The Essence of Leadership - The Warrior's Journey®

The Essence of Leadership

Author: Chaplain, COL Scott McChrystal, USA (Ret.)

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“Jesus rose from supper, laid aside His garments, and wrapped a towel around His waist. He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel around His waist.” (John 13:4-5) 

Toxic leaders. We’ve all heard of the term. It refers to those people in leadership positions who place their own gratification and needs before the needs of those in their charge. They are those leaders who blame others for their own failures, yet take credit for the achievements of subordinates. Soldiers hate working for them and with them – especially in high-stress situations like combat.   

In recent years the military has tried to rid itself of such self-serving individuals. Senior leaders have stressed that the essence of leadership amounts to selfless service – placing the mission and the needs of your subordinates before your own.   

Isn’t that what Jesus is doing here? There at the last supper, while His disciples were arguing with each other about which of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24), Jesus performed a task they all thought was beneath them. He washed their dirty feet. 

Of course, this foot-washing was only a microcosm of Jesus’ entire life. Jesus had said, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Philippians 2:5-9 tells us that although Jesus was God, yet He refused to exercise the privileges of Deity, but made Himself nothing, taking on the role of a servant and submitting to the shameful death of crucifixion. By doing so He was putting humanity’s salvation before His own instinct for self-preservation. 

Jesus models the essence of leadership. He led by example. He invested in the lives of subordinates. He laid down His life for humanity. He accomplished His Father’s mission. 


  • What are the childish notions of leadership that a newbie might entertain? Bossing around or chewing out subordinates? Pulling rank?  Giving orders? 
  • How does that differ from the model of leadership displayed by Christ and promoted by the military?   
  • What is the essence of military leadership? Isn’t it selfless service, leading by example, and placing the needs of subordinates before your own? 

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