top of page

Leadership, Easter and our time

History reveals the impact and the legacy of leadership. We can see this through people like John Wesley, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, and Salvation Army co-founders Catherine and William Booth.

Humankind needs a renaissance of fundamental goodwill. But do leaders these days have what it takes to guide us towards a safe harbour and a better life?




I’ve been reflecting a lot during Lent on what constitutes great leadership in our time. ‘The Twenties’ is a different space from a decade ago, even five years ago, let alone last century. I’ve been searching within for what I’m feeling about our time and observing what others might be feeling.


What has struck me the most is the extent of distrust that seems to pervade the world today and the unbridled expression of distrust that clearly dominates the public record. A fundamental breakdown of trust has penetrated our relationships and is strongly testing goodwill between us – person to person, amid families and communities, in business and corporate life, and between nations.


Based on its annual online ‘trust’ survey – conducted across 28 countries with more than 32,000 respondents – the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that more than 60 per cent of the world’s population believes business leaders, government leaders and journalists “are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations”.


Citing Edelman, the World Economic Forum states that distrust has fuelled polarisation. “Few people would help, live near, or work with someone who disagreed with their view on something,” it says.


Globally, suspicion trumps trust right now as a general outlook in society. Institutions of any kind, for-profit or not-for-profit, know they can no longer rest on the laurels of past performance for consumer or donor support. Brands are only as good or as powerful as how supporters experience and view them in real time. With social media saturation, trust in a brand can be present one day and gone the next. Brand managers are working long hours to stay ahead of trust breakdowns.


Closely related to distrust among us is the rise of impermanence, the public exposure of institutional sin and the sins of leaders, and the blurring of truth through the existential challenge posed by the increase in hate speech, fake news and the post-truth era.


To put that another way, we’re living in a decade of murkiness, and making sense of life and the future is challenging, to say the least. At times, it deflates you, and sometimes, it depresses you. We need a brand of leadership during our time that can navigate these murky waters, defuse the volatility around us, and stay ahead of the curve to steady the ship. We need a style of leadership that will set our sails towards a future where humanity offloads the millstone of distrust and thrives once more in our shared life experience. Here’s hoping the Thirties will be ripe with the fruit of the Twenties because we change tack now.


Reclaiming trust


I believe leadership in our time is, first and foremost, about reclaiming trust as the primary moral principle of our existence. This will be trust in each other as fellow inhabitants of the earth and trust in God as the author of life and the one who loves us despite our myriad blemishes and poor track record of being good stewards of what has been entrusted to us.


It will not be an easy undertaking. There is a distrust of the function of leadership itself today that exposes leaders to the raw elements of human bitterness and rage, particularly through social media. Quickfire, often incessant assaults can come against even the most seasoned leaders in the current climate. These are times when everyone has a voice, including the disenchanted and those set on maligning the reputation of organisations by targeting their leaders.


The Greatest Leader


To work through this leadership conundrum, it would help us all to take a fresh look at the leadership style of the one many still regard as the greatest leader, Jesus; and perhaps now would be a good time to start while this year’s seminal event for the world’s 2.4 billion Christians is upon us. Easter marks the price Jesus paid for his outstanding leadership during a period of turbulence not dissimilar to our time while also highlighting the brilliance and world-changing impact of a crucifixion followed by a resurrection in the plan of God for Jesus.


The greatest leader of all – Jesus. Are you willing to follow him all the days of your life?

Jesus had all the qualities we normally associate with great or statesmanlike leadership. He cast a compelling vision, exhibited great charisma, trained up a leadership team to whom he delegated responsibility, and wasn’t afraid to confront problems that came his way. Jesus was definitely ahead of the curve here, having answers and solutions to the most complex challenges. These were often moral challenges posed by other leaders whose mounting anger with his popularity saw them plotting his demise.


Leadership aces


But there were two aspects of Jesus’ leadership that make compelling revelations for our time. First, Jesus knew instinctively that great leadership can only exist in the context of great relationships between the leader and the led; that great leadership is built on the back of great relationships. Moreover, that at the centre of great relationships was the building, or the rebuilding, of trust, and that trust is ultimately a product of divine love flowing unencumbered through people’s lives.


Jesus understood this powerful tenet of leadership and modelled it in a profound and very public way. You could say it was his leadership ace. Jesus was a master at building the muscle of strong relationships in which no one was taken for granted, and the qualities and skills of all were recognised, honoured and encouraged.


