My daughter Lucy is now three days into medical school at Wake Forest in North Carolina. For the last year, as a “gap” experience between her college graduation and the long application process for medical school, she joined a “Fellows” program in Winston-Salem. These Fellows programs are popular on the East Coast, and are designed as immersive leadership development experiences, lived out in Christian community. Among the many benefits of the program were regular “roundtable” discussions with prominent Christian leaders. Lucy was blown away by the quality of the leaders who were willing to pour into this small group of young Christian post-grads. One of those leaders was the former President of U.S. Franchise Operations for Krispy Kreme, Steve Lineberger.
After Lucy graduated from her Fellows Program she came home for a month before heading back to North Carolina for the start of school. One of the first things she wanted to share with us was something Lineberger gave to the Fellows in one of the two Roundtable discussions he led with them. It’s a simple two-page document called “23 Leadership Principles.” Essentially, Lineberger condensed and spotlighted all of the leadership lessons he’s learned over the course of a long business career—all through the lens of his active faith in Jesus. The essential theme that is threaded through his 23 insights is a descriptor I’ve never heard before—“Beautiful Leadership.” Every one of Lineberger’s 23 principles starts with: “Beautiful leaders…”
Here I offer seven samples from Lineberger’s list—each one weighted in gold because they subtly reflect the ways of Jesus…
- “Beautiful leaders keep a steady temperament and clear mind, especially amid chaos, stress, uncertainty, and accusations.”
Tension and chaos were common challenges for Jesus in His three-year ministry. In fact, stress, uncertainty, and accusation characterized His ministry ecosystem. He had no “standard responses” in these emotionally-charged situations, but the reason so many developed a deep passion for Him is simple—they could sense the power of His “non-anxious presence” no matter how high the stakes. And when we maintain our intimate attachment to Him, that same non-anxious presence is active within us.
- “Beautiful leaders understand the need for ‘deep work,’ for extensive retreat/solo time to think, to vision, to strategize, to plan. They understand that this is what they have been appointed for, that this is one of their duties. And they do it while ignoring the tyranny of the urgent or turning down taking part in events that might bring them acclaim.”
Jesus maintained a habit that often took His disciples by surprise: “After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23). With great need all around him, and a short window of time to plant an outpost of the Kingdom of God on Earth before His betrayal and crucifixion, Jesus often separated Himself from his friends and followers to be alone. Intentional and periodic alone-ness for leaders is as necessary as breathing.
- “Beautiful leaders take deep joy in:
• Seeing their people learn and develop as they master their respective crafts/vocations.
• Extending greater and greater autonomy as their people grow their mastery.
• Showing their people how their mastery is making a difference.”
Over and over Jesus is challenging His disciples to not just watch from the sidelines, but get in the game. “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more” (Matthew 21:21). He trusted His friends to not only extend His common practices, but to go beyond what He was modeling for them. The book of Acts is a testament to this strategy.
- “When given command, beautiful leaders take command.”
If it’s hard or uncomfortable or costly or dangerous, Jesus is modeling what it looks like to go first. Going first is what Christian leaders do, because they have the Spirit of Jesus in them propelling them forward—especially when it comes to the gritty and the painful and the humble.
- “Beautiful leaders are appropriately transparent to the organization with their shortcomings, knowledge gaps, fears, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and concerns.”
Perhaps the most powerful moment of Jesus’s world-changing ministry was this quiet one, in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus, the Word of God, co-creator of the universe, lived out His vulnerabilities in front of His friends.
- “Beautiful leaders prioritize the success of the organization over being liked by the organization.”
It’s not possible to describe Jesus as a people-pleaser. He was as kind toward others as He was offensive and in-your-face. When kindness was required, He gave it like no other. When prophetic upending was required, He gave it in spades. His mission is transformation, and His end-game is intimate relationship. Sometimes that mission required impossible tenderness, and sometimes it required impossible expectations. Both are potter’s tools.
- “Beautiful leaders lead organizations that plan, prepare, and execute well, but then confidently leave outcomes to God.”
It’s impossible to please God without faith. Trust is the only currency in the Kingdom of God. So a well-made plan that is well-executed but lacks the space to trust God will never be pleasing to Him. When we “leave outcomes to God” we are offering Him the gift of our trust—just another way to tangibly love Him.
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following Jesus. He’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible and author of 40 books, including The Suicide Solution, The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.