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Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people -Nelson Mandela

This morning I was thinking about contrasts in leadership styles …about how ‘success’ is measured differently depending on the style you choose.  For example, if your definition of success is measured by titles, recognition, or personal achievements it will look very different that if your definition of success is measured by the legacy that you leave.

Let that sink in for a moment, and think about leaders you admire who left a lasting legacy. Looking back, was it their personal interests that were served?  Or was it the interest of others?

Whether you have a religions affinity or not, let’s take a look at a historical example for Good Friday that I feel plays out nicely with this theme.

One End of the Spectrum

If you look back on Roman Society, what comes to mind?  Remembering my history and the many stories from the Roman Empire, I would have to lean towards the personal ambition side of the spectrum, where nothing was more important than furthering one’s own status with the hopes of eventually rising within the government (sound familiar to working your way up the corporate ladder at any cost?).

In Roman Society, the opinion of others dictated the opinion of one’s self … you were deemed worthy by others only by your achievements, and those achievements were immediately leveraged to further your status.  To quote something I was reading this morning on the topic … “And so in Rome, where nobility, military and political leadership were all intertwined, there would be no end of bragging, showing-off and a boundless supply of flattering rumors.”

The Other End of the Spectrum

The quote used to intro this post from Nelson Mandela highlights the other end of the spectrum … the idea of servant leadership.

Defined by Robert Greenleaf in the early 1970s, the main principle of servant leadership is that leaders are attentive to the concerns of their followers and empathize with them, including those with little power in a system. Servant leaders make others better by listening, through understanding and empathy, by being aware and especially being self-aware, through persuasion, through conceptualization or vision, by being a good steward, and through commitment to the growth of people and the greater community.

Many articles will confirm that ensuring the good of others many times means sacrificing of one’s self.

Perfect Example

Like I said, whether you have a religious affinity or not, the story from Good Friday where Jesus is being tried by Pontius Pilate is a fantastic historical example of both ends of the spectrum.

To summarize the story, the religious leaders of the time felt threatened by the authority Jesus represented, and so brought him to trial before the local governing body of Rome (with the prefect or local ruler being Pontius Pilate). There was very little evidence that would condemn Jesus, and even Pontius Pilate’s wife urged her husband not to have anything to do with him because of a dream.  It was a very public and potentially volatile situation, and the outcome could severely impact Pontius Pilate’s status.  He knew this, and in the end abdicated his responsibility and gave in to the crowd’s desires.

And so, to contrast the two leadership styles …

  1. One leader served others. One served himself.
  2. One leader led the crowd. One succumbed to it.
  3. One leader made hard decisions. One made expedient ones.
  4. One leader was committed to long-term vision. One was committed to short-term success.
  5. One leader was focused on leaving a legacy. One was interested in being popular.
  6. One leader took ownership. One did not want responsibility.
  7. One leader gave up his position. The other was protecting his.
  8. One leader sacrificed for others. One cared only for himself.