Holiday Leadership Lessons


Happy holidays.  Thanks to each of you who, as Time’s person of the year, celebrated your award (there wasn’t a check that came with it, was there?) by commenting on my blog.  I again invite you to join the blog conversation today, and I especially invite participation from those who celebrate something other than the birth of Jesus in this holiday season.  I for one would welcome your reflections on any leadership lessons you take from your religious (or non-religious) celebration of the season.  I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to learn from you.

For my part, raised on and profoundly grateful to Jesus, I offer three very simple leadership lessons.  To me, Jesus is the example, par excellence, when it comes to the effectiveness of a non-authorized leader.  The man had no title, position, pedigree, or wealth that caused others to listen to him or follow him.  Indeed, on this holiday, we remind ourselves that He wasn’t born at a Hilton, or even a Radisson, a Best Western, a Sleeps Inn, or a Motel by the Hour.  His “lowly birth” reminds every one of us – student, janitor, secretary, intern, clerk – that we can make a difference – no matter where we come from or what position we occupy.

Second, Jesus was fixed on values – primarily love – and this gave Him a unique combination of power and freedom.  He challenged the system.  He was a Jew, He studied Torah, He seemed to love scripture, the temple and the Law.  He respected the civil law, as well.  He never took up arms.  Yet His adherence to His values – and His mission – meant that he freely challenged the systems of religion and law, and gently but firmly challenged the authorities in both those worlds.  Many of us hold back in fear and timidity.  Jesus is a model for us of the courage that comes from convictions.  I hope you never silence yourself when your values appear to be imperiled or abused.

Finally, Jesus searched His own heart.  He spoke boldly.  But He also went off in the desert to get His own stuff straight.  He protected an adulteress from being stoned, declaring, “he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”  And when His friend Peter drew a sword to defend him from arrest, He told him to put it away.  Great leaders speak, but they listen a lot.  They hold up values to touch our guilt and our hope and our faith, but they continually apply those values to themselves.  Jesus could challenge, because Jesus walked the walk! 

I hope this season reminds you that you are called to change the world, to speak your values, and walk the walk, and so to . . .

Lead with your best self,


 * If you are interested in reading more about Jesus as a leadership role model, pick up Laurie Beth Jones’ book, Jesus, CEO.  It’s an engaging read. 

  • Dan,

    The holiday season provides many of us a chance to do a little extra reading. Two books that I’ve just completed offering excellent guidance on leadership are William Winter’s The Measure of Our Days and Alice Walker’s, We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For. These are two individuals who speak their values and walk their talk. Winter, former governor of Mississippi, wrote his own speeches (imagine that!). Alice Walker writes on many topics in her little book of meditations. Most important for me is her focus and horrific dismay over the destruction of children in Iraq and other parts of the world. I guess the word that comes to mind for me as I think of these two people is “courage”. How unfortunate to have too many people who perhaps think about justice but are afraid to speak on behalf of justice. Unexercised freedom of speech should concern us deeply. Alice Walker (whose mother was part Cherokee) said once in an interview that was printed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution that in the Cherokee Nation a woman becomes an elder at age 52. Not only does becoming an elder mean you have a “right to speak out”, but you also have a “responsibility to speak out.” More than ever we need to hear from the elders.

  • “the effectiveness of a non-authorized leader” – Wow, I love this phrase. It describes in a few words what I have been trying to get some friends to do. We are leaders, even without a title. Thanks Dan, for another good lesson.

  • Amen, and ‘pay it forward’. Thank you Dan, for sharing your thoughts on Jesus and leadership. When I entered the ‘Galileo’ leadership organization, I wasn’t quite sure how to define myself as a leader; you pretty much summed it up for me. I lead my life with Jesus in mind every day and have realized that this is a big part of defining my leadership style.
    Thanks again for your thoughts.

  • Good morning Dan: While visiting family here in TX I just learned that President Ford died yesterday – then read your letter a few minutes ago and “Jerry” came to mind immediately as a true leader – he never sought the office of the President but led us so wisely through those turbulent times of Nixon leaving office and Pres. Ford restored honesty and integrity to that office – I wish we had more leaders like him. For everyone who knew Jerry – he was a great man – so unassuming, kind and caring – he led the then 5th district of Kent and Ionia Counties as only he could do – He will be greatly missed-Best wishes to you and yours in the new year and God Bless you all.
    Sincerely – Alyce Mulder of Portland, Mi. –

  • CEOJesus: “I’d like you all to take a look at these figures, here, just follow the laser pointer. Okay so last month we really Upset the Vendors. That was great, folks, excellent leadership, slam dunks everybody. And our three-point plan defending the rights of prositutes has put us on the map as international players. The Unions are coming with us. Peter would you click the mouse… thanks. As you view these flowcharts, I just want you to see the possibilities in your mind. See this IF-junction here: Sell All Holdings And Distribute To The Needy, Y/N/M-S? The answer is Yes. I know, we’re slumping on Wall Street, but this is about another kind of values — in here, inside of us. So. To make it kind and gentle we’ll be starting with the severance accounts and 401k’s, then benefits, and then gradually moving on to the payrolls, and then I expect you all to work for free while we go about giving away the office building, computers, other assets. I thought the street below would make a nice outlet. Think “simple”. Peter, next image? Peter? Judas? Where are you going?”

