Are You a Coercive King, or an Inspiring Servant?

Buffalo JumpI once heard it said that the task of a leader is to “get the herd moving roughly west.” The speaker was a so-called leadership expert, had been a leader in various roles, and authored books on the subject. If the conference had not been mandatory I would have left the room immediately.

As it was, I found myself choking back bile during the days that followed. The man had ruined his chance to influence me positively with a few ill-chosen, opening words. I’m glad, for his sake and mine, that I had never been subject to his leadership philosophies in action.

Some think that a leader’s job is to get others to do something that they ordinarily would not–in the name of accomplishing organizational goals. “West”, as in the above gentleman’s meaning, is where he wants you to go, or what he wants you to do, or something that another person or org thinks should take precedence for your life.



In flu əns

the power or intangible action of one thing or person which brings about an effect on another.


Would you like some carrot with your stick..?

When I aim to get you to do what I want–even if it is something good–I am dangerously close to approving of the practice of coercion (which is one of the least popular words for a reason. It is wrong in life and even looks wrong on paper). This is the “carrot and the stick” approach to leadership. If you do what I say, I’ll give you a reward. If you don’t, I’ll punish you. Carrot and stick. Manipulation at its finest. 



ko uhr shən

the act of persuading or pressuring a person to do something by using threats, intimidation, or the like.


This method only works in environments of fear and oppression. We civilized folk should know better than to use it on our peers but we rather accept it as normal.

What can we learn from God on the subject? In ancient times, He predicted that people would choose to have a man as king and not have Him as king over them. In the history of Israel this came true. He warned them that an earthly king would lord over them, take their cattle and wealth, and make the people serve him. God defined a coercive king.

The original inspired servant

We find that God didn’t rule the same way. To Him, justice meant equality and balance and that His people were to help bring restoration when they saw imbalances in life. He didn’t make His people simply do what He wanted, but His instructions were for their good and with good purpose.

Kings CardWhen Israel began to cry that they wanted a king like the rest of the nations, they rejected God as king. And He let them have what they wanted instead: an oppressive ruler who became wealthy on the backs of the masses.

The keys to leading God’s way are trust and inspiration in an arena of freedom. It is what He wanted from His people then and now. And it is the best model for leadership that is around.

The character and behavior of others moves people. You can see quality by a person’s actions and speech. You will enter a business venture with someone who you trust. You trust them because they have tested character and proven ability. They have a story that trails in their wake and tells who they are during failure, victory, loss, and their commitment.

You inspire people because of your experience, your story. Your experience has given you a measure of wisdom and insight into what to do. It also goes a long way in developing trust.

The best way to foster trust is to care for people. Sincere and genuine care. And kindness. Orgs can’t do this. They are simply too big and impersonal. But you and I can do it, without coercion or superficiality.

The best way to care for people is to serve them. Wholeheartedly. Without hesitation. We know when you are faking it, so don’t even try.

Jesus did this. He came and spent his whole life just to serve the will of his Father and the needs of humanity. He is the greatest inspiring servant.

Don’t go “west”. Don’t follow the masses. Do something extraordinary.

Look to him to find the road that an inspiring servant walks; or else, you may find yourself under, or worse, in the seat of a coercive king.

About the Author

Dustin White

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