9 Reasons You Must Become Like A Child To Be A Great Leader

I believe Jesus is the son of God. I also believe Jesus is the best leader the world has ever seen. While you might not agree with the former statement, the latter one is more difficult to refute. Think about it. In only a few years, Jesus took twelve men, united them around a common mission and vision, and left such an impact on these men that all of them (aside from John) sacrificed their life for his cause.

And that’s impressive enough, but then you consider who was included in Jesus’s inner circle. Among others, a tax collector (Jew working for the Roman government), a doctor, a Zealot (group who believed in fanatical measures to bring in religious ideals), and fishermen. That’s the modern-day equivalent of someone taking orders from ISIS to rob their own people, a college professor or surgeon, a political activist, and several construction workers all coming together. Wow! This is what Jesus accomplished in a very short period of time.

How? The life Jesus modeled. People might be attracted to someone because of what they see. But people follow someone because of who they are. And the more time these twelve apostles spent with Jesus, the more they believed in his teachings. What was it Jesus modeled?

Yes, Jesus proclaimed (and was) the Messiah, the chosen son of God. But words don’t inspire followers. Jesus taught and modeled an upside-down worldview. It was counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. And I believe his leadership is summed up in one idea: becoming a child.

This sounds strange, I know. But don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Jesus was advocating childish behavior. He was advocating child-like behavior. Jesus said it this way:

I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in.Matthew 18:3

In other words, Jesus wasn’t telling the apostles to remain like children. He was telling them to become like children. What does this mean? What is the greatest leader in the history of the world trying to tell us? Well, everything. At least everything about being a great leader. Here are 9 reasons you must become a child to be a great leader.

1.) TRUST: Children know where to run when the situation is beyond their control. 

Children know their limitations. My oldest son, Noah, is very independent. He loves to do things on his own. But Noah understands he isn’t all-powerful. And the moment he realizes he can’t do something, he cries out for his mom and dad.

When we realize a situation is greater than our abilities, we don’t try harder to get out. We run to God. We cry out for our Father. And when we do, he is always there. Great leaders get this.

2.) LEARNER: Children always ask questions.

Noah has reached the “why” stage. I heard about this stage from other parents. But I had no idea. No phrase from my mouth is immune to Noah’s inquisitive mind. He wants an explanation for everything. It’s annoying. Just being real.

But this is the attitude of leaders. Like children, they have insatiable desire to learn. They never accept status quo. They challenge traditional thinking, both in their mind and in their organization. They always ask “Why?” And to bored traditionalists, leaders like this can seem annoying. “Why don’t you just accept something because we said so?” Because children aren’t content with the status quo. And children make the best leaders.

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3.) INCLUSIVE: Children focus on “both/and” instead of “either/or.”

If you want to know why children make the best leaders, ride out to a busy park in your respective city. Notice what you see…or what you don’t see. Children aren’t controlled by thoughts of race and socio-economics. The default attitude of a child is “both/and.” They are inclusive. Everyone is invited to the party.

Sacred or secular? Creation or evolution? Black or white? Church of Christ or Baptist? Great leaders don’t ask “either/or” questions. It’s not that everything is accepted. It’s that they realize the world is larger than their perspective. And God is larger than the world. A great leader makes people from all walks of life feel welcome and accepted. How different might our world look if everyone had a “both/and” mindset?

4.) COMPASSIONATE: Children weep in response to pain and brokenness.

The night of our adoption fundraiser, I started crying as I thought about all the people supporting our journey. Noah and Micah both saw this and immediately became concerned. They couldn’t handle their dad getting emotional.

With children, even the smallest pain or injustice breaks their heart. Great leaders are broken, like children, at the sight of injustice and pain. They are driven by a desire to make the world better. Correct injustice. Restore brokenness. They never allow their hearts to become hard. And this is a challenge in a world where no one is immune from the manipulative, self-centered schemes of man.

5.) AUTHENTIC: Children don’t filter their words or put on masks to hide emotions.

One thing I have learned about children, they don’t filter their words. They don’t hide their true selves. They don’t wish they were skinnier, prettier, smarter, etc. They aren’t controlled by external perceptions. They are truly themselves. And they are content with it.

