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Jesus, A Leader With Soft Power

Jesus, A Leader With Soft Power

The concept of ‘Soft Power’ in international relations was developed first by Joseph S. Nye, Assistant Secretary of Defence in the Clinton administration, in the late 1980s. For Nye, power is the “ability to influence the behaviour of others to get the outcomes one wants to get”. According to him ‘Soft Power’ lies in the ability to attract and persuade. It arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals, and policies. On the contrary ‘Hard Power’ – the ability to coerce – grows out of a country’s military or economic might. 

Congress MP, Sashi Tharoor, who applies this concept to India, holds the view that India can become a world leader by developing its ‘Soft Power’.  The Soft Power of India lies in its pluralism (acceptance, appreciation and celebration of differences), religious and cultural diversity, art, music, dance, indigenous medical systems, yoga, flourishing tourism, thriving software industry, Bollywood films, TV soap operas, renowned IITs, democracy, civil society forums etc. According to Shashi Tharoor India has to focus on developing these aspects rather than aspiring to become a military power. “ Soft power can be defined as the underlying 'attractiveness' of a country, the allure of it that isn't achieved through coercion or government propaganda, but through a natural process, thanks in most part to said country's rich cultural heritage, such as in the case of India”. “Hard power is exercised and soft power is evoked”, says Shashi Tharoor.

While watching the movie, Jesus of Nazareth directed by Franco Zeffirelli, several times as a part of Christo-centric Leadership Retreat in USM Indore, I was fascinated by the leadership qualities of Jesus. A thought came to my mind why I was not told about the leadership role of Jesus while I was a student. In my catechism classes I was taught that Jesus is my saviour and the saviour of the world, and he saved the world through his suffering and death on the cross.

Christians all over the world remember and reflect on Jesus, especially the meaning of his suffering and death during the Holy Week. They faithfully follow many devotional and ritualistic practices to remind themselves about the death of Jesus. During Lenten season, especially during the Holy Week, why not we reflect on the leadership of Jesus? Reflection on the leadership style of Jesus may help us to commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus in a more creative and relevant way than what we do now.

Just as nations have Soft Power and Hard Power, leaders also have Soft Power and Hard Power. The leaders can use laws and other resources at their disposal to coerce those who are under them to behave in a particular way. Leaders also can use their soft power: values, skills and talents to persuade and attract others and to bring about change in them. As we understand from the Gospels, Jesus used his Soft Power to bring about transformation in others. Jesus neither had access to Hard Power nor did he try to acquire it. Mary Magdalene, Samaritan woman, Zachhaeus, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and the twelve disciples are some individuals whom Jesus could transform or influence, using his Soft Power.

What were the sources of the “Soft Power of Jesus”? First of all, Jesus had clear vision and mission. Jesus’ vision was ‘Reign of God’, a situation in which God is accepted as a loving father or mother and all human beings as brothers and sisters with equal rights and opportunities. His mission was bringing about transformation both at the individual and societal levels in view of his vision. That is why Jesus started his public life with the clarion call, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark: 1:15).

The leaders with Soft Power have clarity of vision and their vision is broad, inclusive and lasting. Jesus’ vision, the ‘Reign of God’ does not exclude anyone. Because of his clarity of vision he was a highly creative leader. His creativity was reflected the way he responded to the tricky questions of his adversaries, the way he communicated his values and ideas to all sections of the society and the way he found solutions to the problems. A leader with Soft Power generates new ideas, encourages team members to come up with new ideas, takes ideas from others and amends them before using them. They do not blindly copy others.

Leaders with Soft Power have certain core values. They practice these values first and make the followers to practices them. The core values of Jesus were forgiveness and reconciliation, sensitivity and compassion, availability, respecting the dignity of every human being, placing human persons above laws, customs and traditions and using authority for service, considering himself as a steward.  As we glance through the Gospels, we can find that Jesus practiced these values and they constituted the heart of his teachings. Jesus started a spiritual movement based on the values delineated in the Sermon on the Mount.

Today many religious and political leaders have lost their credibility because they preach values, but do not practice them. Since they are not able to influence people with their values, they often resort to coercive methods.

Leaders with Soft Power have deep and extensive knowledge. One can easily understand from the way Jesus gave answers to the tricky questions by the Scribes and Pharisees that he had thorough knowledge about the scriptures, civil and religious laws and the socio-political situation. Once teachers of law asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus told them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s”. The way Jesus taught people, using various parables also indicates the expanse of his knowledge.

It is said that Knowledge multiplies in every three years. In fact we are living in world that is witnessing an explosion of information and knowledge. Leaders who do not enhance and update their knowledge will not be effective in leading their people.

Leaders with Soft Power are known for their team work. In fact, a genuine leader is the one who builds up other leaders. Jesus selected a team of his disciples; he trained them and delegated to them responsibilities with authority. The effectiveness of team work depends to a great extent on the delegation of power to take decisions to the team members.  “ When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick”. (Luke 9:1-2)  Besides imparting a sense of importance to the team members, delegation of authority gives opportunities to the team members to develop their talents and skills and thus to contribute their best to the realization of the vision and mission of the team. Jesus was a person oriented leader, concerned about the holistic growth and development of his team members.

Leaders who rely on Hard Power delegate tasks and responsibilities to their subordinates, but they never delegate authority. As a result, the subordinates remain as mere workers and they may contribute the minimum to achieve the goals of an organization.

As we read in the Gospels, Jesus often spent time in contemplation. For him it was an appointment with God and Himself.  It was during his personal prayer or contemplation that he connected himself with God and derived inspiration, insights, creative ideas and strength. The Gospels often mention about Jesus praying alone in lonely places or in the mountains. Jesus spent time in contemplation before taking crucial decisions regarding his life and mission. He prayed intensely before starting his public ministry, before the selection of the twelve disciples and before encountering his suffering and death. Jesus wanted to take decisions without an iota of selfishness, egoism and vested interests.

Some management books recommend one hour “thinking time” for the managers in order to generate creative ideas and find apt solutions. In this context a statement by Abraham Lincoln is very pertinent. “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four for sharpening the axe.” Contemplation is sharpening the axe.

There are many leaders who took inspiration from Jesus and used Soft Power to realize their goals. Prominent among them are Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King (Jr) and Nelson Mandela. Leaders, who fail develop and use Soft Power, often take recourse to Hard Power.  All dictators are those who use Hard Power. Spiritual leaders, irrespective of the religion they belong to, are expected to develop and use Soft Power. Failure to develop Soft Power by the leaders of religions and organizations compels them to resort to the use of Hard Power.   

Jesus has said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”. Holy week is a time for the followers of Jesus, especially for those who are in leadership positions, to introspect whether they are ready to follow the way of Jesus and make sacrifices for the sake of others. Leaders with Soft Power are ready to suffer and even to lay down their lives for the sake of their people. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King (Jr) and Nelson Mandela did the same.


(Published on 15th April 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 16)