"Needy leaders are grasping leaders. If leaders trust God to bring them the people they need, people will sense their security and be more likely to feel safe with them and follow their lead. Insecurity comes in all forms. An insecure disposition can develop over time as a poor response to difficult circumstances. A deeper form of insecurity is a manifestation of pride. This can be very damaging in the life of an ambitious leader; it can cause us to claim people as “ours” rather than recognize they belong to the Lord. They are only ours to the degree that we care for them as Jesus cared for His followers. Pride in the life of leaders makes them self-serving and blind to other’s needs. Pride leads to presumption and presumption leads to possessiveness. It takes a large dose of humility to put the needs and dreams of others above your own. A humble leader is the kind of leader others trust with their future dreams and aspirations.
Leadership is a privilege, not a right. It is a privilege to serve others, and with great privilege comes great responsibility. But some leaders confuse the difference between fulfilling their responsibility and thinking they have the right to insist on things being done their way. In his incisive book, Why Leaders Can’t Lead, Warren Bennis speaks candidly on the difference between leading people and managing them. After studying the lives of effective leaders, he concluded that leaders are people who do the right thing while managers are people who strive to ensure that people under them do things right.1 While both roles are crucial, they differ profoundly. It is the difference between those who hold their people with a relaxed grasp, and those who grip them as if they own them. People don’t respond well to being over-managed and under-led. They want to be led by those they believe in. If they have bought into you as a leader, they want you to lead them - but not micro-manage them.
The principle of the relaxed grasp is about releasing people into God’s hands so He can put them into yours. We don’t serve in order to be good leaders, but we’re more likely to be good leaders if we serve people rather than grasping them as ours. If we serve people well, we influence them, and if we influence them, then we have spiritual authority in their lives. Serving equals influence equals authority. Those who do not take hold of this Jesus-approach to leadership assume they have the right to insist on people submitting to them and respecting them.
When I was leading a missions training center in Holland, a friend confronted me. He said, “You see people for how they can meet your needs and help you fulfill your vision...God wants to change that. God wants you to see people for how you can help them fulfill their vision, not yours. If you will hold people with a relaxed grasp, with your hands open, God will fill your hands with more leaders than you know what to do with. But if you hold onto them tightly, then your hands will be full and God cannot give you more people...especially the right people.” I was offended when I heard these words of rebuke. But they were true. My anger was from guilt. I was an insecure leader who had more vision than character, and who held onto volunteers and staff as if they were my own, not the Lord’s.
With the help of persistent prompting from the Lord, I took this realization to heart and began to practice servant leadership. When I stopped using people to fulfill my vision and began serving them to see their visions fulfilled, the prophetic words of my friend came to pass many times over. There has never been a shortage of other leaders in my life. My hands have been full.
Yes, God gives us vision as leaders, and we should share that vision passionately with others with the hope that God will send people to help us fulfill the vision. But we must be careful about letting our passion overrule our compassion. The sincere attitude of wanting to serve people will demonstrate that we are the right ones to link up with. We become the kind of leaders people can trust and support, because we care not only about our cause, but about them.
Are your hands open to receive and release others? Are you a “releasing leader”? Releasing leaders have settled the deeper issues that cause insecurity. They have confronted pride; they are willing to serve. Servant leadership is a lifelong journey of learning what it means to put others first, of learning over and over again the great privilege we’re given when God puts people into our hands to lead and care for."