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Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

– Matthew 20:26-28

My first full-time job was working in outdoor education, staffing and running camps. I didn’t know much about leadership, but a camp we ran was a Year 11 leadership camp. Here’s one thing I learnt. According to Sir William Slim, Australia’s 13th Governor-General, who served in World War I and II, “Leadership is that mixture of example, persuasion and compulsion which makes people do what you want them to do…  It is the most intensely personal thing in the world, because it is just plain you”.

And it’s true. There are three key approaches to leadership – example, persuasion and compulsion. And the best leaders use mainly the first two – example and persuasion. That is my encouragement to our student leaders. Lead by example, and lead as you are, because leadership is the most intensely personal thing in the world. Sure, leadership is about others, but it’s also about who you are, as you lead. Authentic leaders are easier to follow. As you lead, be yourself, and lead by example.

A mentor of mine had been a Principal for more than 20 years at three different schools, and she said something that serves as my second lesson on leadership. “There are two types of power, personal power and positional power. The more you use personal power, the more it grows, the more you use positional power, the more it shrinks. Be careful how you use these”. Personal power is like example and persuasion, and positional power is like compulsion. The more we can work with people to achieve things, the stronger our leadership becomes. The more we have to impose our leadership, the weaker it becomes. This is the paradox of totalitarian regimes and dictatorships across the world. Therefore use your personal power. This is something anyone can do. Leadership is about who you are more than it is about the position you have.

Finally, leadership is about counting the cost, it is about serving those who would follow you. Jesus leads by example and persuasion, he leads authentically, he leads personally, he puts aside his positional power, he puts aside compulsion and he bears the cost of his leadership. If you want to lead well, it will cost you. You will need to consider the needs of others before your own needs.

And this is true for all of us. As followers and as leaders, as part of a community. If we look to the interests of others, as they look to ours, then our needs will be met.

Lead by example. Lead by persuasion. Lead authentically. Lead using personal power. Be a servant leader, be a leader for others. Whoever you are, wherever you are, lead.

Tim Watson