Tag Archives: Servant Leadership

More Thoughts on the Servant Leadership Model

I’ve been thinking a lot about the current political discourse on the national level, and the proliferation of the ego-centered leadership style across the spectrum of political, professional, and social subcultures. This has always been an important issue, because when we look around us, there are more leaders than we sometimes realize.

When we consider, for example, a popular, well-connected artist in a local arts scene or an outstanding small business owner who has a following and a golden tongue, we can say that the artist and business leader both have influence (power) and thus can be seen as leaders, if only in the informal sense. We can also say that a family member is a leader if that family member has formal authority as a parent, or as the oldest child of an elderly parent who has Alzheimers. While they may not be national heroes or infamous villains, a well-connected local artist, a small business owner, and the head of a family all have a profound impact on the spiritual lives of the people in their communities.

This is an important point that bears repeating. A leader on any scale has a profound impact on the spiritual life and well-being of an entire community. It is for this reason that we must never take for granted a leader’s motivations, actions or words. And, considering the universal presence of leadership in all aspects of human life, we must continually revisit the question of what constitutes quality leadership, and the potential consequences of promoting narcissists into leadership positions (or elevating them to the heights of power in any setting, from family settings to social movements). We also need to re-visit the devastating impact of enabling narcissistic power moves and maintaining our silence in the presence of the abuse of power. As many have come to realize in recent years, there is a growing trend of selfishness (even cruelty) and short-sightedness in leadership and decision-making on all levels of society. The frightening thing is, we have come not only to expect these qualities in our leaders, but to admire them. Selfish narcissism has become king, and we’re more okay with it than ever.

One important response to this trend is to promote its opposite. With this in mind, I often find myself promoting the practice of Robert Greenleaf’s model of Servant Leadership in writing and in conversation. This leadership framework has gained traction in recent years and has earned respect among organizational psychologists, leadership scholars, political theorists and business management experts.

According to Greenleaf, Servant Leadership begins with the idea that leaders must see themselves as servants first, and leaders second, if they hope to make a difference or to build a sustainable enterprise. For these leaders, leadership is not a status or station. It is an electrical current that moves simultaneously with directionality and permeability. In directionality, we see continuous movement oriented towards a goal. In permeability, we see the ongoing reality of intersubjectivity, in which the leader is both influencer and influenced. In this state of affairs, a genuine leader’s confidence and humility are fused together in a dynamic balance.

Put in a less philosophic way: Servant Leaders believe that when they find themselves in a position of power on any level, it’s up to them to set a standard of decency and thoughtfulness, to establish a mission that others can get behind, and to continually check in with their people to remind them that they matter and to inspire them to proceed.

A Servant Leader’s explicit aim is to serve others by generating what can be called “spiritual capital.” A capitalist in the true sense of the word is a person who generates capital, invests that capital, spends that capital meaningfully and re-invests that capital responsibly. Imagine if the substance of that capital was the human spirit. How much better would our world be?

For Servant Leaders, successful leadership on any scale -whether building a city or constructing a fence relies chiefly on the willingness to engage people’s humanity and intelligence, and their preternatural desire to be safe, happy and respected.

These leaders do not lie, do not complain, and do not ask those with less power in a situation to look up to them or to feel sorry for them for taking on the burden of leadership. They listen to concerns, and they do not shame or disappear people who raise them. Instead, they thank people for raising concerns, they address those concerns, and they act upon the wisdom derived from addressing those concerns.

The question of how a person arrives at this moral level of leadership, I’ll have to leave to others, at least for now. But, there is no question about the healing, productive qualities of humility, vulnerability, and the strength and personal power that comes from treating others with dignity and working with them to build a benevolent world.

 

Ten Principles of Servant Leadership

*This is an excerpt from the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

The following list of principles was s developed by Robert Greenleaf.  The categories are drawn from the literature, but the descriptions are in my own words.  For a more in-depth look at the Ten Principles, please visit this website, which provides a description written by Larry Spears.

