GREAT LEADERS ARE GREAT MENTORS


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ HEB 12:18-19, 21-24; PS 48:2-4,9-11; MARK 6:7-13 ]

Becoming a great leader recognized by the world of achievements is not yet the height of leadership.   Indeed, there are many great leaders who have brought their organizations to great heights because of their charismatic personality and ability to motivate and move people to join him in realizing his vision.  Such people are charismatic speakers, motivated, empowering and inspiring in their lives and in what they hope to achieve for their organization and for humanity.

Unfortunately, when they die, their good works die with them.  No one has been trained to take over from them.  No one even knows exactly what these leaders were doing.  They were simply doing what their leaders told them to do.  The focus was on results.  So long as the positive outcome was there, nobody asked beyond what they achieved.  Alas, when the leader dies, the organization perishes with him or her, as no one is ready to take over his or her mantle, or has the ability to command the respect, obedience and support as did the founding leader.

That is why good leaders are those who not only lead well but are generous enough to form and mentor leaders after them.  Mentoring leaders is perhaps the most difficult task for leaders because it slows them down and makes their work less perfect.  Mentoring requires great generosity and humility on the part of leaders.  It is really a total self-emptying of oneself, putting the interests of the people and the organization before self.  Today, Jesus proved Himself to be a great leader and truly the Teacher.  He formed leaders after Him.  We read, “Jesus made a tour round the villages, teaching. Then he summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs giving them authority over the unclean spirits.”

The first thing a leader must do is to share His authority with those whom he wants to mentor.  Sharing our authority requires self-effacement and self-emptying.  We must never forget that the purpose of leaders is to serve and not be to served.   Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave —  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mt 20:26-28)  Authority is given not to massage the ego of the person but for the purpose of service.   So the graciousness of sharing one’s authority with someone with the potential to take over the leadership demands selflessness and humility of a leader.  Unless, the leader is willing to put himself last and the interests of the people above himself, he would not be willing to surrender or impart his authority, skills and knowledge, lest they become more powerful than them, cutting away their authority and taking away their popularity.   As long as leaders are more focused on themselves than the good of the people, they would be afraid of competition, even from within his organization.  That is why insecure leaders try to stifle and even remove potential leaders in order not to lose their grip over the people.

Secondly, leaders must be ready to sacrifice perfection in their work by allowing their mentees to take over their tasks while they guide them.   It is always easier to do the work ourselves because we are experienced and good at it.  We can complete them faster and better.  However, with mentees under us, our work is slowed down because over and beyond our responsibilities, we have to spend time teaching and coaching them.  In addition, often, they make mistakes and require more time from us to repair the damage.  Indeed, that was what happened to the disciples when they could not cast out an evil spirit from the boy suffering from epilepsy.  (cf Mk 9:14-29)  This incident is a very good example of what mentoring means.

Having dealt with the prerequisites, the next question we need to ask is, how does mentoring effectively take place?   Firstly, Jesus, right from the start, trained His disciples to do team ministry.  Jesus sent them out in pairs because that is the way to ensure that they stayed focus in their mission and will not give up too easily in the face of challenges.  We should never allow inexperienced or even experienced people to do a project by themselves.  There is always the benefit of teamwork and team support.  The mission of the Church cannot be carried out by one person, regardless how talented or capable he might be. There will be times when we will be discouraged because of trials, opposition and failures.  Even Jesus gathered twelve apostles to be by His side so that He could find strength and courage.  When He was at the Garden of Gethsemane, He too felt the need of His three closest friends to pray with Him. (cf Lk 22:39-46)

Secondly, Jesus gave them the secret to authority, which is to rely on the authority of God.  “He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses. They were to wear sandals but, he added, ‘Do not take a spare tunic.'”  If the apostles were to show forth the power and glory of God, they should not project their own powers.  Instead, people must see through them the power of God at work in them.  St Paul wrote, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”  (2 Cor 4:6f)   This reminder from the Lord was important for the disciples because Jesus gave them the authority to “to preach repentance; and they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them.” Like the apostles, we must not supplant the position and power of God, thinking that we are the ones who make things work.  We should depend on God alone and not ourselves.  Unless we believe in divine providence, we would not be able to believe that God can and continue to heal and restore people to life even in hopeless cases.

Thirdly, Jesus shared with them the joy of ministry when it is done in freedom.  If the Lord told the apostles to travel light, it was not simply because He wanted them to rely on divine providence but also because it made the mission less onerous and gave them greater freedom to preach the Good News and minister to the people.  The instruction of the Lord is clear.  “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”  (Mt 10:7-9)  Without this freedom to give and to serve, we will be motivated by self-interest and self-gain.  The evangelical counsel of poverty remains a very important principle of effectiveness in mission.  So long as we are constrained by our attachment for the things of this world, we cannot be free in giving and in serving.  Our service will be compromised because it is determined by how much we can get back in return.  This is not Christian service.  The Good News is given freely without conditions.  Truly, the joy of the ministry is when we serve generously, selflessly and humbly without expecting anything in return.  The joy we receive from our service is pure joy because it comes from pure love, untainted by the corruption of the world.

Finally, Jesus taught them to be ready for failure and rejection.  He said, “If you enter a house anywhere, stay there until you leave the district. And if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away, shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.”  There will be those who accept our message and welcome us to their homes.  We should be grateful for their kindness and hospitality.  But there will also be those who will not welcome us.  Again, because the Good News is freely given, it must be freely received.  We should not impose our message on them if they do not welcome us.  Our task is to offer the Good News but it is their choice to accept the gift or reject it.  So our conscience should be clear and we should be at peace even when we face failures.  As long as we have done our job and our part, the rest is the work of the Holy Spirit.   We should not be discouraged or worse still, be angry or intolerant with them.

Today, the first reading presents to us the ultimate goal of our ministry, which is to build the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven.  It is our hope that eventually when the time comes, all will come to “Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven.”  This is our dream and this is our hope for humanity.  This is our vision and as leaders, we must work to realize this dream for all of us.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved


Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
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