    While I might not be able to quit reconcile the idea of incorporation and Jesus’s lesson of abject poverty, I think Dan already adequately described the Leadership Jesus. Walking the walk, along the low road, asking us all to come along, and espousing values that are important to us all.

    This holiday season I’m trying to work on a different kind of celebration, notably how to celebrate the life of a person who’s passed away. My Grandfather died sometime between Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. I was down here in Florida to help him write his memoirs (to be published under his title for it, “Poor Irish Deaf and Dumb Boy”), but I hadn’t been talking to him for several days. He had deeply disappointed me, turning out to be somebody very different than the person he portrayed himself to be. He had pretended to be somebody he wasn’t in order to interest me in coming to Florida to be with him. My whole family, in fact turned out to be just as ingenuine in their individual ways.

    As I was walking away I said, you know this will, it’s all I hear about is the will, from all of his family, friends, and neighbors. I’d told him, you want to leave me all this money to see Ireland, but you know what, you could put it into a trust account on the stipulation that it has to be spent on Ireland, and I’ll tell you now, it might never be spent, one dime. I told him I’d be more likely to spend it seeking citizenship in Sweden.

    He was extremely jaded against religion and especially Christianity. He told me that the Catholics were the worst thing in the history of the western world. He waited until I was down here to tell me that. Not like he was getting in the way of my Catechism; I’d already sacrificed going to church OCT-NOV to work in a grassroots political office in Gregory, Michigan. But he congratulated me on my spiritual efforts while I was in Michigan, and waited until I was down here to drop it on me that in his Socialist, Anti-Religious worldview, people like me are garbage. At least he stopped short of belittling me for spending the last two years of my life homeless. He said it made me “stronger”.

    So I’m trying to figure out how exactly to celebrate his passing this new year. Celebrate his life, or celebrate his death? However I figure it out, it’ll be alone, since I’ve returned to estrangement with my entire family.

    And yeah, I understand very closely, as well, what Jesus meant to others and what he went through to be who he was. But I still sort of question the idea of using Jesus as corporate boardroom posterboy.

    In any case, best holiday wishes, seasons greetings, and G-d bless us, everyone.

  • Leadership and what about dignity?

    I am learning about dignity: I am not sure how to respond to angle tree programs. I cry when I see Oprahs Christmas in Africa, because I think these are truly gifts, but do they give people dignity? And then there are the Angle tree programs in the states, which I am a little less inclined to think these gifts are meaningful. But I did find this organization in Grand Rapids Mi, Other Way ministries that does this cool Christmas store for their community. They employ members of the community or require they do some sort of service work. Come the first week in December the hours are banked and they shop at a store. They work, get paid, and are able to shop for their gifts.
    Two days ago my mentee of 9 years, who in the past had recieved these angle tree gifts came outside and the police were there. He said I have a bag full of presents for you and your family. I asked how it made him feel and he said,”I am not sure. My mom says they must think we are poor.”

    I do know that Christmas brings high expectations of giving. How do we give and not steal away someones dignity?


  • Without a doubt Jesus is our example and calls us to be Him to others. I have found Him in others such as Mother Teresa. However, I find Him in others who are of other relgions – Ghandi. When I read the parable of the Last Judgement in Matthew 25, it brings be to a halt as I realize why I am here. . . to serve. Thanks Dan for these weekly letters.

  • I think Jesus was also man who successfully developed his “individuation”, that is he accepted the depth of his own being and was unafraid to live it. He showed that by accepting the promise of the kingdom within, he could say the things and do the things most of us consider but shy away from out of fear or self-doubt or anxiety. Yet, it also cost him his life, and that’s a choice we have to face.
    Comparisons of Jesus with “CEO’s” is a misuse of Jesus as a person. He was not talking a business venture or company or even management. He was talking about living our lives; this is something more integral, deeper, and more profound that a title can pronounce. While how he lived is undoubtedly a real model for CEOs to emmulate, a CEO must be like Jesus before he/she assumes their designation in order to make the living out authentic. If Jesus, as you point out, is a non-titled person of authority, attempting to categorize or link him with such a title as CEO is meaningless and, perhaps, a distortion.
    Finally, Jesus as ‘God with us’ is another perspective we need to keep in mind because ‘God with us’ is still here. God is still present, still active if we listen, if we open ourselves and become vulnerable, if we seek out the truth of our own person. The difference we can make is being our true selves, and realizing that others can be that as well. The artificial divisions we create, from religion to nationality to race, create obstacles to overcome as we seek to understand our world and it inhabitants as children of God.

