By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

Last week I was asked to speak about the Catholic Vison for Leading Like Jesus (CVLLJ) to members of an amazing organization in Wichita, KS.

The organization is the Catholic Assembly for Business (CAB), which has more than 100 members, male and female -- many of whom gather for a breakfast each quarter, where they have the opportunity to network and to hear a Catholic speaker.

(By the way, the CAB meets at the Wichita Diocese’s Spiritual Life Center, which is a facility to die for. If your diocese or religious community is contemplating building a retreat center, visit this one to see best in class. Better yet, check out its roster of programs and make plans to attend one of them.)

When I spoke to CAB members last week, more than 70 were on hand. Blake Wells, one of the CAB’s founders and a CVLLJ Facilitator, reported that the group added five new members that morning.

Always a challenge

It’s always a challenge to summarize S3 Leadership – Servant, Steward and Shepherd -- in 30 minutes or so, but that was the task given me by the CAB. So I decided to summarize the key principles which serve as its foundation. Lo and behold, I ended up settling on seven, a very good number in scriptural contexts.

It occurs to me that you may find them useful as well – as a quick review if not a revelation. So here they are.

1. All of us are leaders some of the time.

Leadership is an influence process and anytime you try to influence the thinking or behavior of another person, you are leading. It starts early, even before consciousness: babies in the womb kick their moms to move so they can be more comfortable. By two years of age, children are busy trying to influence their parents.

2. Leadership can happen even when we’re not trying to influence anyone. 

Recall Charles Barkley’s refusal to be considered a role model. So what? Pro athletes and other celebrities are role models whether or not they want to be one. Closer to home, many parents can recall hearing their sweet, innocent child suddenly utter a profanity. No one taught them to say it. But they learned nonetheless.

3. So leadership is not a choice.

The only choice we have is what kind of leader we are going to be – and we submit that...

4. Jesus is the best leadership teacher and role model of all time.

Jesus was and continues to be the most incredible leader -- even by strictly secular standards. His organization, Christianity, numbers more than 2 billion people. (Even if you count only Catholics, the number exceeds 1 billion). It’s been around for over 2,000 years. Most businesses don’t last 10 years. Even empires come and go relatively quickly. But Christianity has survived over 2 millennia – and people are still dying for its principles.

5. How we lead was and is very important to Jesus – and to his apostles. 

Did you know that Jesus’ teaching about leadership comes up in all four Gospels? Notice his birth is described in only two Gospels. No, that doesn’t mean that his leadership teaching is more important than his birth. But it does mean it was important to him – and it was important to his apostles who wrote the Gospels.

6.  Jesus wants us to lead as Servants, Stewards and Shepherds – to be S3 Leaders.

The Gospels outline Jesus’ teaching about leadership and his example as a leader in terms of Servant, Steward and Shepherd. He makes it clear that real, profound, powerful and sustainable leadership is not so much about position as much as it is about relationships. Of course, if people with positional power can come to lead as Servants, Stewards and Shepherds, the impact of their leadership will be incredible. Here is the essence of S3 Leadership:

  • Servant – It’s not about me.
  • Steward – It’s not mine.
  • Shepherd – People are precious!

Like Jesus, Pope Francis has talked about leadership in terms of Servant, Steward and Shepherd.

7. Our self-esteem has to be rooted in the unconditional love of God.

Not long ago a student asked me: “What’s the hardest part about being an S3 Leader?” Before I even had time to think, I blurted out: “Getting people to believe that God loves them unconditionally.” It is so hard for so many people to accept.

Read Psalm 23. Then ask yourself: Does my relationship with God really give me this much comfort, contentment and safety? If not, why not?

Here’s the key to consistent, exceptional performance as an S3 Leader at home, at work, in our parishes and in our communities: I believe that no matter what I do, no matter how much I mess up, God still loves me unconditionally – enough to give up his life for me. God even loves me when I can’t love myself.

When we have that conviction rooted deep in our hearts, we realize that our personal worth is never completely at risk. I may be losing everything. I may feel like a total failure. But you know what? God loves me. God loves me enough to die for me. And God doesn’t make junk.

Of course, for that to sink into the marrow of our bones, we need a relationship with Jesus. We need a relationship with the Father. And we need a relationship with the Spirit.

My advice: Don’t try to do it all at once. Just work on it – every day, in prayer, in reflection, most of all in gratitude.

All you’ve got came as a free gift from God. Some days that may not seem like much. But if you have life, you have a lot. Be grateful for it.

Because you are loved beyond all measure.



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