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 6. 

By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

In our last installment, we focused on Servant Leadership, the first S in S3 Leadership. The basis for servant leadership is the realization that “It’s not about me.”

We noted in the last installment just how difficult it is to not make everything in life “about me.” Self-centeredness is the dark side of a great gift and grace, self-awareness. The problem is, especially in our contemporary culture, that we focus so much on the self that we forget where the self came from and what sustains it.

I emerges from we

In fact, our very sense of self is a social phenomenon. We learn about the self by interacting with others in the fundamentally interdependent web of human community. The self emerges as each of us interacts with others. Without this interaction, the self is sadly unable to accomplish even the most basic tasks – things as basic as control of our bowel and bladder.

At the other end of the spectrum, without the human community’s gift of language, we are not able to think self-consciously, to analyze, to deal with issues of meaning, much less communicate and express our needs to others.

We are one-anothered into life, into development, into maturity and into eternity. It’s clear that’s the way God intended us to live, to grow and to serve one another.

But growing up as we do in a culture focused on the individual self, it’s a struggle to live in the fuller and more accurate reality of human interdependence. All too often we see the self primarily as pitted against others in the struggle for success. We see the self as fundamentally alone, isolated.

Relying on stuff

At the same time, we tend to focus not only on ourselves, but also on what we own. Indeed, for many a successful life is a matter of material success – the more we have, the better we are doing. We tend to see the accumulation of material things as a measure of our self-worth.

  • If we have a lot, we are successful and our lives are worthwhile.
  • If we don’t have a lot, we are failures and our worth is minimal.

One wise but cynical person noted the utter absurdity of this perspective, describing it thusly: “The one with the most toys when he dies, wins.”

You do not need to be a genius to see how futile – and so profoundly stupid – that perspective is.

And yet it holds incredible sway as we define and pursue success and self-worth today.

Another way

Jesus teaches us an entirely different way to define success and measure our self-worth.

Jesus specifically says we should not put the self first. We should put God -- our Father, our Creator – first. We should love Him with our whole heart, mind and soul.

And then we should love our neighbor not as an afterthought, but as we love ourselves. Just the same.

Goodness, that’s asking a lot. But Jesus asks it nonetheless.

Jesus also teaches us that each and every one of us has dignity – not owing to any gift we may have or things we have accumulated, but because we are children of a God who loves each and every one of us unconditionally.

There’s more

More, who we are and everything that we have – our lives, our health, our every talent – are gifts to us from God. He gives them freely but with a purpose: We are to use our gifts for the common good, not for our personal aggrandizement.

  • Servant leadership (S1) says it’s not about me.
  • Steward leadership (S2) says it’s not mine.

Having a sense of ourselves as stewards is so essential to living, loving and leading like Jesus because as long as we go through life focusing on what is mine, life will always be about me.

Instead of being consumed by consumption, we should move ourselves to be consumed by gratitude – gratitude for the many gifts God has entrusted to us for the good of humanity, the good of His children.

And we should express that spirit of gratitude with generosity – reflecting and amplifying the generosity of our heavenly Father.

That’s clearly the way Jesus calls us to live – and to lead.


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