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  • Writer's pictureMichael Kromwyk

The Servant as Leader

At Lutheran Disability Services we have a tradition of each manager doing a reflection at the beginning of every Management Meeting. After being with the organisation for 6 months, my turn came around and I spoke of servant leadership, with reference to the great religious texts, beliefs and philosophies of all time. Here's what I presented to the team.

While servant leadership is a timeless concept, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said:

“The servant-leader is servant first… 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 is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?

A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

We see this demonstrated at our organisation as we work with clients so that they can achieve their life goals. Organisations such as Haymes Paint Shop Glynde painting our homes so that our clients have a beautiful house to return. These are examples of servant leadership, but there are other from sacred texts, history and philosophies that follow.

In the Bible there is reference to servant leadership to others (John 13:4–5). Jesus didn’t wait for someone to clarify protocol. He saw a need and met it. No one else had volunteered for the foot-washing job that night—so Jesus made an object lesson out of the event. He started something that he hoped would be passed down from those twelve disciples to others (see John 13:12–15). Foot washing will never be in vogue. It will be done by leaders who are willing to pioneer an act of humility and sacrifice.

In the Koran it says: “But the faithful, men and women, are comrades of one another: they bid what is right and forbid what is wrong and maintain the prayer, and obey Allah and His Messenger.” (At-Taubah 9:71)

Buddhism is founded upon values of virtue which align tightly with those of servant leadership. ... Therefore, “being” precedes “doing.” Likewise, there is compatibility between the values of servant leadership and a biblical worldview which affirms that by being kind to others, we become compassionate toward others.

Hinduism: “Without selfless service are not objectives fulfilled; in service lies the purest action” (Adi Granth | Sikh Sacred Scripture, 2015, p. 992) (Sikhism)

“Every selfless act, Arjuna, is born from the eternal, infinite Godhead. God is present in every act of service. All life turns on this law, O Arjuna. Whoever violates it, indulging his senses for his own pleasure and ignoring the needs of others, has wasted his life” (Eknath, 1985, Bhagavad Gita 3.15-18) (Hinduism).

In paganism, to die in battle for the good of the community is the ultimate act of servant leaderships and gave access to the feasting hall in Valhalla.

And finally in Chairman Mao's Little Red Book it says that we must all learn the spirit of absolute selflessness from Comrade Bethune. With this spirit everyone can be useful to the people.

The challenge to you is what do you need to do to become a servant leader? How can you empower and sacrifice for your team or your community to ensure that they are successful, so that in turn you will also become successful?

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