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The Glory of Leadership

The Glory of Leadership

Most people universally agree that leaders should not seek glory, but in contrast, the Bible implies that leaders—and everyone else—should seek glory. In Romans 2:6–7, Paul says God, “will repay each person according to what they have done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.” In fact, leaders (and all of us) should seek glory. But conventional wisdom also has a point. Paul follows up his exhortation to seek glory with the words, “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” So we should “seek glory,” and that does not equate to “self-seeking,” but rather stands as the opposite.

In sorting out the reason why leaders should seek glory, we might start by considering what the concept means. The Greek word for glory, doxa, is derived from a verb that meant “to count for something” or “to have a good public appearance,” to be “seemly.” It involved a good reputation, and referred to public honor, glory, or splendor. In the New Testament, the notion of radiance is attached to the word. It is reflective of the Hebrew word cabod, which means “weight, importance, or wealth.” The idea makes one think of gold, a substance of weight—valued, and radiant. To be a glorious person would be to be a person of shining substance.

Jeff Foxworthy has famously said, “You know what kind of stuff [people in my ethnic group] like to buy? Shiny stuff. We are attracted to shiny objects. UFO’s, beer cans, fishing lures; if it’s shiny we like it! And if you think about it, most of the people who see UFO’s have been using fishing lures and holdin’ beer cans. So actually there’s a connection.” Foxworthy’s illustration about shiny things that lack substance drives home the point that we must not seek what the King James Bible called “vainglory.”

Paul uses this word in Philippians 2:3, where he urges us to do nothing out of “vainglory” (kenodoxia). That word, which literally means empty (keno) glory (doxa), refers to those who seek glory for themselves in an empty, self-centered, conceited way. In contrast, Paul offers the example of Jesus, who “emptied himself” (kenoĊ), setting aside his divine prerogatives and taking on the form of a servant. The paradox is evident: leaders must pursue glory—radiant substance—by emptying themselves. The more we call attention to our prerogatives or our presumed worth or talent, the more vainglorious and empty we become. The more we pour ourselves out in selfless service to others, the more substantial and radiant we become. Christians call out Jesus and other martyrs and spiritual heroes as examples. Robert Greenleaf wrote about servant leadership. Jim Collins would point to the Level 5 leader.

Self-seeking never discovers glory. The more we try to serve ourselves, the emptier we become. The more we pour ourselves out for others, the fuller our lives become. Parents—society’s most ubiquitous leaders—who go to bed exhausted after having worked all day to provide for their families, having then spent their “leisure” time in loving attention to their spouses and their kids, know the joy of substance over shine. One day their kids will rise up and call them blessed. Their time to shine will come, despite the fact that it will also suffer delay. And the same holds for corporate and organizational leaders. Our service may not result in instant gratification, but it builds substance in us. The time to shine will come of its own, and the more we eventually shine, the less we will probably feel that we desire it and the more we will understand how much the substance outweighed the shine.

And in the end, God promises eternal rewards.