Contrary to popular opinion, leadership is not about becoming great, but about enabling others to become great. “The best leaders,” Parker Palmer tells us, “do not take up all the room.” In this dog-eats-dog world that seems a little backwards. It is counter-cultural, and certainly counter-intuitive. But in the kingdom of God things are often turned upside down, just look at the Beatitudes. Jesus came to show us a new way—the true way—and we would do well to pay attention.
Life is not about becoming bigger, but about becoming smaller, so that he may be big. Jesus preached it, John the Baptist proclaimed it, and pilgrims and saints down through history have testified to it. Thomas à Kempis wrote: “Enjoy being unknown and regarded as nothing.” Trying to be known, and seen as somebody significant makes us the worst version of ourselves. Angela of Foligno, in her last message to her disciples, said, “Make yourselves small! Make yourselves very small!” She knew all too well that trying to be big was the root of so many of our problems. John the Baptist said, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30) And, in 1 Peter 5:5-6, Simon Peter, the leader of the early church, said, “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” In fact, Jesus himself said, “Blessed are the meek, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 5:5)
Simply put, the path to life, and to leadership, does not lead upward, but downward. It involves humility (lowliness of heart) and meekness and self-denial. It demands that we empty ourselves of self and stay low to the ground. The very best leaders are those who put others before themselves, and the success of others before their own. For whoever wants to be great among you, must be serve, and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all.” (Mark 10:43-44) It is in the giving up of life that we actually find life. So even though the world would try to convince you that becoming small is a bad thing, don’t be fooled. Becoming small is the very best way to lead—it is the way of Jesus.