by Lt Commander (Ret) John Moi, RMN
Servant Leadership is simply applying leadership principles by serving others before self. It is a philosophy and practice of leadership that achieves results for their organizations by giving priority attention to the needs of their counterparts and those they serve. In another simple interpretation, servant-leaders are said to be serving stewards of their organization’s resources be it physically, financial or human.
Concept of Servant Leadership
The modern servant leadership movement was launched by Robert Greenleaf in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader” whereby he popularized the terms “servant-leader” and “servant leadership.” Greenleaf expanded on this concept by publishing additional essays on the various attributes of servant leadership.
After his passing in 1990, the concept has been developed by other writers such as William George, James Autry, Ken Blanchard, Jim Hunter, George SanFacon and Larry Spears, just to name a few of the more well-known ones.
Interestingly in Malaysia, the Royal Military College carries in its motto, “Serve to Lead” way back in the founding year of 1952!
Qualities of being a Servant Leader
Larry Spears, who was once the “chief steward” of the Greenleaf Centre for Servant Leadership for more than 17 years, described the ten characteristics of servant leaders which are:
- Commitment to the growth of others
- Building community
For a better appreciation on the qualities of being a Servant Leader, visit www.greenleaf.org
And here are my humble perspectives on the above qualities:
Listening – Servant leaders must listen to the people led or to be led. They exist to serve the flock, not themselves. It is advisable for them to have excellent listening skills, otherwise, they will be ousted from the position of leadership.
Empathy – Sympathy is not good enough for servant leaders. They need to feel more and do more for the followers that empowered them. Otherwise, why lead as leaders?
Healing – Effective servant leaders can heal relationship; can mend unfavorable situations by being a peace maker and mending rifts that arise in any human settings. They can help heal a nation by marshalling the resources against tyranny.
Awareness – Servant leaders need to be sensitive to self, the people led and to the society at large that their actions and speeches can make or break the community. Such leaders must strive towards universal values and scriptural principles that benefit humankind.
Persuasion – Good servant leaders will persuade and not pack (manipulate persons as to serve one’s own purposes) their followers. They will persuade the congregation by logical reasoning and not by the “don’t ask any questions” statement!
Conceptualization – They must have the insight to look at the big picture and translate to the small people led. Helpful skills will include the short, medium and long term strategies implementation that will meet the common objective(s) of the group.
Foresight – Great servant leaders will need to have foresight to learn from the past; prepare for the present and future by analyzing the environmental influences of political, economic, social and technological factors that will affect the well-being of the community.
Stewardship – Servant leaders understand that people lives and wealth are being entrusted to them. Wrongful decisions and actions will destroy the lives and wealth of the people led. Even nations will fall by this abuse of stewardship at the highest level. One possible answer lies in the scriptural principles on stewardship from most Holy Books.
Commitment to the growth of others – Committed servant leaders will grow their followers by setting good leadership examples, helping and nurturing the followers regardless of race, religion or creed. They understand and implement the concepts of “unity in diversity” and “we are in the same boat” effectively.
Building community – Budding servant leaders must endeavor to build true and tolerant communities despite the multicultural and multiracial nature of the people led. The future will see more universal values that are common from the various faiths and religions being adopted to build and enhance such communities. Interfaith dialogues will be encouraged and interracial partnerships will enhance community building.
Some historical perspectives of Servant Leadership
In the 4th century B.C, Chanakya wrote in his book, Arthashastra: “The king (leader) shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects (followers). The king (leader) is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people.”
Buddha was believed to have said, “An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body but an evil friend will wound your mind.”
Guru Nanak of the Sikh faith was believed to have said, “Realization of Truth is higher than all else. Higher still is Truthful living.”
In the Tao Te Ching according to the Chinese sage, Lao-Tzu who is believed to have lived in China sometime between 570 and 490 B.C. said:
“The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware. Next comes one whom they despise and defy. When you are lacking in faith, others will be unfaithful to you. The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his or her tasks are accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, we ourselves have achieved it.”
According to the Bible, Jesus urged his followers to be servants first. He specifically told his followers:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 and Mark 10:42-45)
In an awesome model of servant-leader, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, as an example of the way in which they were to serve each other. (John 13:12-15)
The Prophet Muhamad (SAW) said, “A ruler who has been entrusted with the affairs of the Muslims, but makes no endeavours (for their material and moral upliftment) and is not sincerely concerned (for their welfare) will not enter Paradise along with them.” (Sahih Muslim)
The Prophet Bahaullah of the Bahai Faith said, “Put away the garment of vain, glory, and divest yourselves of the attire of haughtiness (pride).”
Modern perspectives of Servant Leadership
Greenleaf, in his essay has this to say about the servant-leader: “The servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve first the followers and believes that leading is a by-product of serving, whereas the leader-first believes that one is call to lead by being served and supported by followers.”
The cynical view is that unless the leaders take the initiative to serve the followers, the followers will not listen to the leaders who have not proven themselves by serving the followers first. Such are the expectations in this enlightened age!
Models of Servant Leadership
It can be said that some, if not most, leadership writers see servant leadership as an esoteric philosophy of leadership supported by specific aspects and practices.
Dr. Kent Keith, the current CEO of the Greenleaf Centre and the author of “The Case for Servant Leadership” stated that servant leadership is practical, ethical and meaningful. He further identifies seven key practices of servant leaders:
- Self awareness
- Changing the pyramid
- Developing your colleagues (followers)
- Coaching not controlling
- Unleashing the energy and intelligence of others
For more information of the above principles, visit www.greenleaf.org
Servant Leadership is best summed up by its emphasis on collaboration, trust, empathy and the ethical use of power and leadership. Servant leadership is all about making the conscious decision to serve by leading in order to better serve others (followers) and to enhance the growth of individuals and the servant leaders themselves in the organization to improve teamwork and respective involvement.
World’s No. 1 question on Leadership – Does the present global leaders has what it takes to be a Servant Leader?
“Serve to Lead” best summarizes all you need to know about servant leadership!
John is the Founder / Advocate of Scriptures –to-business (S2b) applications and writings.