To lead is to serve

To lead is to serve: An interview with Dr. Josmar Arrais1

This leadership professional shares that success is not found in status or salary, neither in position or power. Where is it found?

Márcio Nastrini, is associate editor of Ministério (Portuguese), Casa Publicadora Brasileira, Brazil.

Editor’s note: In Brazil, very few professionals, let alone pastors, have obtained a PhD in leadership; Josmar Arrais is part of this select group. He is president of a consultant company focused on corporate and personal leadership development and serves as an adjunct professor of leadership at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

Márcio Nastrini (MN): What made you interested in the study of leadership?

Josmar Arrais (JA): Although the phenomenon of leadership dates to the beginnings of humankind, only in the last century, specifically the last fifty years, has this subject been studied from a more scientific perspective. For twenty-five years, Andrews University has been a pioneer in the leadership doctoral program, with an emphasis on servant leaders. In 1998, a group of Brazilian teachers ventured into this innovative project. We received support, brought the course to Brazil, and began to publish a journal within the master’s program. While teaching leadership courses for Brazilian companies, I  realized that the servant-leadership approach was very distant from the model practiced by corporations; in fact, most still acted with the outdated mentality of the industrial era, not from the era of information and knowledge.

Currently, as president of VitalSmarts and a facilitator of its courses, and as professor of the master’s degree in leadership offered by Brazil Adventist University in partnership with Andrews, I have dedicated myself to highlighting the importance of cultural transformation, relationships, crucial conversations, and the scientific use of motivation, accountability, and influence theories.

MN: How do you bridge current leadership models with biblical teachings?

JA: An analysis of biblical history reveals that leadership has always been related to its context. At times, centralized political systems generated dictatorial leaders; at other times, dictatorial leaders produced centralized political systems. Humanity and political and religious organizations have always given us examples to be followed or to be rejected. The great question of leadership that pervades biblical history is the concept of service and the use of influence, authority, and the relationship between leaders and the people they are leading.

We have seen examples of committed leaders who have acted with determination and passion for people’s well-being—and not for themselves. The modern concept of servant leadership, created by Robert Greenleaf, is based on biblical teachings, especially those of Jesus. Throughout the Bible, human relationships and leadership concepts have always been intertwined.

MN: In the twenty-first century, what should the pastoral leadership model be, and what is its main challenge?

JA: The egocentric pursuit of position,power, and responsibility is the greatest obstacle facing the postmodern world, along with the scandals caused by lack of integrity. This mentality can also contaminate ministerial leadership.

Unfortunately, genetics, the environment, circumstances, and determinism are frequent excuses for the absence of initiatives and actions. Allied to this, the postmodern world, with its emphasis on relativism and immediacy, has not helped, either. However, what has grabbed my attention is the absence of good leadership models.

So first, we need a servant leadership methodology in which God’s ministers serve people rather than use their influence to meet their own psychological, social, and spiritual inclinations. One of the biggest challenges today is to lead a church that does not easily accept leadership authority.

And then second, we must recognize that contemporary leadership is changing from individual centralization to pluralism in leadership. Now power is shared with the people. This new model of leadership will require training future pastors to pursue a deeper knowledge of how to work with volunteers and motivate them for wider participation and better results.

MN: Are trust, relationships, and vision vital elements for spiritually effective leadership?

JA: Absolutely!Trustis the foundation of leadership. Without credibility, almost nothing works. Specialists tell us that trust is built through the combination of two attributes: character and competence. Most organizational problems such as bureaucracy and stagnation could be avoided, even eliminated, if a culture aims to build a healthy environment based on trust.

Relationships? These are the absolute essence of personal and organizational lives. Companies are not buildings, systems, processes, and equipment. They comprise people with their relationships, and these relationships are the foundation upon which good results will follow.

As far as vision is concerned, this is fundamental to the direction of any organization. It lays out the scenario and depicts where we want to arrive. Unfortunately, more often than not, we see leaders acting as managers of past problems more than as inspiring guides for the future.

I would add mission to your list. Mission defines the reason for the existence of an organization. From mission, we establish goals and objectives. Mission moves people to perform effectively.

