The Leadership Strategy of Jesus

So much of the activity I see among leaders today is focused on reaching the masses. “Successful leaders” speak at big conferences, host popular television or radio shows, publish bestselling books, or write successful blogs. Their goal is breadth. They want to extend their influence to as many people as possible.

Sermon on the Mount by Cosimo Rosselli

Jesus had a much different leadership strategy. His goal was not “reach” or popularity. In fact, as strange as it sounds today, he actively discouraged publicity. On more than one occasion, after performing a jaw-dropping miracle, he told those who witnessed it, “Tell no one what you have seen” (see e.g., Matthew 8:4; 16:20; 17:9; Mark 7:36; 8:30; 9:9; Luke 5:14; and 8:56). He was a publicist’s nightmare.

Instead, Jesus focused on true depth and long-term impact. To achieve this, he had a four-pronged leadership strategy:

  1. He taught the multitudes. Yes, Jesus had a public ministry. He occasionally spoke to thousands. However, he didn’t pander to these groups or “tickle their ears.” He confronted the status quo, jarred his listeners’ sensibilities, and often taught in parables. He didn’t feel the need to clarify everything. He often left his audience confused and wondering what he meant. His goal was apparently to shift their paradigm and get them to think.
  2. He mobilized the seventy. Jesus had a smaller, more intimate group to whom he gave specific assignments. He sent them out two-by-two. He asked for a BIG commitment. He gave them virtually no resources. Yet he demanded that they perform miracles. He told them to expect opposition (see Luke 10:1–12) and promised no earthly reward (see Luke 10:18–20).
  3. He trained the twelve. He chose the twelve disciples to be “with him” (see Mark 3:14a) He taught them and also gave them assignments (see Mark 3:14b–19). However, he also shared with them his daily life. Like the Apostle Paul would do years later, he poured into them his very life (see 1 Thessalonians 2:8). Because of this, he entrusted them with power to do the work he himself had done. In fact, he promised them that they would actually do greater works (see John 14:12–14).
  4. He confided in the three. Jesus had an inner circle comprised of Peter, James, and John. He took them on special outings (see Matthew 17:1). He allowed them to witness his greatest glory (see Mark 9:2–3) and his deepest temptation (see Mark 14:33–34). He prayed with them (see Luke 9:28f). He taught them things He did not teach the others (see Matthew 17:2; Mark 5:37–43). He even introduced them to His heavenly family (see Matthew 17:3). They were his closest friends and confidants.

Jesus’ leadership strategy evidently worked well. Within a generation, His followers turned the world upside down (see Acts 17:6). Within seven generations (318 A.D.), the emperor Constantine accepted his message and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. And here I am, almost two millennia later, writing about it.

After interacting with leaders at every level for more than three decades, my observation is that most leaders only focus on the first two strategies. They have a public teaching ministry, and they are good at mobilizing groups for specific assignments. However, very few intentionally train a small group of disciples. Even fewer build deep relationships with a handful of confidants. As a result, they do not have the kind of lasting impact they could have.

The older I get, the more value I see in going deeper with a few. Leading the masses may feed my ego, but it won’t guarantee an impact that will outlive me.

Questions: Are you following Jesus’ leadership strategy? Are you leading at all four levels? If not, what can you do differently to insure that your leadership has greater impact?
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  • newlifeben

    Michael, I love reading your blog and think very highly of what and how you are leading. I love this post and strive to live this way. But there's more than knowing who to invest in, it's how Jesus did it that is so critical to understand. The people who are rocking my world with that are at www.

    When I find something great I love to share it with my friends. Thanks for sharing great things with me. Keep up the good work! bw

  • A. Amos Love


    You ask…
    “Are you following Jesus’ leadership strategy?”

    What about “Jesus’ strategy” teaching “His Disciples” NOT
    to be called “Leader?” For you have ‘ONE” leader, the Christ?

    The word “leader”seems like a “high place.” Yes?
    Jesus always took and recommended the “low place.” Yes?

    Jesus humbled Himself, made himself of no reputation
    and took on the form of a servant. Php 2:7

    King James Version –
    Neither be ye called masters:
    for one is your Master, even Christ.

    The Interlinear Bible –
    Nor be called leaders,
    for one is your leader the Christ.

    Phillips Modern English –
    you must not let people call you leaders,
    you have only one leader, Christ.

    Today’s English Version –
    nor should you be called leader.
    your one and only leader is the Messiah.

    The Amplified-
    you must not be called masters ( leaders )
    for you have one master ( leader ) the Christ.

    Jesus told His disciples not to be called “leaders” and none did.

    Rom 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,
    Php 1:1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ,
    Col 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ,
    Tit 1:1 Paul, a servant of God,
    Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God
    2Pe 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant

    His disciples all called themselves “servants,”
    none called themselves “leaders.” None? None.
    None called themselves “servant-leader.” None.

    Just wondering. Be blessed.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I don’t think the word leader is always used in a negative way. After all, the early church had bishops and elders who led the people. In fact, the writer of Hebrews explains the responsibility of those who “rule” over us and our responsibility to them.

