True leaders know how to be led. This phrase has hovered with me over many years. What is being referred to is the fact that a true leader knows how to appropriately respond when they are not in a situation of leading something. In such a situation the true leader knows that their call is to support and submit to the one leading.
There is a sense that this is counterintuitive because we think that a true leader must to be seen to be such by always dominating the situation. They prove their leadership by being seen always to be the one in control. This is a worldly way though, and not godly. One of the most astonishing phrases in scripture is in Luke 51a And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. Here is our Lord submitting to his parents as a youth. The ultimate Leader, our beloved Lord, is happy to be led.
The true leader submits because he understands leadership and how it is that organisations function best with the proper operating of leadership. He knows that if the leader is always being disrupted and undermined by those under him then the organisation will not flourish. Hence the elder of a church will know that in his teaching job he must support and submit to the head teacher in his school. In fact he will be the best at supporting them.
For a true leader to be be led will take a significant exercise of the self-control. This is particularly the case when he realises that the leadership he has to submit to has many short-comings. He may feel that he has to take-over in order to save the organisation. After all “he is a true leader”. However, he is more like to sabotage the organisation if he undermines the established leadership.
David was a man who had godly desires in his heart. He was a man who understood that to undermine leadership is a very serious thing. When David’s men urged him to finish off Saul. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Sam. 24:6). Now, by this time Saul was making a mess of being king. However, David would not undermine him. This is all the more striking when we realise that David is the true king.
We tend to think that a true leader is shown by their relentless tendency to dominate and impose their will. However, this may well be simply a demonstration of selfish indulgence which helps, neither themselves, nor others. And by way of consequence they harm the situation wherein they are seeking to dominate.
When we are looking for leaders in our churches we need to be savvy to this principle. A true leader knows how to be led.