Lessons on Transformational Leadership from Jesus

Painting of Jesus Christ

Kenneth Blanchard, the renowned management expert who wrote, “The One Minute Manager,” and who developed the Situational Leadership model, once said,

“The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.”

Jesus was the greatest leader of all time and the world feels his influence today just as much or more than when he walked this earth nearly 2,000 years ago. We can learn a lot from Jesus.

I have been a student of both Jesus and the leadership experts for years and I can tell you this: the example of Jesus’ leadership is still relevant and powerful.

This article is based on an account found in the Gospel of Luke 24:13-35, where Jesus has an encounter with two men walking home from Jerusalem after the events of his death and resurrection. It was an encounter that changed their lives forever.

The narrative tells us Jesus saw two men walking home from Jerusalem, so he joined them on their walk. They were discussing the things that had taken place in the past few weeks in Jerusalem.

During that time, they didn’t recognize who he was. One of them says to him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have happened there?”

Jesus then explains to them from the Scriptures, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah must suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”

Then they came to a place where the road turned off toward the village of Emmaus. It was getting dark and people did not travel in the dark in those days, so the men invited Jesus to their home.

When they sat down to eat that night, Jesus took the bread, broke it and blessed it. At that moment, the men recognized who he was and then he disappeared from their sight.

After Jesus left, they said to one another: “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road?”

The next day they returned to Jerusalem confirming to everyone that Jesus had indeed risen from the grave.

In this account, Jesus exemplifies seven practices of transformational leadership.

I. TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERS ARE WILLING TO INVEST TIME AND ENERGY

Emmaus was about 7 miles from Jerusalem. The average person on average terrain walks about 3 miles per hour. This means they were walking and talking for about 2.5 hours.

Then after the walk, Jesus had dinner with them in the home of one of the travelers.

It takes time and commitment to influence others. Jesus spent a significant chunk of time with these men.

This is transformational leadership — leadership that causes change in the individual — and it requires a higher level of commitment from the leader.

II. TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERS AVOID BECOMING DEFENSIVE

People live in their own little world, especially when after experiencing serious dissonance between what they expected and what actually transpired. They can be unaware of the feelings of others and say things that offend and provoke. These men did not expect the Messiah to be crucified.

“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days? (v. 19).

That kind of confrontational tone would cause most people to respond in kind. A transformational leader resists the temptation to respond defensively. Jesus simply asks for clarification. “What things?”

III. TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERS LISTEN TO THE STORIES OF OTHERS

Jesus asked: “What things?” and then listened to their story.

Transformational leaders invite others to tell their story and then listen carefully when they do.

We all have a life story.

There are five types of stories:

  • Stories about beginnings … where we came from, our heritage.
  • Stories about rags to riches (or riches to rags).
  • Stories of rebirth … getting a second chance.
  • Stories about overcoming some monster that threatens us.
  • Stories of quest where we leave our comfortable situation and take on the challenge of finding something we highly value.

All stories involve a journey. Ask yourself…

  • Where are they in their journey?
  • Are they waiting for the motivation to begin the journey?
  • Are they wandering aimlessly, trying to find their way?
  • Are they at the crisis point in their journey, a time when the outcome will completely alter their lives for good or bad?

Why listen to their story?

As leaders, we are trying to influence others. We want them to adopt a certain strategy, solution, policy, etc. So, why should we listen to their story?

Because, before people can accept a new direction, they must see how it fits into their life story. And before we can show them how it fits, we must know their story and where they are in it.

Keys to listening to another’s story:

  1. Put on hold your evaluative response system. Don’t try to judge the rightness or wrongness of what they are saying (yet). Just listen.
  2. Ask them to elaborate.
  3. Ask for clarification.
  4. Summarize and paraphrase. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but what I hear you saying is …”

IV. TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERS CONFRONT THEIR INCONSISTENCIES

Jesus confronts their lack of faith in the Old Testament prophecies.

“Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” (Luke 24:25–26, NLT)

These men claimed to be faithful Israelites … yet, they failed to embrace the suffering servant prophecies of the Old Testament (probably referring to Isaiah 53).

The purpose of confrontation is not to destroy them but to help them.

Many people find themselves stuck. They can’t move forward with their life or their career. Their life is like a log jam. Confrontation can be the key to unstopping their log-jam.

Unstopping a log jam often involves a key log that is causing all the problems. Find that log and help them remove it.

Confrontation need not be a heated exchange. Let’s call it gentle confrontation.

The essence of confrontation is pointing out their own internal inconsistencies.

V. TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERS REFRAME THEIR SITUATION

“Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27, NLT)

Take a step back from “what” is being said and ask yourself: “What is the underlying frame of reference through which this person is interpreting things?”

Then state the same facts from within a different frame.

For example, suppose someone says, “He’s always hovering over me to make sure I get things right.”

A reframing response might be: “He must really value quality.”

Reframing is stating the same problem but in different terms that cause the listener to see the situation in a different light.

VI. TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERS FOLLOW UP AND FOLLOW THROUGH

“He went in to stay with them” (v. 29).

At their invitation, Jesus staid with them and had dinner with them.

The lesson here is that transformation takes time. If we are committed to it, we must invest in people.

VII. TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERS KNOW WHEN TO LET GO

Once their eyes were opened and they recognized it was Jesus, he vanished from their sight (v. 32).

At some point, we must be prepared to release people from our influence.

There comes a point in the mentor-mentee relationship when the presence of the mentor ceases to be a catalyst for transformation and becomes a hindrance. Knowing when that time has arrived is critical to their ongoing growth and transformation.

CONCLUSION

Jesus was a master at influencing others. His influence can still be felt today nearly 2000 years later.

We can learn from him important lessons about transformational leadership.

In this encounter on the road to Emmaus, we learn:

  1. It takes time and commitment to be this kind of leader.
  2. Their initial response to our presence may be defensive or even offensive.
  3. We earn the right to be an influence by listening to their story.
  4. Help them to see things in a new light by reframing.
  5. There comes a moment when we must gently confront their inconsistencies.
  6. We must be willing to follow up our initial encounter with further dialogue.
  7. At a certain point, we must be willing to let them go.

provides consulting services for churches and organizations. Contact Dr. Waddell today at gregwaddell[at]leadstrategic.com to discuss the needs of your organization.

Credits
Photo by Myrabella. Photo available at Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Image modified for size and space.

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