Listening – A servant leader truly listens to people, not just to understand but to address needs as they arise and are communicated.  Surprisingly, humility is not listed as one of the top characteristics of Servant Leadership, but can be included here as the close cousin to listening.  Without humility, the servant leader can never learn and certainly has no reason to listen.

Empathy – Compassionate leaders care about people they are working with, the people served by the enterprise they are leading, and the community in which their organization operates, including the larger world community.

Healing – A leader who cares about people is committed to wholeness and healing.  If she recognizes a deficiency or need in a person, she works to find ways for that person to heal and to become more complete.  This is not an annoying distraction from the organizational mission or business bottom line, but an important part of building and sustaining a team of mutually trusting partners.

Awareness – A person who has formal authority in any situation, including a workplace, group project or national organization has enormous power to make a difference.  This is why it’s key to elevate people to leadership positions who have a sophisticated awareness about many things.  Awareness of the impact of their work, the patterns of behavior on their team, and the importance of gathering information from multiple sources to ensure the best way forward.

Persuasion – Leaders who care about people do not cause harm.  They recognize that forcing others to act or to take a position is a harmful action, and thus, seek to persuade people with reasoned argument and an appeal to the mission.  They are not coercive.

Conceptualization – Like Transformational Leaders, Servant Leaders provide a compelling framework for the work they are doing in concert with others.  They take care to build concepts that appeal to the hearts and minds of people and that promote values that directly relate to the mission.

Foresight – Socially responsible leaders look ahead to potential fallout and beneficial outcomes of their actions and the actions of the enterprises they lead.  They contemplate not only the ways in which their organization might benefit from specific actions but how decisions and actions impact their people and the community around them.  In other words, they take the long view.

Stewardship – The word stewardship has become a popular piece of jargon, but the principle is profound and important.  Too many stories are coming out that tell the tale of a CEO who comes on board at the eleventh hour of a business and runs it into the ground before walking away with millions of dollars and a large workforce unemployed and destitute.  A Servant Leader comes on board to rescue the business or to work with people to find ways to close the business that can benefit the largest amount of people as possible.  She takes seriously her responsibility to steward the enterprise in a way that helps the micro-community of the business or organization and the macro-community in which the enterprise operates.

Commitment to the Growth of People –  This is a big one.  Regardless of the original mission or reason that people come together, a leader who wishes to serve the common good is first and foremost committed to growing as a person, allowing others to help her grow as a person, and helping other people to grow.  Whether coming together to record a music album, making a full-length feature film, running a public school, or building a legal case, the people with formal authority to set the tone for the community of people always have their eye on the common good as the greater, over-arching purpose.  In this category, stewardship takes on a broader meaning.  What is ultimately and always stewarded is the building of a better world because people have the chance to grow.

Building Community – All of the above principles act in concert to build a positive community.  Because of the principles of listening, awareness, persuasion, stewardship, healing, awareness and empathy, there is little room for a “cult of personality.”  Furthermore, if the conceptualization of the community’s mission is clear and includes foresight, there will be a built-in understanding of the ways in which authoritarianism and “cultishness” can be avoided.  This is partly related to a commitment to the growth of people.  People can only grow if a community isn’t all about the “leader” and if there’s room for feedback and development of the leader himself.  Ultimately, this kind of community is made up of Servant Leaders, all of whom take turns to step into the role of stewarding the community’s process at one time or another.

Taking care of one another is a principle of stewardship in a world of extraordinary need.
The overarching principle that guides a leader who serves is the commitment to use one’s influence and resources to take care of others, at whatever scale.

Servant Leadership in a World of Extraordinary Need (Part II)

* This is an excerpt from the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

The world has always been in extraordinary need, and that’s not going to change.  We live on a planet with natural laws, including weather patterns, ecosystems, and the presence of a large variety of organisms all competing with one another for survival.  The common reality faced by all organisms is the inevitability of death and the desire to continue on with living until that inevitable event happens.

