We are looking at five implications for leaders taken from Philippians 2:7, where Paul tells us that Jesus “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant.” Are we ready to lead in this selfless, sacrificial way? If so, here is the second of five ways that leading in obedience to Christ will require of us that we become leaders of no reputation.
Surefire Way #2 – Tell the truth
You probably know the familiar leadership question, ‘would you rather be liked or respected?’ Here is a bit of truth regarding our answer; we all say ‘respected’ but lead like people who want to be liked. It is the rare leader who truly chooses respect at the price of likability. We may, from time to time, make a hard decision and face pushback, but day in and day out, we mostly value the approval of the people we lead.
It seems remarkable to me that it is difficult to find any sense in Scripture that Jesus valued the approval of the people he loved and came to save. When thousands followed him wherever he went and hung on his every word, he did not hold his hands in the air and quote Sally Fields, ‘You like me, you really like me!’ In fact, he taught them in words that often offended them. There was no doubt that he loved them, but that love almost always produced rebuke of sin and a sharp challenge to the way they were living. Try for your self to find one passage in the gospels that seems to indicate that Jesus was concerned with how well people thought of him. It isn’t that he went out of his way to offend, but it seems clear that his one focus was on teaching them what was best for their bodies and their souls, even at the cost of causing offense. Perhaps he loved them enough to look beyond the need to please to the opportunity to transform. He wasn’t seeking friends but disciples, and the two are considerably different.
How would we lead if our sole focus was on helping our people become the most fully committed and faithful followers of Christ they could possibly be? What if we committed our self to speak the truth that people need to hear in order to grow in Christ rather than saying the nice words they want to hear that only enable them to stay stuck where they are? What if we loved them enough to risk losing our reputation of being a ‘nice person’ in favor of having peace in our hearts that we were being faithful in our call as leaders?
I believe it is the preoccupation with reputation that keeps us from speaking the truth to the people we care about the most. How ironic. If we value the reputation of being liked and well-thought of, we miss countless opportunities to truly minister to those we lead and serve. You may argue that one can be both liked and also speak the truth, but I would challenge that, over time, the need for approval will overtake the desire to speak truthfully.
It is only by laying aside our need for a reputation as a likable person that we can embrace the call to the kind of leadership that God can use to transform the people we serve and the organizations we lead. Such a leader is one who is free from the tyranny of reputation cultivation.