Leadership and Desires
The essence of simplicity in the teaching of Jesus seems to be mastery over our desires. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness … Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? … But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:22–33 NIV).
1 John 2:15–16 strikes the same theme, urging us: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (NIV). In this verse, the word translated as “lust” is epithumia, which means “desires” but is often translated as “evil desires” or “lusts.” In fact, even our most basic desires can lead us astray.
The Book of James, a first-century sermon based on the Sermon on the Mount, goes further in explaining how desires get out of hand: “…each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14–15 NIV). Again, “evil” is a word introduced by the translators. Epithumia can refer to any desire, including the desire for food, clothing, and shelter. (Jesus emphasizes the exact same word by repetition in Luke 22:15 when he says, literally, “with desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you” (KJB)—a perfectly righteous desire if there ever was one. Despite the inherent innocence of desire, when our concern for our personal well-being gets too much free rein, desire can go haywire, leading to the deadly sins of avarice, sloth, and others.
Jesus goes far beyond calling for us to rise above the pursuit of wealth. He expects us to master our desires even for the most basic personal needs—food, clothing, and shelter. He invites us to a life of selflessness that may seem impossible to achieve. But in doing so, He shows the way to greatness in leadership.
In the classic leadership study, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, James Collins introduced the concept of Level 5 leaders—people who embody the seemingly contradictory characteristics of personal humility and indomitable will. Such leaders display remarkable mastery over their personal desires, bending their ambitions to the mission of their organization, not to their personal desires. Jesus calls on all His followers to reach the 5th level in their dedication to the Kingdom of God.
Whether we lead an organization or simply strive to surrender to God the kingship of our lives, getting mastery over our desires—all of them—remains our duty. When followers see a leader who consistently puts the needs of the mission ahead of their own interests, they give their trust to the leader. Creature comforts, personal leisure, egotism, the quest for fame, grasping for wealth—all of these desires and many more can discredit leaders in the eyes of their followers. Leadership doesn’t fit well with personal immaturity, pettiness, or hedonism. The very nature of transformational vision requires sacrifice. Great leaders go first in embracing sacrifice to achieve transforming results. Gratifying personal desires may seem like a natural priority, but delaying that gratification offers real leadership power. Mastering our desires does not imply never getting what we truly need, but it does require that our priorities focus on fulfilling the mission. And for Christian leaders, the Kingdom of God is the mission.