How to Be a Servant Leader When You Feel Trapped at Work

Today’s business self-help books are written for people in a variety of positions. To my surprise, however, only a handful of these books mentioned servant leadership, which our Lord Jesus modeled to us. What can we gain from learning how to be good servant leaders?

Several years ago, I was promoted to a management position in title only. There was neither authority assigned to me, nor a pay raise associated with this change. I couldn’t hire or fire anyone, nor give promotions or raises. Suddenly I found myself in an awkward position. On one side, I became the scapegoat when things went wrong, and on the other, my peers refused to do work as soon as it required a “management decision.”

As the pressure mounted, this question quickly came to mind, “How do I lead a team without a hierarchy of power? Could it be done at all?” In this trying time, I looked to our Lord Jesus Christ for an answer. In Matthew 22:15-22, the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus with this question, “Is it right to pay tax to Caesar?” Jesus answered, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” I marveled at Jesus because he was able to resolve the hostility using only common sense, and did not resort to positional power.

I asked myself, what is servant leadership? Jesus was the Messiah, the promised one, but he did not come as an expected king, but as a common man. It was this common man who became the mediator between us and God. Jesus served God and mankind differently than today’s business managers, directors, and VPs. He was willing to sacrifice himself for his flock. In my situation, I used servant leadership to serve my boss without complaining and shepherded my team unconditionally. A few years later, our office became the most profitable business unit within our organization.

Next time you feel trapped at work, try following the biblical command to live and lead with humility like Jesus. Leading with a servant’s heart, you will find you’re not only helping yourself but also your teammates at the same time!

Reflection Questions:

  1. Other than patience and love, what other qualities are important to being a servant leader?
  2. Identify one or two things at work you can apply “servant leadership” to.

Written by Tom Tui. Artwork by Jasmine Chan

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