Confusing POWER with Leadership

One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is how power is confused with leadership. In fact, I believe the conventional thinking around leadership is that it is equated with power.

Today, this belief is expressed when we hear people saying they are speaking truth to power. Or we see people ambitiously seeking positions of corporate or political power.

To be sure power and leadership are related, but they are far from the same.

Jesus pointed to this confusion in Matthew 20:20-28 when James and John’s mother worked Jesus to try and get her sons top leadership billing when Christ would one day usher in His kingdom. And the other disciples got hot and bothered with James and John (probably because they had been beat to the punch).

Jesus saw through it all, to the core issue. In the minds of the disciples, such leadership equated to power. To be in such a prominent position was all about a power that would ultimately be self-serving.

That’s when Jesus famously uttered this rebuke:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I want to focus us on that first sentence.

In essence Jesus is telling the disciples that the view of leadership they have is warped because it mirrors what the world believes, which is personal power is the stuff of leadership. Lording it over people and exercising authority over them. At its core, it is narcissistic authoritarianism.

Jesus then introduces what true leadership is about.

True leadership isn’t focused on the power one is able to gain and exercise, but it’s focused on the people that such power impacts. Genuine leadership steps into the role of leading, not because of the power gained, but because of the people that power serves and how they can be positively affected.

So when those in leadership use their power for personal gain or to drive a personal agenda without regard for the impact on the people around them, they aren’t exercising leadership. They are abusing and misusing leadership. And by definition are failed leaders.

There is so much more I have to say on this – including the failed paradigm of “servant leadership” – that I am dedicating the next couple of blogs to this subject.

In the meantime, if you are in a leadership role, take a moment to think about how you view and use the power of your leadership position. Is it used for lording and exercising power over others? If so, you’re not really a leader, but rather a narcissistic authoritarian. And certainly not reflective of who Jesus is.

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