Time to revisit “Servant-Leadership”

Robert K. Greenleaf coined the term “servant-leadership in 1970. He wrote, then, about the application of this concept to business and educational institutions. The central definition of servant-leadership, as defined by Greenleaf in “The Servant as Leader,” is as follows: It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant—first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: do those served grow as persons; do they while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, 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?

Current economic and social conditions have brought this concept again to the forefront. Would the banking, auto industry and other crises have occurred it the “leaders” of these institutions subscribeed to Greeneaf’s teachings?

In “The Institution as Servant,” Greenleaf says this:

“Part of the problem of moving our institutions along is that persons outside the institution either do not know enough to make a pertinent criticism, or the institution has its guard up and the external critics cannot penetrate it. Those inside who might be critics are sometimes suppressed by an arbitrary discipline or encumbered by loyalty and do not appreciate the importance of criticism to the health of the institution. Sometimes they do not know how to make their criticism effective. It is a major trustee role to build legitimacy by being sensitive to critical thinking from all quarters and helping to interpret the meaning of it to the internal leadership and administration. Thus the trustees should exploit their inside-outside objective position to become instruments of understanding.”

Servant-leadereship emphasizes increased service to others, a holistic approach to work, promoting a sense of community, and the sharing of power in decision making. It deals with the reality of power in daily life, and the ethical restraints that should be placed upon it.

Some have written extensively about theis leadership model, and found it applicable not only to daily living, but also educational and business institutions. Characteristics comonly found in servant-leaders, are: listening; empathy; healing;  and committment. Servant leaders have a keen interest in helping people groe and in building community.

Servant-leaders understand, appreciate and accept differences of opinion and diversity as empowering rather than destructive. They believe in persoanl responsibility and responsibility to others.

“When we serve, we see the unborn wholeness in others; others may then be able to see their wholeness for themselves for the 1st time.”

~Rachel Naomi Remen