For individual human beings, survival includes the need to be safe, accepted, nourished and happy as defined by each individual.  A significant portion of our survival is addressed by the development of society, which includes the development of local, national and international laws and armed services which protect us, physical infrastructures that transport and house us, agricultural systems that feed us, medical services that heal us, and institutions that organize, educate and serve us.

So, we can’t get away from the fact that human beings need organizations, both small and large to take care of our world.   We are continually organizing resources, building/managing institutions which curate and distribute those resources, and placing people in leadership positions to provide direction in the management of those resources. Leadership is also needed to facilitate the ongoing development and management of abstract resources like scientific knowledge, political and economic theory, moral frameworks and religious/spiritual systems.

Like it or not, we will always need organizations, which means that we will always need leaders.

Put in the plainest possible terms, human beings are called upon to be stewards of our world, and this means we are sometimes called upon to take initiative and to step out in front of others to influence the direction of that stewardship.  In the best possible scenario, those of us who choose to step out possess the fundamental asset that best qualifies us to ask others to place their trust in us: empathy.

In optimal circumstances, people in leadership positions care about people and act in good faith to actively serve them.   But, even a cursory glance at the leadership landscape reveals to us that many leaders operate out of narcissism, ego-centric agendas, and short-term gains at the expense of others, and frequently act with a destructive, even sadistic need to triumph over people.

The world is burning, because we fail to recognize the traits of narcissistic leadership and continue to promote narcissistic leaders into positions of power throughout the entire maze of society’s institutions.  We need to learn how to spot these people before elevating them.  But, more importantly, we need to learn how to spot those we can trust to take responsible stewardship of our resources.

It’s time for us to identify the traits we should expect from  genuinely caring leaders and to promote the understanding of those traits far and wide, if we hope to adequately attend to the extraordinary needs of the world we share.

We can start by examining the characteristics and behaviors of Servant Leaders.

Devastation
Leaders who are servants first, will work with others to provide stewardship in a world of extraordinary need.

Servant Leadership in a World of Extraordinary Need, (Part I)

*This is an excerpt from the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

 

In early October, I was walking with a friend.  We were discussing the topic of compassion, and he said something striking.

“Compassion is not boundless.  To be effective, it needs to be channelled into a specific locality or sphere in which you have the influence to make at least a part of the world a better place.”

This quote is a good starting place for introducing the concept of Servant Leadership, because the sphere of influence and the compassionate vision of a Servant Leader is broad indeed.

The term Servant leadership was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf, who founded the “Center for Applied Ethics” in 1964.  After he died in 1990, the name of his organization was changed to the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.  At the present time, the Servant Leadership movement representing the ideas of Robert Greenleaf is under the stewardship of Larry Spears.

 

What is Servant Leadership?

 

Greenleaf spent more than 40 years after early retirement researching management, leadership, education, and organizational culture.  Over time, he came to the conclusion that the institutions in this country -both public and private- are suffering from a “crisis in leadership.”

In the Essay that started it all, Servant as Leader, Greenleaf introduces a vision of leadership in which leaders see themselves as servants first and leaders second.  Leadership is viewed as an instrument of serving the greater good, not as an end itself, and the search for and acquisition of power or influence is always subsumed into the overarching desire to be of service.

Servant Leaders are fundamentally about people and define the stakeholders in their sphere of influence quite broadly, including colleagues, subordinates, boards of directors/trustees, clients and even the world at large.  They place the needs of their people as primary and will not sacrifice the needs of the organization they lead in the service of furthering their own careers.

Before I elaborate on the conceptual framework around Servant Leadership, I want to say a few words about the title I chose for this section.  The wording of the title was borrowed from an article by legal scholar David Yamada, the author of the Healthy Workplace Bill.  His title is “The social responsibilities of intellectuals at a time of extraordinary need.”  The article is worth a read, as are most of the articles David has written.  I do not know David personally, but at the present time, he is one of my favorite authors in the area of workplace ethics and social responsibility.

merlin-robertgreenleaf