Virtually everyone is familiar with the nativity scene this time of year.
We see it outside churches, in movies, on postcards, and at friends’ houses. And whether or not we’re religious per se, or Christian specifically, we get that it’s the centerpiece of the Christmas story.
But there’s a leadership lesson in the nativity story that you may have missed.
Allow me to elaborate—not to make a religious point, but to underscore a critical principle for those of us who are running organizations of any size.
In your typical nativity scene, you’ll see a bunch of people and animals. The people include:
- Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (of course)
- “Wise men” from the east (There’s no mention of how many, and they might have actually shown up a year or more later.)
The shepherds showed up shortly after Mary delivered her baby. They had come running at the command of a messenger from heaven.
And within the angel’s words are something that gets overlooked.
“This Shall Be A Sign Unto You”
According to Luke chapter 2, the shepherds were just minding their own business that night. Suddenly the sky lit up and an angel appeared, scaring them out of their wits, proclaiming “good tidings of great joy.” Tidings? What tidings?
The king is born.
Well, that’s not something you hear every day. Neither is this:
“And this shall be a sign unto you…”
But in Bible stories, this happened a lot. Promises from heaven were made sure with signs. Noah was given a sign that there would never again be a flood to destroy mankind (the rainbow). Moses was given a sign that he and his people would worship at Mount Sinai after he delivered them from Egypt.
It’s kind of like shaking hands to seal a deal.
But this particular sign was mind-bending:
“You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
A manger? What? The King will be lying in a feeding trough? Kings are born in castles surrounded by guards, not in stables or barns surrounded by animals.
But the first thing anyone outside of that little family knew about the King was that he was born in the humblest circumstances imaginable. That shattering of the status quo was how they were to know that it was the King.
The Leadership Takeaway
If you’re a leader, here’s why this matters.
Being a leader has nothing to do with your societal status, your wealth, your possessions, or your fame. It’s not the car you drive or the house you live in. It’s not about how many people you can subject to your rule. There’s no need to prove anything to anyone, nor to compare yourself to anyone. Don’t worry about keeping score.
Instead, be a leader who breaks the mold: focus on your impact and your usefulness.
Challenge the status quo. Don’t try to be a little better; be different. Use your station to do the most good for the most people. Make the pie bigger. Reduce the suffering around you. Take other people’s suffering on yourself if you must. And do it all with humility and confidence, not pride and insecurity.
Then watch people flock to you and give you their best.
Not because they have to—because they choose to. Because wherever you go, the whole pie gets bigger, not just your piece.