      I think the key is in leading like Jesus—primarily through serving.

  • practicinghuman

    I think it is rather remarkable that most of us think that being famous as we reach the masses amounts to being known. I do think it is important to consider how we can invest properly in the 3-12-70-multitude sense of things. I appreciate the parents who say their 3 are their kids; but I think those of us who are single and serving tend to try to treat the 70 as we should only be treating the 3… or the 12.

  • Pk

    I guess he ‘lead by example’ too.

  • @taskbender

    I guess he 'lead by example' too.

  • BarbaraBoucher PTPhD

    Thank you, Michael, for a guiding post to one of the masses.
    My recent post Toys That Teach

  • Becky Miller

    This was a much needed reminder that my biggest leadership impact will be on making disciples of my children. That feels like a very invisible leadership job most days, but yet I realize it will probably be the most valuable of my lifetime.

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  • Gudrun Deahl

    I find myself coming back to to your internet site simply because you have various wonderful insights and you happen to be at this a long time, that is very exciting and tells me you know a lot.

  • crispone

    Great post, and the statement that jumped out at me the most was "He didn’t feel the need to clarify everything." Especially when I'm preaching, it's extremely difficult to resist this tendency. This reminds me of the fact that words don't turn people's hearts to God, and that, ultimately, only God can do that. Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians that he relied not on his own words, but on the power of the Spirit. I think that, especially in the age of blogs and Twitter, we need this reminder.
    My recent post A Moment of Weakness

  • Christina

    wow this is great. love it! thanks for posting!

  • Michelle

    Great post, and the statement that jumped out at me the most was “He didn’t feel the need to clarify everything.” Especially when I’m preaching, it’s extremely difficult to resist this tendency. This reminds me of the fact that words don’t turn people’s hearts to God, and that, ultimately, only God can do that. Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians that he relied not on his own words, but on the power of the Spirit. I think that, especially in the age of blogs and Twitter, we need this reminder.
    My recent post A Moment of Weakness

  • David Valencia

    Since you are so interested in leadership and even write about the subject I have a perennial question that all leaders avoid because it touches the core of our ego. I have been part of leadership for a long time and it is our insecure little ego that makes us muddle how we serve people and most if not all serve others as a means of serving themselves or another way of saying it is, we really serve ourselves at the cost of others by using them as means.
    Well, here is the question: How to you deal with the power that you have? How do you deal with the temptation of being a control nut?
    I am a compulsive reader and I've read everything on the subject…I thought since you take the time to answer, you might be willing to tell me how does your heart respond to my question.
    I don't have a secret agenda…I only like to know what makes you tick.
    I here end by giving you a quote from my favorite writer, namely, G. K. Chesterton:
    "There is the great man who makes every man feel small, but the really great man is the man who makes every man feel great"
    …sounds like what Jesus did with everyone


    David Valencia

  • Greg

    I also believe he taught from a set of fixed principles and lived what he taught (see What Jesus Taught About Leadership). In fact he said, "I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me." (John 5:30). His own will was subservient to the will of the Father.

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  • Lisa Shaw

    Well said!!

  • Josh Hood

    “The older I get, the more value I see in going deeper with a few. Leading the masses may feed my ego, but it won’t guarantee an impact that will outlive me.” Beautiful. And profound.

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  • Ricardo Butler

    This is EXACTLY how I do it! lol! Cool beans and high five for Mike Hyatt and Jesus Christ! I have always used the strategy to reach the masses to find the few. I’ve do this for volunteers for ministry. I do this when looking for customers/clients for my business. I do this for picking out leaders among those who want to work with me. I pretty much use this model a lot. I hate the public eye. I just get out there to skim through all the noise. I used your Platform book for the same reason. My text has always been,

    “By this time the crowd, unwieldy
    and stepping on each other’s toes, numbered into the thousands. But
    Jesus’ primary concern was his disciples.” (Luke 12:1, The Message Bible). This was AN AWESOME POST! Thanks for the confirmation.

    • Ricardo Butler

       One more thing. I also always try to teach the people around me to look for the raving fan and those who are passionate about what you are passionate about that share a common goal and vision. Some don’t get it, but most do!

  • Sam Jayasinghe

    Jesus Christ is the best Leader, no doubt. Talking about long term success, He has the best proven strategy.  Those who really disciple people, follow Jesus His command and therefore show Him they love Him and love others as well, because they want the best for others, an unselfish love and concern. Thanks Michael for your encouraging article. 

  • Bruce Pagano

    This is probably one of the best explanations of Jesus’ leadership styles I’ve ever read. Simple & straight-forward. the last ministry team I worked with operated much in this fashion, but I never aligned it with this understanding. Thank you.

  • Jeff Grant

    It is a tough tension to balance (scope versus depth). The same is true for sharing the gospel with friends and strangers. Jesus did both, Paul did both and so should we. Because, you can’t go real deep and invest years with many, but you don’t want to miss out on connecting with those out there who are really open.