Authenticity has long been a hallmark of my ministry. One winter Sunday morning in my first year of seminary, I rolled out of bed late. Skipped a shower. Threw on my orange mod robes and a grey (somewhat clean) T-shirt and raced to church. People were still slipping in given the icy conditions. As the worship leader got through the second or third song, a council member leaned over my shoulder to let me know the minister was caught in the snow and may be late; she added, just in case, would I consider preaching? I listened carefully to the scripture reading before offering an extemporaneous message . It was affirmed by listeners as one of the best sermons I’d ever preached. It’s in moments like this, when there is nowhere to hide, that who you are is most fully on display. There is no polish or preparation to hide behind but only the Holy Spirit who you hope you’ve been nurturing your connection with.
In an era of of filtered images, edited video and heavily nuanced news there is an increasing hunger for that which is real and raw. The journey towards authenticity requires intentional self-awareness nurtured by separation from external influences. In Christ, it ought to be undertaken with our Creator God who both knows each of us intimately as well as having the power to reveal who we each were created to be. In leadership, there is a temptation to respond or be shaped by our followers. Authentic leaders are “those who are deeply aware of how they think and behave and are perceived by others as being aware of their own and others’ values/moral perspectives, knowledge, and strengths; aware of the context in which they operate; and who are confident, hopeful, optimistic, resilient, and of high moral character.”  This type of leadership will also require process transparency. How one becomes aware of self, others and context must also be evident in order to effectively reproduce leaders. “This leader also understands that effective leadership involves a growing knowledge of one’s own strengths and weaknesses, as well as, an expanding appreciation of others within the organization; and so, the leader moves in these directions.” While Jesus is a key model of authentic leadership, it is useful to note that He led both people He was raising up to become leaders—whom we recognize as disciples—and those which learned from his teaching and became followers. His disciples were granted intimate proximity to Jesus in day to day life so they could not only be shaped by His vision and teaching, but also by His responses to the everyday interruptions and surprises. The disciples were invited to see how Jesus responded when he was hungry, tired, interrupted and even bereaved. Such proximity cannot be granted to large crowds. “Disciples cannot be mass produced but are the product of intimate and personal investment.” By nature, authentic leadership cannot be reproduced in mass without compromising a leaders integrity. At such a point an authentic leader must recognize the shift to being an authentic teacher and be prepared to function in these two, often overlapping, roles. Jesus offered both models as we watch the difference between how He interacted with the crowds and how He interacted with the disciples.
A second model of the intimate nature of authentic leadership might be found in Francis of Assisi. One of the reasons Assisi has enduring and ecumenical appeal is his quest for authenticity. Assisi rejected his affluent upbringing in favour of embracing the marginalized and seeking the voice of God apart from institution. His withdrawal from the contemporary lifestyle expectations allowed him to embrace his authenticity but his revolutionary ways also drew others to him. In his establishment of the monastic order he wrestled both with the rejection of leadership power and the acceptance of the mantle of influence he had. The transparency of his process meant that his disciples were keenly aware of his mistakes. Fortunately, “people will be quicker to forgive an error than a lie.” His genuine heart and desire nurtured an environment where his disciples allegiance was not lost due to his shortcomings. In contemporary contexts the pursuit of transformational leadership has often resulted in coverups and scandals as appearance has been overvalued to the detriment of true character.
While contexts change throughout history, the call to be Jesus’ disciples remains. Authentic following, or living as the disciple of an ancient leader, requires recognition that “imitation requires understanding how the action pertained to (the leader’s) context.” We must be followers who imitate not just the actions but the heart of Jesus the exemplar. Jesus was an authentic, servant leader. “Servant leaders add value to the lives of their followers through serving them with selfless motives (Northosne 2015) which also signifies the internalization approach of the disciple maker.” While actions might be imitated as performance, the heart of Jesus within us will be most evident as internalized by the unexpected, unplanned moments. It is in the moments when we are hungry, tired, interrupted, bereaved and unshowered for church in a snowstorm that our leadership may just be the most impactful.
1. Avolio, B.J., Luthans, F., Walumba, F.O. “Authentic leadership: Theory building for veritable sustained performance.” Working paper: Gallup Leadership Institute, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, (2004) 4.
2. Holmquist, Daniel B. “Authentic Leadership Theory: Enhancements from 1 Peter 5:1-5.” Theology of Leadership Journal, Vol 1 No 1 (2018), 9. http://theologyofleadership.com/index.php/tlj/issue/view/v1i1/v1i1.
3. Ogden 2007 as quoted by Tarik Fufa Gemechu. “Description of Discipleship Life Experience in a Servant Leadership Context” Theology of Leadership Journal, Vol 1 No 1 (2018), 39. http://theologyofleadership.com/index.php/tlj/issue/view/v1i1/v1i1.
4. Harter, Nathan. “Saint and Leader? The example of St. Francis of Assis” Theology of Leadership Journal, Vol 1 No 1 (2018), 29. http://theologyofleadership.com/index.php/tlj/issue/view/v1i1/v1i1.
5. Harter, 33.
6. Harter, 31.
7. Gemechu, Tarik Fufa. “Description of Discipleship Life Experience in a Servant Leadership Context” Theology of Leadership Journal, Vol 1 No 1 (2018), 39. http://theologyofleadership.com/index.php/tlj/issue/view/v1i1/v1i1.