Since late January the political landscape in our country has been interesting to say the least! While executive orders, investigations and flurries of Tweets garner the headlines, we are also witnessing the transition of leadership. For those with an interest in leading and leadership, we are fortunate to be able to observe these transitions, not only at the Presidential level, but throughout our government. Many of these transitions have not received much interest but are distinctly important because of the affect they have on followers.
With this background, I wonder what it means to serve as a leader?
One of the leadership theories that we explore in our Organizational Leadership Program is Servant Leadership which was coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1970. This approach to leadership suggests that the servant-leader is servant first. Servant leadership begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. It has been suggested that the best test to determine if one is a servant leader or to identify servant leadership is:
- Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely, themselves, to become servants?
- And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?
Students move quickly from definitions to questions about how to implement leadership theories in their own ‘real-life.’ The following ten characteristics of servant leadership often inform students’ approach to becoming servant leaders. The characteristics are:
- Commitment to the Growth of People
- Building Community
While these characteristics are helpful, observing examples often brings the theory to life. Two of my favorite quotations that, I believe, demonstrate servant leadership are the following:
- The image of George Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge says something about the method of all leadership – humble, modest service. – George Sweeting
- The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant. – Max de Pree
While I am uncertain as to whether our current political leadership transitions are positive or negative, only time will tell, perhaps the spirit and practice of Servant Leadership can lead to informed, purposeful and collaborative leadership.
Helpful books on Servant Leadership
DePree, M. (1989). Leadership is an Art. New York: Dell Publishing.
Greenleaf, R.K. (1977). Servant Leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power & greatness. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Sipe, J.W. & Frick, D.M. (2009). Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership: Practicing the wisdom of leading by serving. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.