In a world where everyone seems to wish they were someone else, children show us something refreshing. Surely Jesus had this in mind as he pulled the children to him. Great leaders don’t waste time trying to be someone else. They aren’t afraid to show emotions. They don’t hide under masks. They know loving others well is an outpouring of loving themselves well.

 

6.) SIMPLISTIC: Children aren’t constantly searching for the next big thing.

Complexity is your enemy. Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to keep things simple.Richard Branson

I remember the day my Apple Watch arrived. I started to take it out of the box when my oldest son, Noah, asked me what I had. So, I showed it to him. He looked at the watch, looked back at me, and ran off to play with his blocks.

Let’s just say he was unimpressed. If my three-year-old could carry on an adult conversation, I think it would go like this.

NOAH: What’s the big deal with a watch that answers phone calls?

ME: It’s awesome, Noah. This is the most advanced watch in the world.

NOAH: Does it help you lead others better?

ME: No.

NOAH: Then what’s the big deal?

ME: Well, everybody has one. And I don’t have to take my phone out of my pocket.

NOAH: So you bought a watch that answers the phone so you won’t have to take it out of your pocket?

ME: No, it’s not like that.

NOAH: I am going to play with my blocks.

Simplicity is the stuff of children. It’s also the stuff of great leaders. The best leaders fight keep things simple. And this is a challenge in a complex culture. “More is better,” right?

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Not really.

7.) HUMBLE: Children don’t take themselves too seriously. 

This might be the defining characteristic of children. They have no framework for a hierarchy of popularity or status. Consider this paradox. As James and John argue over who will be the greatest in the kingdom, Jesus pulls children to himself and tells the apostles that children are the example of greatness.

“C’mon, Jesus. Get the children out of here, and let’s have an adult conversation.”

But Jesus wanted the apostles to see great leaders aren’t controlled by privilege or entitlement. They don’t carry an “I have made it” mentality. They are servants. They use their power to empower others. Jesus has the market cornered on power. Yet he relinquished that power for us (Phil. 2). If you want to impact the world, become powerless and drop your status. Sounds crazy. Just crazy enough that it might work.

8.) COURAGEOUS: Children aren’t afraid to act beyond their abilities.

A failure of nerve and an unwillingness to risk distorts God into a bookkeeper. Brennan Manning

Noah and Micah aren’t afraid to try things, even if those things threaten their safety. Children aren’t afraid to explore. They aren’t knowledgeable enough to process potential consequences to risky actions.

And this is why knowledge, if not applied properly, cripples great leadership. Knowledge tends to make us more cautious and logical. But great leaders have the courage and faith in God to look past logic and see what could be.

9.) IMAGINATION: Children aren’t bound by reality.  

Imagination is more important than knowledge.Albert Einstein

Imagination is a trademark of children. Their minds aren’t bound by reality. They think they can fly. They pretend to be superheroes. They think they can do all kinds of things they really can’t do.

I often look at children and think, “Those poor children. One day they will understand.” But I believe Jesus looks at me and says, “Poor Frank. Maybe one day he will understand.” The church needs to restore imagination. It is the catalyst for creativity, innovation, and passion.

This might sound overly philosophical, but reality is simply an outward expression of what we choose to accept and focus on. If we choose to accept a small God, we will get that God. But if we dare to believe God is actually larger than stars and galaxies, we might see a radical shift in our world.

____________

To become more childlike is to become more Christlike. As offensive as this sounds to those equipped with immense knowledge and years of experience, Jesus says wisdom doesn’t come from above down…it comes from below up. In other words, wisdom has a hierarchy. But the hierarchy is flipped.

This isn’t modeled by many leaders because American culture doesn’t embrace a childlike worldview. But if the greatest leader in the history of the world is right, the world won’t be changed by running up the traditional  hierarchy in pursuit of power, influence, and knowledge. The world will be changed by running down the hierarchy in pursuit of humility, servanthood, and naivety.

The first will be last. The greatest will be a servant. The humble will be exalted. And the world will be changed by becoming a child. Sounds ridiculous. Change usually is.

I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!

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