  • You are the bravest man I know–to lay your heart out every week with your deepest thoughts and convictions exposed and then not only ask for comments, but soliciting for them! It is very intersting for me to read the varied reponses. As for mine (response); I really appreciate your focus on Christ. Leadership is NOT about position, but service and strength to do it when you are constantly beat down. Rare is an exchange of gratitude or a moment of edification that satisfies my need to lead. So the stamina comes from someone beyond myself. Someone worthy to emulate, who leads me on. I echo your sentiments; for me it is Jesus,too. In this day and time it is fresh to find someone like yourself brave enough to say so.
    Have a truly blessed Christmas with your family. I appreciate your leadership.

  • I think that when you mention the name Jesus, people tend to miss the point. Suddenly the conversation becomes a religious debate rather than an example of excellence. It becomes less about how we treat (or fail to treat) others with respect, courtesy and value by using the EXAMPLE of Jesus and becomes more of an argument regarding the appropriate invocation of His name, a discussion about who is entitled? How are they entitled? Do I agree with their claim to entitlement? And thus, another crusade begins as we become distracted by the holiness of the name and disregard the holiness of His original point – to LOVE one another. In the board room I think that you can exchange “love” for “respect” or “compassion” or “courtesy” if “love” is too big or threatenting a word to apply at work.

    The name Jesus invokes different things to different people – but to hold His name in higher reverence than His lessons, such as carrying goodness into the world, of finding value in your fellow men and women, of genuinely caring for each other; is a bit more blasphemous than referring to Jesus as CEO. What Laurie Beth Jones tries to inspire in her book is to get individuals to apply the teachings of Jesus to EVERY aspect of their lives – to (as she says) “Behold Them” – meaning to truly see the people who share your circle. Should the board room really be different? Should ethics and integrity be restricted to our own personal altars or should we ALL be walking the talk? I don’t think Jesus minds a little extra press…a little expansion of the territory…a little “touch” from the lepers. If he does, I’m sure he’ll tend to it. Until then; let him who is without sin…

  • I think your writing about this time of year and the lesser known hero fits Martin Luther King as well; he really had no official title or role; but he went on record for everyone in the USA even though too many of us thought it was only for his people;; well his people were all the people. frank

  • Yes, Divine Law can neither be ignored nor put aside. Perhaps, the most important of these laws is the ‘Law of Love.’ This law flows through all religions of the world.

    Put simply, “Love is Law, Law is Love.” This amounts to the same thing as “the gift of giving” without the “hope of reward or pay,” or serving others.

    For more about the Law of Love, go to: and for how the Law of Love works in business, go to

  • Well, this is fun reading your varied comments. I hope you are enjoying them as much as I am. We’ll keep upgrading so that you and I can reply to specific comments that others make. Thanks for contributing.

  • Thanks Dan for your continued example of not being afraid to wear your values and beliefs on your sleeve in your leadership discusions. Without the values, principles and truths that we hold to be “self-evident,” our lives, communities, businesses and countries are in serious trouble. Hence the need for leaders who are value rich rather than value neutral.

  • Dan,

    Thanks for your great attitude of not being afraid of sharing your personal belief in Jesus Christ as a great leadership model, while keeping the door open for others to see Him in the light of their beliefs. As one who works in the Catholic Church with youth, I always challenge them to hold to their beliefs while being open to others. Our saying is “We don’t judge, but we don’t budge” (in our beliefs. May we all learn to live together in respect and love, and become great leaders in the model of Jesus.

  • Dan,
    Thanks for the great letter. I have for 30 years tried to follow Jesus as my model for leaderhsip as a principal. I isn’t easy. A book you may like is Paradox of Power: A Transforming View of Leadership, by Pat Williams. It uses Jesus life as the example of leadership. Have a wonderful new year.


  • Dan,

    A wonderful message and could not have been more apt at this time of year of commercialised messages and consumer madness. To remember and reflect on the meaning of Christmas should be the centre of any celebration else what is the point in recognising the event in the first place.

    I apologise for my late response, checking e-mail went down the list for me as I focussed on my family and some downtime during this period… it makes the catch up time that much more enjoyable getting through a bunch of messages like this. I have added the Jesus CEO book to my booklist.

    Oh and I love the new site you have put in place.


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