Leadership Musings (2)

Joan Marques - Ed.D., MBA.
Burbank, California

As part of the evaluative sessions about famous leaders, my team of leadership students and I reviewed a documentary on the life of Jesus. As was the case with previous reviews, the assessment was based solely on the subject’s leadership skills, and not on who or what he represented. The intention was not to praise or condemn this leader, but rather to review his leadership style, his characteristics, and the determinants that occurred during his emergence toward the great soul he became.

Our concentration areas were:

According to the documentary reviewed, Jesus was from humble beginnings. Not that this was an unknown factor, as the story of Christ's birth is one of the most famous worldwide. However, the authorities interviewed in this program stated that, unlike in the famous Christmas story, Jesus was probably born in Nazareth, the hometown of his parents, Josef and Maria. The sources claim that Jesus was presumably raised to become a carpenter, just like his father. He was Josef and Maria's oldest, but not only child. He had several siblings: at least 3 brothers and a few sisters.

Little is known about the first half of Jesus' life, except for the incident in the synagogue at age 12, where he impressed the elders with his intellect. In general, most of the sources assume that Jesus generally led an ordinary life as member of an ordinary Jewish family. The sources also assert that he may have had some exposure to life outside his hometown at various occasions. These encounters may have planted the seed for his roaming years later on.

Jesus' first experience with inspirational leadership may have been his confrontation with John the Baptist in the Jordan. If perceived from a leadership perspective, we can conclude that John the Baptist became Jesus' mentor, igniting within him the stimulation to become a transformational and motivational leader. Whether as a follower of John, or individually, Jesus apparently interacted with a multitude of people after that. However, his whereabouts in this timeframe are mainly based on speculations. Fact of the matter is, that when Jesus returned to his hometown, Nazareth, his fellow citizens did not appreciate the change he had undergone and even felt threatened by the stranger he had become in their eyes.

As usually happens with people who grow out of the proportions of the small environment they were raised in, Jesus was soon chased out of his hometown, after which he started collecting followers on his journeys through other cities. This is where he made his name and fame: he held speeches in synagogues, was widely praised for his eloquence, wisdom, and healing powers, and continued to gather crowds of devotees everywhere he went.

One can question whether the miracles that Jesus performed during his lifetime, such as changing water into wine, walking on water, and resurrecting the deceased, were acts of mass hypnosis, mass suggestion, or real miracles, but his popularity was undisputable.

No wonder that he became a clear and present danger in the eyes of the assigned contemporaneous leaders. Jesus' case is a clear illustration of community (unofficial) leadership versus assigned (official) leadership. And as his influence grew, so did the fear of King Herod for being overruled by this strange inspirational figure.

So, what could we learn from Jesus as a leader?

    1. The correlation between Jesus and his followers was one of inspiration. Most of his admirers were initially attracted to him by the stories of his supernatural powers, and they wanted to experience these powers, either for themselves or for their less fortunate loved ones. Once Jesus' name was established through word of mouth, the crowd kept on swelling. Like fans around a celebrity.

    2. Some of Jesus' positive qualities were:

      a. The contents of his message, with non-violence, respect, and empathy as some of the highlights.
      b. His self-confidence: the first registered manifestation of this quality was Jesus' conversation with the elders in the temple at age 12. His many verbal explanations of being the Son of - and the only way to - God, may further serve as examples of his high self-perception.
      c. His capability to inspire: he gained followers wherever he went, and he must have been a charismatic person.
      d. His intelligence: he was never shy for words. On the contrary: he always managed to formulate answers that could be interpreted in multiple ways.
      e. His determination: even when he realized after the murder of John the Baptist that he might soon suffer the same fate, he continued his mission, and traveled back and forth to Jerusalem until he got arrested and killed.
      f. His faith in his mission: He believed that everything happens as it is written, so it is no use to fight against it. One can rather do his or her utmost in executing whatever he or she believes in, for as long as one is given the time to do so.
      g. His influence: He changed the lives and perspectives of many. It turned out that Jesus' legacy grew immensely after his death, while he had his share of opponents and ridiculers - like any leader – during his life.

    3. Some of Jesus' negative qualities are:

      a. His emotional outbursts at times when he perceived injustice, such as the temple market, which he fiercely condemned by smashing the tables where the trading was done.
      b. His stubbornness, which drove him forth long beyond the point of carelessness. He knew he ran the risk of getting killed, yet he firmly continued his mission. One can, of course, question whether this is really a negative quality, or just a positive quality stretched beyond its boundaries. But risk-taking can be responsible or irresponsible. Jesus drove his risk predilection to the point of no return.
      c. His over-confidence: he was uninhibited when it came to intellectual encounters.
      d. His unwillingness to compromise: Jesus simply did not accept any other vision than the one he was proposing. That may seem like an "It's either my way or the highway" mindset.

    4. Some of Jesus' outstanding traits were:

      a. His physical flexibility, which enabled him to adapt to various difficult situations, such as the fasting in the wilderness for a respectable amount of weeks.
      b. His obvious energy: considering that traveling in those days mainly happened by foot or donkey, Jesus must have had a decent dosage of vibrancy to withstand this.
      c. His strong will: Jesus' ability to rise above the mediocrity of an average life in an average town to become one of the greatest and most influential leaders of all time proves this.

The question remains whether Jesus, had he not taken the risk of being assassinated, would have also risen to the immortality that he now enjoys. Of course his appearances after his death remain unexplainable, but, like so many other leaders after him, his legacy really skyrocketed after his passing. Jesus of Nazareth has proven that leaders don't have to be born: they can be made.