MN: How can pastors inspire confidence in the people they lead and, thus, succeed in ministry?

JA: At its root, the wordtrustincludes the concept of “with faith.” The leader must win the people’s trust, which means passing through the path of inside out. What does that mean? Well,first, you develop self-confidence. Second, you build relationships and trustworthy teams. And finally, you build the organization, the community, and the society.

The factors that have the greatest potential to inspire trust are summarized by Stephen Covey in his book The Speed of Trust.2They are character and competence. We do not always perceive these two qualities in church leaders. Character means the development of integrity and intentions and the ability to live in agreement with principles and values. Competence is related to the concept of skills and results. Character and competence are indispensable qualities for a leader. Both of these are vital for ministerial leaders to possess.

They need to understand the times in which we are living and then lead with the people.

MN: Is the task of leading volunteers, as occurs in churches, more difficult than leading a group of salaried employees?

JA: The challenges are greater,given that economic incentives are not present when a person volunteers. But the big challenge is that church leaders need to learn to understand people and what motivates them. Leaders need to bring people with them.

According to Daniel H. Pink in Drive,3 people are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. They want to participate and do something that challenges them. People are motivated by a relevant mission. If the purpose does not resonate in the person’s heart, the leader’s success in engaging that person will be limited. In addition, the leader needs to establish a plan of action that considers the person’s motivations and abilities, not only on a personal level but also socially and structurally. Leadership that understands this will certainly be more relevant.

MN: How should the leader manage conflicts, differences, and opposition?

JA: In Crucial Conversations,the absence of good relationships and results almost always stems from differences in opinion on high-stakes issues that are unresolved or even suppressed. Divergences of ideas and opinions are welcome and lead to innovation and creativity. They should be valued. Personal differences, however, usually result in conflict.

To manage disagreement and opposition, the leader must be prepared. The first step in managing conflict is self-awareness. Determining what you want and expect for yourself, what you expect from others, what you expect from the relationship, and what you expect from the ministry are important questions that need to be answered.

Incredibly, most leaders do not know what they want. Their fight is with irrelevancies, not essentials. But if the leader can provide a safe environment when interacting with others, create a common goal, and listen to and respect diverse opinions, then wonderful results can emerge from an apparent conflict.

MN: Is there a risk that pastors can lose the focus of their leadership by seeking to implement modern management practices?

JA: Yes, there is. But first we need to understand what spiritual focus is and what modern management practices are. If we confuse leadership with management and control, yes, we risk overemphasizing goals and results. If we understand leadership as service, I don’t think so. The development of people and the attainment of goals will be a natural consequence. Today, having a spiritual focus no longer means just accepting what leaders say; it means embracing what and whom they exemplify.

MN: Do you have a final word for twenty-first century church leaders?

 JA: More than a final word, I leave an appeal: pastors and leaders, please give up once and for all that search for position and power. Leadership is not a position; it is an opportunity to serve. Make sure your decisions are not contaminated by self-interest and blinded by an agenda. The greatest evil of our century continues to be egocentrism.

Marshall Goldsmith says, “What got you here won’t get you there.” Past methods and achievements don’t guarantee future results. Using computer language, we need to reset our mind-set from what was previously formatted in the industrial age, where people were merely tools to achieve goals. We need to understand our time period within the larger context.

We need to use our resources and plans to improve the well-being of people and to fulfill the mission. Share resolutions clearly. Develop tolerance and patience. The world is perishing because of exclusivism and the rejection of those who are different. So, talk. Dialogue. Build unity in diversity. And this we know for sure: The same God who got us here, will get us there!

1 A version of this interview first appeared in the November-December 2016 issue of our sister publication, Ministério, located in Brazil. Used by permission.

2 Stephen M. R. Covey, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything (New York: Free Press, 2006).

3 Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (New York: The Penguin Group, 2011).

4 Kerry Patterson et al., Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High (Grand Haven, MI:Brilliance Corporation), audiobook.

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Márcio Nastrini, is associate editor of Ministério (Portuguese), Casa Publicadora Brasileira, Brazil.

March 2018

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