Around last week, I was listening to Rev. Stephen Tong’s Masterclass (basically like a Seminar). He said something which really struck me deeply. It’s something along this line:

Woe to you who wants to become a leader because you want people to serve you! Woe to you if you want to be a leader because you think you will have many people helping you!

A leader is the one who serves all his people! He should be the one who works the hardest! The one with the heaviest responsibility!

It’s not something I recently heart, in fact I try to follow this principle with all my personal shortcomings. It just serves me as a very strong reminder, what a leader is, if I have such role in all aspects of life.

Common Misconception

Many people I know have great ambitions to raise in the ranks and become “Leader” because they want an easy life. A life where there is little to do, but lots of money coming in. This is also why schemes like MLM (Multi-Level-Marketing) is very interesting for a lot of people. It sells of the dream of working hard for a few years, and then doing nothing afterwards because the people below you will be working to keep cash flowing into your pocket. Raised from a family who also owns a small business, this kind of concept is also burned into me since I was small. So the target is to own multiple businesses or shops. Let some people take care of it to keep cash flowing so that you can relax, be rich, and enjoy life. In an office environment, this kind of thinking will also trigger a lot of politics.

Many people forget that when you rise in the ranks, your responsibility also raise. Very often, it also includes the responsibility to lead people, putting people in the role of a leader directly or indirectly. However, being a leader doesn’t mean you get to work less. It also doesn’t mean you can just blame people.

What should Leader do?

As to the previous quote, the answer in obviously to serve. A Leader is followed by his people. He could convince people to do what he wants. How does he do that? It is by serving the people.

What does serving the people means? It means you genuinely care about the people. You convince them, by telling them what is good for them. You help them. It can also be as simple as answering questions from others. It’s less about you, more about others. This is also the reason why people want to follow a leader.

If a leader is a total egotistical bastard, it doesn’t matter how great or charismatic he is, people will start to leave him eventually. People might follow if they could somehow get benefit from him, but it’s not really the same as leading.

Leader in Life

We need to remember that leading is not something we only do in workplaces. It exists in most aspects of our lives. It could be in your family, in your community like bands, religions, or even just your friends. It could also be as trivial as when playing games.

All of them share the same leadership aspect, which is to serve. In your family, you are serving your husband, your wife, or your child. People should not marry thinking it will make their life easier! It’s actually responsibility added! In the community, you are serving the community, or the people in the community. You think what is best for them, and proactively invite and convince people to do it. It can also be in your friends circle, you are serving your friends. Even when just playing games, you could think about how everyone could have fun together, and not just you!

So it’s the mentality to serve. Again, less about you, more about others.

Emergence of a Leader

There is a very interesting question. When is a leader made into existence? Does one need to possess all the required skills necessary to be a leader first before he can become the leader? Or does one become a leader first and then obtain all the required skills to be a leader? It’s a simple chicken or egg first question.

The answer is the mentality to serve first. No one is ever ready to lead. Even if they think they are, they might not. No one also just becomes a leader just like that. A leader emerges when he has served enough. Someone with the mentality to serve will automatically be regarded as a kind of leader. People will start recognizing that fact, and he will be appointed as a leader either indirectly or directly (officially become a leader). Skills are something that keeps improving afterwards.

Some people said a leader is not born, but made. I believe this might be not precise enough. Leader grows, not made.

Leader vs Ruler

Many people like to compare a leader and a ruler. A leader is someone who is followed. A ruler forces someone to follow. Usually a leader is regarded as good, and a ruler as not. This is not necessarily true. In some cases, there is a need for a ruler. The easiest example taken from the Management 3.0 book is the referees in a football match. They rule the field, anyone who doesn’t listen is kicked out of the field. Are referees then bad? Well no. However, in the case of an egotistical dictator for example, it’s obviously bad. This kind of things need to be inserted a context before we can discuss more. In case of work management’s context, a mixture is usually needed.

To Serve, and to Learn

A friend of mine quoted something from Rev. Stephen Tong which impressed me so much, and it has been one of my life philosophy so far:

Nobody comes to give. Nobody comes to teach.

Everyone comes to serve, and to learn.

It really changes a lot of my perspective. When we come to a new place, very often we might feel superior.

“I’m better than all these people.”, “These guys are so stupid.”, “Why I am always helping or teaching them things, who is going to teach me?!”, “I don’t feel I can learn anything anymore.”

These kind of thinking is usually what happen when someone come with the mentality to give or to teach. It has a lot of negative effects. People getting annoyed at you. You feeling frustrated. The more important thing is, it hinders the ability to learn from other people, or just new things. When someone is feeling frustrated, there will be a lot of things he won’t see. He sees, yet he is blind.

When we have the mentality that we come to serve the people, the company, it changes everything completely. Helping people is normal, because we come to serve. We genuinely care about the people and the company, and we are serving them. While serving people, we also genuinely believe there is something we can always learn from other people, from the company, from anywhere. When we teach, or give, it’s not because we are superior, but because that we care, and we are serving others. We do our best to serve others humbly, and learn humbly. Same situation as before, but very different perspective.

Closing Story

As a Christian myself, there is one story which is very interesting from the bible. It’s a story about how James, John, and the sons of Zebedee come to Jesus because they want to “raise in the ranks”. It’s very interesting and it’s very closely related to what this post is about.

Don’t worry if you are not a Christian, you can just think the story is just a moral thing as many Liberals do today. Even though we might have a different faith, I think there are at least some truths from the bible which we can both share and hold true.

The story is from Mark 10:35-45, ESV Translation.

The Request of James and John

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?”

37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized,

40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.

42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.

43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,

44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”