Seven Leadership Lessons – Holy Thursday

When looking for examples of leadership, some suggest to start and end that search with Jesus. He’s a good place to begin, especially during Holy Week and specifically on Holy Thursday. The Gospel reading for today (John 13:1-15 – Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper) presents Jesus at his most mindful. He’s mindful of the road he’s about to travel and He’s mindful of the fact that his apostles must move forward without him.

That first awareness – that the work he and the Twelve have been doing is about more than just him – is Jesus’ first lesson to leaders today.


The work of the organization is sustained and directed by more than just the leader

Jesus spent much of His time with the apostles and designed many of His lessons for them to convey to them that they were as important to the work of Salvation as He was. 

Good leaders recognize that they are just a part – and not even the most important part – of their organizations. They illustrate through word and action that they do not place themselves above others or above the work.

“He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” 

Jesus was able to tell his apostles that He loved them. This was something they never doubted even as Jesus’ end approached.

Leaders who are unable to show those they serve that they at least respect – if not actually love – them are not going to be particularly effective. Those being led are best served by and best serve a leader who shares love and respect with them.

“Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciple’s feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.”

This is the seminal moment of Holy Thursday for many – the Washing of the Feet. Jesus is unafraid to yield His literal and figurative positions of power and kneel before His apostles to clean the dirt from their feet.

Must leaders wash their constituents’ feet to be effective? Must they literally wash them? No. But good leaders are consistently ready to praise others’ efforts and to serve them in any way they can – even in ways that seem shocking.

“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”

Jesus tells Simon Peter when Peter objects to the Lord washing his feet that he must be washed as well.

Simply put, a good leader does not play favorites. What is given to one is, in some fair fashion, given to all. What is expected of one is, in some fair fashion, expected of all.

“Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over.”

Peter would like Jesus to wash him all over – hands and feet and head.

See above. A leader knows what will set others apart from the group in an unnecessary fashion. Good leaders are very careful about this.

“Do you realize what I have done for you?”

Jesus consistently reviews his lessons with His apostles.

There is nothing secret about the manner in which Jesus leads. He tells his followers why He does what He does and, in doing so, empowers and inspires them. Good leaders look for ways to be more transparent in their approach to leadership. All too often it seems leaders look for ways to be less transparent.

“If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

Jesus brings it all home for His apostles, spelling out his central message of leadership.

Jesus is the ultimate servant leader. Willing to serve those he leads in any way that He can, Jesus models for His followers how he wants them to lead. It’s a powerful exemplar and this last moment of the Holy Thursday meal underscores the message Jesus wants his apostles to hear: Love all and serve them.

Let’s replace the “Hang in There” cat posters and like drivel in our leaders’ offices with a poster with just two words:

Love. Serve.

Those two words, if adhered to faithfully, would do much for leadership transformation.


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Filed under Education, Holy Thursday, Holy Week, Ignatian Education, Jesuit Education, Jesus, Leadership, Religion, Teaching

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