Alex Noel asks how might Jesus’ leadership style benefit both us and our new Prime Minister, and gives us tips on how to be better servant leaders.


Source: Richard Lincoln / Alamy Stock Photo

In case you missed it, the United Kingdom has a new leader. On 4th July many of us went to the polls to cast our votes in the General Election. Once the ballots had been counted (and re-counted in some constituencies), Labour’s anticipated landslide victory became a reality.

Then on Friday, having been asked to form a government by His Majesty the King, Labour’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer arrived at No. 10 Downing Street, making his first speech as our newly-minted Prime Minister.

What he said was notable for the fact that he used the word ‘serve’ or ‘service’ nine times in his six-and-a-half minute speech.

What he said was notable for the fact that he used the word ‘serve’ or ‘service’ nine times in his six-and-a-half minute speech. He declared that his premiership would signal; “the return of politics to public service”, believing his role to be “a privilege”. And whether people voted Labour or not, he said to them; “my government will serve you”.

What difference might the principle of service make to Keir Starmer’s leadership? And how might it affect our own leadership style? Whether we’re responsible for leading people at work, in volunteer teams, in our families, churches, or communities; we know this can be challenging enough, let alone leading an entire country.

What difference might the principle of service make to Keir Starmer’s leadership? 

A number of years ago, when a promotion I’d received at work, required me to start leading a team, I was hastily booked in for some ‘in-house’ leadership training. In a conference room at the company’s head office where I worked, together with a small cohort of colleagues from across the business, I spent several days learning about different leadership styles. And what their pros and cons might be - both for me individually and my team. Our instructor described each style, and we discussed the various merits and drawbacks, role-playing situations that could potentially arise. He covered the following leadership styles:

• ‘Directive’ (or ‘Coercive’) - emphasises the leader’s control over their team, intending to drive results through consistency and predictability, but can take the wind out of people’s sails.

• ‘Transformational’ - the leader focuses on inspiring their team, being a role model and raising morale but it can lack strategy and technique, ignoring the importance of individual skills.

• ‘Participative’ (or ‘Democratic’) - aims to build consensus and commitment by inviting the team’s input but can fall into being too ‘laissez-faire’ without the leader’s influence or decision-making.

 • ‘Authoritative’ - the leader is the visionary, offering a clear sense of direction, but with too much control can limit the team’s collaboration, input and growth as they become demoralised.

And lastly, Servant Leadership: “as exemplified by Jesus” he said, matter-of-factly, “this is probably the most effective leadership style”. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. I was at work, not at church, and this was a big corporate company. But the instructor simply continued on with the session without breaking step, as we moved towards our discussion and then took a break.

Servant leadership’s effectiveness in the business world has been recognised for some time. For example, Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of ‘Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen Inc’ writes about her journey towards using this leadership style and the difference it made to her business in her book ‘Dare to Serve’. This style upends the typical top-down hierarchies we find in so many settings, creating happier and more engaged people. It empowers them by distributing authority with responsibility. And then facilitates this through uniting people under a common cause or a sense of ‘mission’. It equips people, helps them to grow and trusts them, even if they fail - that’s part of the process. And so it manages to unlock ingenuity and purpose. Jesus did this in so many ways, not least when he commissioned his disciples to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, and gave them the power to do it.

So how can we apply this where we are?

• Trust your people: believe in their abilities, even if (and when) they fail

• Actively listen to their ideas and struggles, take them seriously

• Prioritise their growth by equipping people and enabling them to learn

• Encourage and challenge them to become their best selves

• Consider those you lead before yourself, focusing on meeting their needs

• Create an environment where people are treated with respect and dignity

Leadership in any setting is a tall order but as we look to Jesus and the servant leadership he exemplified we’ll be in a good position to get the best out of people, enabling them to succeed and deliver the results we all need. Here’s wishing our new PM all the very best.