NOTE:  At the start of the year, we published a list of nine “core principles” around the notion of Leading Like Jesus. The article got a lot of reader feedback – all positive – so we decided to probe deeper by focusing on each principle individually in subsequent issues of The Catholic Leader. In this issue we focus on Core Principle 4. 

By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

The fourth core principle we listed in the process of Leading Like Jesus is: Jesus is the best leadership teacher and role model of all time.

In the business world from time to time the achievements of a corporation will put a spotlight on its CEO, and then he or she becomes a celebrity and a model or corporate leadership. As often as not, the adulation turns out to be misguided.

The corporation’s performance falters or the CEO runs into a rash of personal issues that knocks him or her off their pedestal.

Then the leader’s stark raving fans have to scramble to find a new role model they can use to guide their own leadership behaviors.

But I’ve been around long enough now to know that the process of rising and falling is nearly universal. Today’s shining light of guidance and wisdom becomes tomorrow’s goat.

We can do better

The fact of the matter is that we can do better than cultivating an unending line of leaders de jour that at first inspire us but then often disappoint us.

We can do better by adopting Jesus as our leadership teacher and role model.

I’ve seen some people in business leadership roles express skepticism about whether or not Jesus would thrive in their work environments, which are always pressure-packed, often hostile, and where way too often they find themselves having to swim with the sharks.

The problem with this perspective is that it takes in only a small part of Jesus’ character. Yes, he certainly was “a nice guy” nearly all of the time.

But we can’t forget that he stood up for his principles in the face of great adversity -- and that he gave up his life for the sake of his mission to do the will of his Father.

If it’s true that a leader’s effectiveness can be measured by the performance of his organization, Jesus’ achievements were unprecedented -- even by narrow secular standards. What other organization do you know that has lasted over 2,000 years, and even after that can still claim over 2 billon members?

It matters to Jesus

Even though many of us were exposed to Jesus’ life and teachings for years on end in Catholic schools and/or religious education classes, most of us weren’t exposed to the concept of Jesus as a leadership teacher and role model.  In my case, I went to Catholic schools for 12 years and even majored in theology at a Catholic college – and yet never once did anyone talk to me about Jesus as a leadership teacher or role model.

To this day I wonder how I missed that – and not just me but virtually every other Christian person I encounter in the course of this ministry. If I had a dollar for each time someone has told me that it never occurred to them to think of Jesus in a leadership context, I could probably buy a small country.

But once someone finally called my attention to it, my eyes were opened and it was all so obvious. Jesus  teaches and demonstrates leadership in all four Gospels. How more obvious could it be?

Among other things, that should tell us that how we lead is important to him. And it should also tell us that his disciples got that message. Why else would they include his leadership teaching when they sat down to write all of the Gospels?

Connecting the dots

No matter where you are working or the particulars of your family life, trying to be a Jesus-like leader is a great way – perhaps the best way – to connect your faith to your everyday life.

Pope Francis has called us to be “missionary disciples.” Fulfilling that role is rooted in how we behave, how we treat other people. We should be kind and considerate. We should act and speak truthfully. We should be true to our mission and our values in life.

It’s not always easy. But then it certainly wasn’t always easy for Jesus either. He knows how you feel. He knows how you try. He knows how you struggle. And through it all he loves you – completely and unconditionally.

That’s why we teach – and firmly believe – that Jesus is the best leadership teacher and role model of all time.

Now take a little time in Lent to grab your Bible, open it to the Gospels, and get to know Jesus better.

You’ll be glad you did. And so will he.