Illustration by Irene Rinaldi

I once served as the metropolitan editor of a daily newspaper, which meant I was responsible for filling several pages every day with local and national news. I oversaw a few dozen reporters and editors, from downtown to Washington, D.C.

In addition to the constant pressure, my time and attention were never mine. They were consumed by the paper’s editor, my staff, and the daily slate of meetings and urgencies required from someone in my position. Despite the fancy title, and the appearance of power, I was really just a circus ringmaster.

My job was to line up the acts, get them in position, point them to the spotlight, and then disappear into the darkness.

Michael Kinsley, who pioneered Slate, wrote about the transition from being a nationally known journalist to becoming a manager at Microsoft, which published the digital magazine. In a 1998 essay in Time magazine, he wrote: “The biggest strain of being a manager … is that you must think constantly about others. You needn’t necessarily think well of them or think kindly about them. It’s not that stressful. But you must think something about others all the time.”


A Good Place to Start

If you want to see the face of the divine servant, you’ve got to get on your knees.


That’s a difficult lesson in any profession where the focus is on the skilled performer – not the leader – and where leadership is overlooked, whether that’s in journalism, professional sports, medicine, or, yes, higher education and even ministry.

After I became credentialed as a minister, I attended a denominational meeting for new ministers. One of the leaders offered a lesson in leadership: The higher you go, the more feet you have to wash.

That means you have to think more of other people more often. The more you do that, the more feet you’ll wash. That can be a hard, daily lesson when your real calling as a leader is to help other people shine, no matter if they reciprocate.

But that’s a leader’s call. I was reminded of that when, some years later, I arrived at the denominational seminary to study for a Master of Divinity degree. Inside, by the front door, was a life-sized statue called “Divine Servant.” It depicts Jesus, bare-chested, washing a disciple’s feet, doing the work of a servant. The lesson played out in bronze.

But a professor reminded me of another lesson still. Jesus’ face is obscured by his hair. If you want to see the face of the divine servant, you’ve got to get on your knees. That’s a good place to start for a leader.

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