Some leaders are born while others are developed. And there are thousands of books available to teach people how to become better leaders. I’ve read many of them. Some are good. Some are less helpful. But James Autry’s book, The Servant Leader, is, as far as I am concerned, a winner. I am of the opinion that every leader, be it in the corporate world or in the church, should read this book. It’s not written from a Christian perspective. In fact, the author never mentions anything about his own religious beliefs, but what amazed me was to find how this book brings into practice the principles of leadership as taught to us in the Bible.
I myself have often spoken about the necessity of servant leadership, especially in the church but also in the corporate world where Christians often fill leadership positions. In fact, I published a post on my blog on 14 April last year, with this exact heading: “Servant Leadership” and on another occasion I tried to explain something of how we try and put servant leadership into practice in Swaziland in my post with the title: “Washing each other’s feet”. Each time we train a new group of home-based caregivers, I refer to the occasion when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and when he said, in Matthew 18:4: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
What makes this book by James Autry authentic, is that he himself applied these principles in real-life situations in various leadership positions that he filled and he also coached others to apply the same principles, with good results. And in most other books about leadership, the authors only write about successes, while Autry also writes about the problems which may occur – such as layoffs, legal battles, personal problems in the lives of employees and their family members, and many more. As I read this, I realised that he was echoing many principles which I try to apply (with varying success) in our ministry in Swaziland. Working with volunteers make it both easier and more difficult for a leader. It is easier in the sense that the people who are doing the work actually want to be there. They’re not doing anything because they are forced to do so through some contract. But it is also more difficult because people can leave at any time, without fearing that they will lose their income (because there ís no income).
I’ve had to make some serious decisions about my personal leadership style and I have chosen for the servant model, believing that this is the closest to the model that Jesus demonstrated. And I believe that we are reaping the fruit because of this decision.
Servant leadership is scarce amongst church leaders. And for this reason I want to recommend that every church leader read this book. If it doesn’t change your life, hopefully it will at least get you thinking about your leadership style.