Recently I was trying to remember the name of a leadership guru I studied during my college years. My brain search continued subconsciously for a couple of weeks. One day the name randomly popped into my mind, Greenleaf! His full name is Robert K. Greenleaf. According to some, Greenleaf coined the term “Servant Leader.”
In 1970 he published his first essay, entitled “The Servant As Leader.” His first book, Servant Leadership, was published in 1977, the year I began in full-time vocational ministry.
Servant leadership was Jesus’ style of leadership. Jesus declared “. . . the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28, NKJV) According to Greenleaf, the desire to serve comes first. The choice to lead comes later. Acquaintance with Greenleaf’s insights provided a portion of the foundation upon which I have built five decades of study on leaders and leadership. His ideas also inspired my desire to enable others to become the great leader God destined them to be.
Great leadership is especially critical in times such as now when the world is facing the coronavirus health pandemic. It has been informative to watch how leaders in various facets of society are responding.
One of the realities that highlight the quality of a leader is the backdrop of history. In critical times, good leaders have the opportunity to shine. As a student of leaders and leadership, I have been curious to watch and see how leaders in various walks of life are responding to the Covid-19 challenges.
Great leaders pay attention to the big picture. These leaders study global events and developments, especially as they relate to their aegis of leadership. I have watched the progress of globalization over the decades from my perspective as a Church leader and international traveler. Globalization is a blessing for those of us who take seriously the commission of Jesus to preach the good news in all the world. Globalization is also introducing a healthy diversity into the Church. That diversity is contributing to the maturation of the Church worldwide.
The production of Boeing’s Dreamliner serves as an illustration of the benefits of globalization. What first drew my attention to this aircraft was that Boeing utilized a carbon composite material rather than aluminum in the manufacture of the plane’s body. I remembered that Learjet, based near Reno, NV, had introduced a Learjet body made of carbon fiber back in the 1980s. Now that I sport a leg brace and forearm crutches fabricated in part by carbon fiber, I can appreciate the benefits of this material.
What I found interesting as well was that the manufacture of this plane was a global endeavor. I have included a graphic from Reuters, which displays the locations for the Dreamliner’s structure providers.
All these diverse parts are assembled here in the US. Many countries benefitted financially from the production of this new aircraft. In turn, this global input strengthened Boeing as a company.
As all the parts of the global Church come together, the Church matures and becomes more like Jesus!
Great leaders anticipate the future and are prepared to greet the future rather than react to it. For example, Mike Roman CEO of 3M, in a recent interview with Alan Murray, CEO of Fortune magazine, talked about 3M’s preparations for rapidly scaling up production of respiratory protection products. During the Ebola crisis, 3M had donated almost one million respirators to aid workers in West Africa to help fight the spread of the Ebola virus. One of the lessons learned through that experience was that the company needed to be better prepared to scale up production during such crises. The company prepared itself to do just that. On January 28, 2020, CEO Mike Roman announced that the company was increasing the production of respiratory protection products around the world. “We are ramping to full production. We’re going 24/7,” Roman said. He added that the company is increasing production at its plants in China and other Asian countries, as well as in Europe in the United States.
At the time, CEO Roman was not taking President Trump’s views regarding coronavirus seriously. In January, Trump repeatedly told Americans that there was no reason to worry. On January 24, he tweeted, “It will all work out well.” On January 28, he retweeted a headline from One America News, an outlet with a history of spreading false conspiracy theories: “Johnson & Johnson to create coronavirus vaccine.” On January 30, during a speech in Michigan, he said: “We have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five. And those people are all recuperating successfully.”
Previous to Trump’s tweets, I had learned about 3M’s proactive response to the coronavirus. I was stunned to hear Trump slam 3M on April 3, two months after 3M had already ramped up production. 3M responded in part to Trump’s Tweets by announcing that it had plans to produce 2 billion N95 masks globally within the next 12 months.
Having owned a few General Motors products over the years, another CEO that I have had my eye on is Mary Barra GM’s CEO. On January 15, 2014, Barra became the first female CEO of a major auto manufacturer.
On March 20, 2020, GM announced that it is working with Ventec Life Systems to help increase the production of respiratory care products such as ventilators that are needed by a growing number of hospitals as the COVID-19 pandemics spread throughout the US.
Ventec will use GM’s logistics, purchasing, and manufacturing expertise to build more ventilators. Mary Barra said in a statement that GM is working closely with Ventec to scale up production rapidly.
A week later, on March 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum to require General Motors Co. to make ventilators for the federal government despite the Detroit automaker saying it already was moving closer to producing thousands of the devices in Kokomo, Indiana.
Another leader worth watching in this season is Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell. Our world is not only in the midst of a health crisis but also an economic crisis. I do not claim to be an expert on all issues related to the Federal Reserve. It appears that Chairman Powell is thinking outside the box in response to these unique financial challenges. Powell recently announced an extraordinary new program to buy risky corporate debt as part of a $2.3 trillion rescue package.
In his CEO Daily Newsletter, Alan Murray wrote, (emphasis mine)
“Fortune’s Bernhard Warner called it a ‘stunning’ announcement that puts the Fed in ‘completely uncharted water.’ Analysts had worried that the Fed was out of ammunition. As it turns out, it still had unexplored corners of its armory waiting to be deployed.
Powell is proving the perfect leader for the moment. The speed at which he has responded to the crisis has been breathtaking, and the boldness of his moves go far beyond what anyone could have predicted. But most of all, he has done his job with a steady temperament that inspires confidence.
That temperament, of course, also has enabled Powell to withstand a multi-year onslaught of abusive attacks from President Donald Trump, who appointed him: ‘Clueless,’ ‘a horrendous lack of vision,’ ‘a golfer who can’t putt,’ ‘no vision.’ And then this: ‘My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?’
Yet Powell has ignored the Twitter insults and quietly done the job as he sees best. My guess is, when the crisis is over, he will be seen as one of its heroes. He has taken the Fed to places his predecessors never imagined it could go, and done so with a remarkably smooth hand. He has met the test he was presented.”
CEO Daily by Alan Murray April 10, 2020
Chief Content Officer at Time Inc. and President and CEO at Fortune Magazine
Fortunately, many political leaders are demonstrating good leadership in this crisis. Recently I was introduced to one such leader, London Breed, the mayor of San Francisco. Observing what was happening in China, the mayor preemptively acted. She acted even before the detection of the first case of coronavirus in her city. San Francisco and six other neighboring counties were the first in the nation to order a strict shelter-in-place order on March 16, forcing most businesses to close and residents to stay at home as much as possible to slow the spread of the coronavirus. As a result, coronavirus cases there have not spiked as they have in a city like New York, and their health care facilities have not been as overwhelmed.
I have also been watching Church leaders. Leadership at the grassroots level is critical for the success of the policies set at the state and federal levels. I think the top three priorities of these grassroots Church leaders are to:
Honor government authority
Protect the local community
Build a positive testimony in the local community
I’m delighted to see the creativity of so many of our local Pastors in responding to this crisis. Those leaders who are appropriately responding will see their area of influence and spiritual authority expand.