the shape of leadership

All-In Leadership

Two traits of those who inspire others to follow

For any church or organization to see the highest levels of impact, its leaders must go all in. If leaders don’t set the tone with their own attitudes and actions, they’ll never see their visions fully realized. We see a powerful illustration of this in the Book of Ezra, when the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem with Sheshbazzar:

When they arrived at the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings toward the rebuilding of the house of God on its site. According to their ability they gave to the treasury for this work 61,000 darics of gold, 5,000 minas of silver and 100 priestly garments (Ezra 2:68–69).

The “heads of the families” were family leaders, and they stepped up and sacrificially gave according to their ability. The New Living Translation says, “each leader gave as much as he could” (verse 69). That’s what leaders do. They go all in.

In their book, The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner describe five practices of exemplary leadership. The first practice is modeling the way. Leaders identify clear values and are the first to live out those values. They don’t ask their teams to do as they say; they ask them to do as they do.

That’s what the leaders in Ezra were doing. They went all in, giving as much as possible to rebuild the temple. And here’s the best part: They didn’t have to be coerced. Verse 68 says they gave “freewill offerings.”

However, not everyone had this all-in mindset. When Ezra prepared for his return, he assembled exiles at the Ahava Canal where they camped for three days while Ezra reviewed a list of people and priests who would return with him. But notice Ezra’s indicting words: “I found that not one Levite had volunteered to come along” (8:15, NLT).

Ezra sent a team to meet with Iddo, the leader of the Levites at Kasiphia in Babylon, to request workers for the temple at Jerusalem. More than 250 attendants finally came, moved to action by the “gracious hand of our God” (verse 18).

Why didn’t they volunteer in the first place? After all, they would be returning to their homeland. Had captivity lulled them out of serving? Or, as some scholars have speculated, were their positions in Babylon more prestigious than those they would occupy in Jerusalem? Whatever the case, they didn’t volunteer. They didn’t model an all-in spirit.

Whether it’s giving, serving, or some other attitude or activity, all-in leaders rise above the excuses and model the way for their people. What does that look like? Consider two traits of all-in leadership.

All-in leaders rise
above the excuses
and model the way
for their people.

All-In Leaders Go First

When leaders are all in, they model the way by giving first, serving first, and living their values first. No one has to ask or coerce them. They take initiative and lead the way. That’s what the family leaders did when they gave freewill offerings. They stepped up and stepped out.

The apostle Paul took this approach in his life and leadership. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” And in Philippians 4:9, Paul said, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Paul understood that leaders lead, and not just when they feel like it. They don’t wait until they’re in the right mood. They don’t simply hand out orders; instead, they lead by serving and serve by leading. They set the example, and their behavior inspires others to follow.

All-In Leaders Go Last

This may sound like a contradiction of the first point, but we see this principle in Scripture as well.

On one occasion, Jesus pulled His disciples together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, 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 20:25–28).

Leaders make sacrifices. That often means they will go last so that others can go first. They take the posture of a servant because they are following the ultimate servant: Jesus. They aren’t worried about perks and privileges, and they’re not seeking out titles and promotions. Instead, they put others first and serve out of a posture of humility.

A few chapters later, Jesus expounded on the principle of servant leadership. Unlike the Pharisees who sought out places of honor at banquets and greetings of respect in the marketplace, Jesus instructed His disciples with these words: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11–12).

The key to “first” and “last” is keeping them in the proper perspective and the proper order. All-in leaders are first to serve but last to be served. They’re first to give but last to receive. This doesn’t mean we walk around with a martyrdom complex. Instead, we commit ourselves to modeling the way consistently.

It’s not so much about keeping track of who went first and who sacrificed most, but rather making sure we embrace these values at the core of our leadership. We’re not trying to outdo one another. Rather, the goal is to lead with sincerity for the good of others.

All-in leaders align conviction, ability and heart. In other words, they practice what they preach, give their very best effort, and do so with heart and passion. When conviction, ability and heart are misaligned, it’s very hard to be all in.

What about you? Are you all in? Are you modeling the way for your team? Are you going first and going last? Are your convictions, ability and heart aligned? All-in leadership will not only help your vision move forward, but it will also give you the moral authority to inspire others to pursue the vision with you.

All-in leaders create all-in teams.

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