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Key to greatness; people everywhere are searching for that "thing" called leadership - it can be found in a few ancient words.


As I watch people devour such best-sellers as In Search of Excellence, Megatrends, and Iacocca, and as I listen to them talk at conference tables and in hallways during seminars, I'm struck by a universal awareness of the possibilities of greatness--for an individual, for a family, for a company, for a region, or for a nation. People yearn to help lead their various groups--their associations--to greatness.

Americans sense that there's something "out there'--some way to greatness, or success, or fulfillment--if we could only find it. We suspect it's bound up in something quite intangible called "leadership' that we try very hard to convert to a tangible. We look at this model and that model; we dissect companies and cultures; we fret about the Japanese. We can almost see "it'--but not quite.

Our country is aware that Ronald Reagan, a rather ordinary man in many ways, has given us several glimpses of that intangible quality during the past five years. But we are conscious of few others, in this country or in any other, who manifest genuine leadership: effective managers, hard-charging entrepreneurs, dazzling creative geniuses--but too few true leaders. To say that we may be in a leadership crisis is not exaggerating.

Leadership not only commands authority or influence, it creates voluntary followers, and arouses and moves them toward greatness. In its pure state it does not push; it pulls by sheer moral or spiritual authority-- by simple presence.

How does this leadership, this greatness, come about? How does it actually work?

I've determined that the best clue, as with much ordinary, workaday life, is found in the Bible. We don't have to "get religion' to learn from it: The clue is found in Jesus' remarks to a few of his disciples after they argued about which of them was "the greatest.'

"The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them,' he said, "and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.' [Luke 22:25-26]

He, the one considered by Christians to be the Lord of all Creation, capped the statement: "I am among you as one who serves.' He saw the main ingredient as the willingness to serve rather than be served.

What are we to think in these waning years of the 20th century, when indeed we are hurting desperately for greatness? That particular teaching clearly states: If you want to lead, you must serve. The one who serves will become the leader. In other words, if you wish to be truly great, become a servant.

But this teaching goes against the grain. We have been taught just the opposite. Servants everywhere are striving to escape servanthood so they can have their own servants. Workers strive to escape any image of servanthood. Think of labor-management relations: A manager has no desire to be a servant of the labor ranks; he can barely utter the words, even in a hypothetical discussion. And no blue-collar worker wants to be reminded that he's a servant of management. He may punch you in the nose if you even mention the idea.

The desire to be other than a servant extends beyond the industrial arena, however. A politician may smile modestly when someone refers to him as a "public servant,' but deep down he probably doesn't mean it, preferring instead the notion of celebrity and actually expecting everyone to serve him. Many ministers of the church, especially in our day of television and publishing celebrity, prefer the spotlight of fame and public recognition to that of "servant of the flock.'

Take a moment to lump the proposition "leading by serving' with another idea tucked in with those words of Jesus: ". . . let him who is greatest among you become as the youngest.' What does that mean? Most of us know from firsthand experience that little children's behavior can often be very trying. But we also know that under normal circumstances, they have three predominant qualities: trust, open-mindedness, and humility. Quite simply, children love life--they're free, innocent, transparent, and genuine--until society teaches them otherwise. If we combine these qualities with the attitude of serving, we may begin to see improvements in leadership and may even begin to see genuine greatness. Think of Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, or the Japanese auto industry. Our attitude is the key. Do we see ourselves as servants or as servers? Do we see ourselves as givers or as takers?

John Kennedy's famous 1961 statement, "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,' applies whether we're processing food, handling securities on the stock market, working in government, preparing young people to become productive citizens, or manufacturing a single item for a multimillion-dollar communications system.

How do you stand with your constituents, whatever occupation they may hold? Are you coming in from the exalted position or the low one? Are they serving you, or are you serving them?

Think about it: If a man meets the need of someone else often enough that others seek him out, he's on his way to leadership, and possibly to greatness--very simple yet almost impossible to seize, yet the answer to one of the cravings of mankind.

Photo: Bob Slosser, former New York Times editor and author of many books about the American scene, is president of CBN University, Virginia Beach, Virginia.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Slosser, Bob
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:column
Date:Mar 1, 1986
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