hundreds of books written on leadership. Go into any good bookstore, and you certainly won't be spoilt for choice. Until recently, my own opinions on the definition of leadership were along the lines of someone who is ultimately able to bend people to their will. Ok so there are nicer ways of saying this, and many ways of nicely causing people to do what you want (and lots of books that tell you how), but this - it seems - is the essence of the matter.

In other words leadership seemed ultimately to be a worldly ambition. I thought this way for a long time - but my gut was also telling me that this couldn't be the whole truth of the matter. After all many Christians are also leaders.

I want to digress to a study that made a surprise discovery about leadership. I read this recently and realized that here was a secular investigation that came to some remarkable conclusions about leadership, and which I think can provide an interesting perspective to some Bible passages I'll highlight shortly.

This secular study looked at 1435 companies looking for a trait where for at least 15 years their financial performance was on a par with everyone else, and then they went through a transition and for at least 15 years significantly and continuously outperformed the competition. Less than 1% of the companies they looked at met these criteria - 11 to be exact. There then followed several years of research to look at these companies - and others to compare - to find out what made these companies special. They called these companies 'good to great'*.

One of the several aspects they discovered revolved around leadership. To quote "The research team was shocked to discover the type of leadership required to achieve greatness." They called it "Level 5 leadership".

Regarding levels 1-4, they can be summarized as follows:

  • Level 1 is a highly capable individual contributor
  • Level 2 is a strong team player
  • Level 3 is a competent team manager
  • Level 4 is an effective leader - able to drive an organization towards some goal or vision.

The chief executive officer - the CEO - of an organization - operates at level 4. The strong leaders we all know - celebrity, egotistical, ambitious, demanding - certainly fall into this category.

However this study identified what they could only conclude as a better form of leadership:

  • Level 5 is a leader who builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.

To elaborate (and quoting liberally from the study*):

  • Level 5 leaders:
    • Every one of the good-to-great companies has level 5 leaders in the critical transition phase. None of the comparison companies did. These leaders are described as being timid and ferocious, shy and fearless and modest with a fierce, unwavering commitment to high standards.
    • A description of one of the level 5 CEOs: shy, awkward, shunning attention, but also showed iron will, determinedly setting a direction despite skepticism from outsiders.
    • Level 5 leaders are self-effacing, quiet, reserved, and even shy - more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar
    • Level 5 leaders rely on instilling inspired standards and not inspiring charisma to motivate. They build a culture of discipline. It is not a tyrannical disciplinarian one but one that enables freedom and responsibility.
    • Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and toward building a great company or organization. They often will sacrifice their own gain for the gain of the company.
    • When things do not go well Level 5 Leaders take responsibility for the failures and never blame other people, external factors, or bad luck. When they do go well they attribute success of their companies to external factors, their team or luck.
    • Level 5 Leaders are ambitious for their organization, and rarely allow their ego to be an obstacle for the success of their organization.
  • Level 4 leaders:
    • The Jack Welch’s, the "Larger-than-life” celebrity leaders, who ride in from the outside are negatively correlated with taking a company from good-to-great.
    • Level 4 leaders - often the superhero CEO - either eliminates any potential successors from his management team or chooses weak successors.
    • When things do not go well Level 4 Leaders do not always take responsibility for the failures and sometimes blame other people, external factors, or bad luck. When they do go well they tend to attribute success of their companies to themselves.

My own conclusion of this - after reading this book* and based my observations of many leaders I have dealt with in my day job over the last 15 years - are that Level 4 leaders are ultimately insecure about themselves, Level 5 leaders have a strong sense of security about themselves.

Consider the findings of this secular study and contrast with these verses:

  • Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth. Numbers 12:3.
  • "But Lord," Gideon asked, "how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." Judges 6:15.

  • When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!" David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD's people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor." 2 Samuel 6:20-22.
  • The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:11-12.

  • To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 1 Peter 5:1-6.

  • 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. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:6-8

This is just a sample - the Bible has much to say on humility. All the great leaders in the bible humbled themselves before God.

Finally consider this - well - awkward passages in Ephesians:

  • Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. " For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:21-33.

I've been married for almost 15 years, and the modern day relevance of this passage is one I've struggled with. The best interpretation I have found is 'well this means both must submit to each other' which is a restatement of Ephesians 5:21. In my case I see marriage as a partnership, and there are plenty of matters to be dealt with when you have four children - and the concept of 'husband being head of the wife' did not used to make sense to me.

Here is my updated point of view: For a 'husband to be head of the wife' is not to be interpreted as a statement of power, which is the natural interpretation. It is to be interpreted in the way Jesus lived his life demonstrating what is meant by 'Christ is the head of the church'. Jesus lived as a servant, he humbled himself completely. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the church, because his will was to do the will of the God. Obedience to this passage therefore means a husband must in Jesus name, and in accordance with the will of God, give himself completely to his wife, must sacrifice himself completely for her benefit. It's an ultimate act of love and commitment - of complete submission to the will of God in putting wife above self. Interestingly this passage does not ask the wife to love the husband, but demands the husband actively love the wife.

John Bell
April 17th, 2006
Irvine, California, USA.

*The findings of this research were published in a book "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't" by Jim Collins, published by HarperCollins.

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