He spent more time outside the synagogue than within, investing big slabs of time doing life with people – at the beach, in people’s homes, on riverbanks and mountainsides, in marketplaces. His relationships grew strong with individuals, groups of people, families and communities. It was on the strength of his relationship with the people of Palestine that his ability and credibility to lead emerged. People wanted to follow him because they knew he had their very best interests at the centre of his leadership.


Jesus was not out to climb any leadership ladder but simply related to people in the spirit of his ‘love God, love your neighbour’ theology. People trusted his leadership because he had taken the time to build relationships on the fundamental law of love. In our time, we would call this mastering the soft skills of leadership, adding value to people’s lives.


And there existed a second leadership ace, the Holy Spirit. That Jesus possessed the divine spark of the Spirit of God made all the difference right from the day he stepped up to the leadership plate. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Luke 4:18-19), he announced as he set out on his mission to transform people’s existence by showing them a new way to live. He later told his followers that they – and all who would come after them – would have access to the Holy Spirit to help them live their lives and lead the development of their mission after he had gone.


Let me cut to the chase. We need again in our time leaders who can transverse the gulf between leading on a human plane and leading on the plane of the Spirit of God. Such leadership can only come from following Jesus closely and, as the Apostle Paul described it, “walking in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-26).


“The status of ‘greatness’ often only comes as history reveals the impact and the legacy of leadership.”

In the past, this kind of leadership was thought to be for leaders in a church context only. But in our time, we desperately need it across all dimensions of society, and I question now whether there ever was meant to be an exclusive context in which the Spirit of God would empower a person’s life and leadership.


God knows we need the Spirit – for strength and resilience in our leadership stride, divine wisdom to set direction and chart the course, and added capacity to inspire others and bring them on the journey.


“Ask and you will receive,” Jesus once told a group of listeners, “search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you. Everyone who asks will receive, everyone who searches will find, and the door will be opened for everyone who knocks … your heavenly Father is even more ready to give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks” (Luke 11:1-10, 13 Contemporary English Version).




Of course, people could point to Jesus’ leadership, particularly at times like Easter, and say he was at fault because he failed to build the muscle of his relationship with the religious leaders of his time. But there is a reason the Scriptures say he was “silent” in front of the authorities as they went about orchestrating his crucifixion (Matthew 27:12-14, 1 Peter 2:23). Great leaders carry around with them a deep awareness that their leadership must bow to the greater purpose for their lives, sometimes at deep personal cost.


On the night before Jesus died, despite the onset of overwhelming grief and exhaustion as he contemplated the next day and with the plight of humanity uppermost in his mind, our Lord knelt in Jerusalem’s Garden of Gethsemane and confronted the very human temptation to divest oneself of responsibility: “Not my will,” he cried out to God, “but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).


Great leaders exhibit a courage that pushes them beyond their fears and above their greatest challenges. Lincoln once said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”


The status of “greatness” often only comes as history reveals the impact and the legacy of leadership. We can see it through John Wesley, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela and the Booths – leaders whose greatness was always within them but whose cause drew it out of them. And we can see it most of all through the Greatest Leader who gave us quintessential leadership of the relational, spiritual and sacrificial kind.


The greater good


So, I ask you, where are the great leaders, the stateswoman and statesman leaders, who will lead like Jesus in our time – in government, in business, in our communities, in the churches and faith-based organisations like The Salvation Army?


I’m looking for leaders whose lurking greatness will be tested by how much they are willing to go beyond blogging or social media commentary or the occasional social justice campaign to lead our world to the place many of us know deep in our emotional intelligence we should be headed.


And that destination is not a blissful, mindless utopia, by the way. It is a Groundhog Day of world peace and goodwill, a big-hearted day of championing and honouring and learning from one another, a revolutionary day of collaborative and fruitful and world-changing endeavour, a bright-shining day of economic growth marked by mutual flourishing and off-the-charts philanthropy, and a universal experience of equality in which we surprise each other by how much self-focus and personal and corporate bias we can give up for the greater good.    


Major Peter McGuigan is a Salvation Army officer writer currently serving in Sri Lanka. His book The Leadership of Jesus: Spiritual, Incarnational, Countercultural was published in 2018 by Salvation Books, The Salvation Army’s international publishing imprint. It is available as an e-book through Amazon and Kobo and in hard copy from Salvationist Publishing and Supplies at  


bottom of page