How would you cap off a long-term leadership development program? Hold a special dinner? Give an inspiring speech? That’s what one of the world’s greatest leaders did. But first, before the dinner and before the speech, he dressed himself like a slave and washed his students’ dirty feet.
Whether you’re a believing Christian or not, you can’t deny the impact Jesus of Nazareth has had on the world. His humble act of service on the night before his crucifixion was the culmination of three years of intimate teaching, coaching, and mentoring. So why did he choose to wash their feet?
Because Jesus knew that to lead is ultimately to serve. It was a radical concept 2,000 years ago – and it still is today. He wanted to give them an experience they would never forget, one that would embed itself in their hearts and minds. For he knew that with the power of leadership would come the constant temptations of pride and abuse.
The example worked. The men in that room would take the concept of servant leadership and use it to turn the world upside down. They didn’t do it by commanding armies, or destroying their enemies; they did it by leading with humility and service. Those have been the hallmarks of great leadership ever since. When leaders cease to see leadership as a humble service they start down the road to ruin – for themselves, their people, and their organization.
That’s why every year on Maundy Thursday, I wash my wife’s feet and the feet of my children. I do it to remind myself that I am their servant every day of the year. I do it so they know what great leadership is all about. I do it so they can keep me accountable to my calling to lead them well.
Do you think service is key to leadership? If so, how do you maintain a servant’s attitude?