Lead By Example. Follow The Examples
When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you
At the Feast of the Passover, Jesus took the time to wash each of the disciples’ feet.
Consider the scene that must have been: Jesus, whom the disciples believed to be the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, was stooping down in the manner of a servant to perform the most submissive of tasks, the washing of a person’s feet. Simon, later called Peter, at first demurred, not understanding and not believing it was fitting for Jesus, their leader, their Lord and their Teacher, to bend down and serve them thus.
Yet Jesus persisted and served each of the disciples in this task.
Jesus was their Leader. Yet Jesus served them.
Jesus was their Lord. Yet Jesus humbled Himself before them.
Jesus was their Teacher. Yet Jesus came to them as not even one of the disciples, but merely a servant attending to them.
Only Jesus did not merely humbly bend to serve His disciples. When He had finished He charged the disciples—and all who would follow Him—to follow His example. He charged them to do, not just what He said, but especially what He did.
Jesus led, in this as in all parts of His ministry, by example. What He expected His followers to do, He first did. Having done, He then charged the disciples to do likewise. He charged them to emulate Him, and in this moment especially to practice His humility.
Yet in this charge Jesus commanded His followers to do more than just follow His example. He charged them also to lead with His example. He charged them to become the example to others.
As He sent His followers forth, to preach the Good News of Christ’s coming and resurrection, He charged them to lead with humble acts of service towards others. He charged them to not merely preach what He had preached to them, to not merely teach as He had taught them, but to lead as He had led them. As Jesus inspired His disciples to follow Him, His disciples were charged to inspire others to walk that same path.
And there is another dimension to consider as well. As Jesus charged His disciples to lead, and to spread His teachings through their leadership, He was reminding them also that their leadership was grounded in their choice to follow Him.
In this humble act of foot washing, Jesus showed His disciples—and thus through the Gospels shows us even today—that every leader must also be a follower. Every leader, in choosing to set that example, must choose to follow a doctrine, a set of values, or of ideas. In the same vein that every leader is also a follower, every Teacher is always a student; when we choose to teach, we choose to transmit that which we have been taught.
Thus to lead well, we must follow well. To lead by example we must first follow the examples of others—and of Jesus in particular. To lead humbly, bending to wash the feet other others, we must follow the example of Jesus, who did it first.
Before we can set a good example we must know what that good example is—and we will know that because of how others have led us. In order to set that good example we invariably must acknowledge and follow the examples that others have put before us. In order to teach the right path to anyone, we must follow that same right path as we were taught.
If we are not first taught, if we first do not follow, we can never successfully lead. Without examples to follow, we have no examples by which to lead others.
It also must follow that good leadership begins with humility, never with hubris. We are able to lead not because of ourselves, but because of the examples we have been given, the lessons we have been taught. The example we set is the inspiration, just as Jesus washing the feet of His disciples was their inspiration to do likewise, and it is our courage and our confidence that puts that example in front of others to inspire them.
Ultimately, the leading and the following become one and the same. We follow the examples which we have been given by setting those same examples for others. We learn the lessons we are taught by teaching those lessons to others. Just as our inspiration to lead comes from following, we inspire those who follow us to lead, an eternal cycle of leading and following, following and leading.
Before you stand up to lead, first bend the knee. When you choose to lead, recognize that you also choose to follow. Remember that those whom you would lead you also will serve.
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