“Servant Leadership deals with the reality of power in everyday life- its legitimacy, the ethical restraints upon it and the beneficial results that can be attained through the appropriate use of power.” ~New York Times
The Understanding and Practice of Servant-Leadership by Larry C. Spears is chapter two of the book we are using as a guide, Practicing Servant-Leadership: Succeeding Through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness by Larry C. Spears and Michelle Lawrence.
The concept of Servant Leadership has continued to explode onto the organizational and corporate scene since my enlightenment of the concept from an academic (although lifelong) perspective six years ago. In fact, we have witnessed this explosion on and interest in servant leadership with fire over the last fifteen years. A concept coined by Robert Greenleaf now over 40 years ago, is creating a quiet revolution in today’s workplace all over the world.
Servant Leadership is about a shift in consciousness about the way we live and work. It is about working based on teamwork and collective decision-making. It is based in an ethical and caring concern for others, and it is about enhancing the growth of others while caring about the quality of our institutions and organizations. Indeed, Servant Leadership is a better, more holistic approach to serving others first. Others meaning employees, customers, and the communities in which we live.
We are not naïve in thinking that Servant Leadership is a quick fix to the problems in life and the workplace. Servant Leaders understand that this way of being is a long-term, every-single-day, transformational approach to life and work. And so, we as Servant Leaders live each day in a conscious effort to create positive change for our immediate world (our job, our home, our kids, our community) and that trickles out into the greater world community.
My mom is a servant leader. Granted, she didn’t know about Robert Greenleaf or the other great scholars of today like DePree, Senge, Covey, Wheatley, Autry, and many other popular writers who teach Servant Leadership. She just worked in the church, in her family, at her job, and in her community as a Servant Leader. I saw firsthand as a child how she worked first as a cook at our local county jail preparing food for the inmates. After 30 years, promoted to the Food Service Director, she showed great care and concern for the preparation of the food for inmates. She abhorred people’s opinions that prisoners should be glad that they can even eat. She fried her famous chicken and would sneak some to the jailers who would come up to the kitchen and beg for a piece. Although a stern woman who told you like it was, she has a heart of gold and the prisoners knew it.
They felt it.
It was the same way with her work in the church. I participated in cooking and preparing so many church dinners that I cannot even count. They knew my mom would present and serve the food to the people with the utmost professionalism, love, and care. And everyone loved my Mom’s cooking.
I was reminded of this childhood experience as I was reading Juana Bordas article, “Pluralistic Reflections on Servant Leadership” when she said, “Many women, minorities and people of color have long traditions of servant-leadership in their cultures. Servant-Leadership has very old roots in many of the indigenous cultures. Cultures that were holistic, cooperative, communal, intuitive, and spiritual. These cultures centered on being guardians of the future and respecting the ancestors who walked before.”
This was my mother’s life. This is what she taught by example.
And today, I have the ideal opportunity to practice my servant leadership through my care-taking of her for the last 15 years. She now lives her the rest of her autumn days in a nursing home, most days remembering her life. She is proud, and I am grateful that she showed me the way, she is excited that I took an academic path toward understanding and teaching servant leadership. But, at the end of the day, she would tell you, just be it!
So, Spears provides us with a glimpse into the six applications of servant leadership that are being used by organizations across the country today. Here is a short re-cap of each.
Servant-Leadership as an Institutional Model
- As an institutional model, servant leadership advocates a group-oriented approach to decision-making and seeks consensus over the old top-down form of leadership. Many organizations today use the servant leadership model as a guiding philosophy. Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, and the Men’s Wearhouse, just to name a few.
Education and Training of Nonprofit Trustees
- Greenleaf wrote extensively on the role of boards of directors within institutions and the theoretical and ethical basis for their service. His essay, “Trustees as Servants” asked two pivotal questions of Boards and Trustees, “Whom do you serve?” and “For what purpose?” Greenleaf argued that boards must a make a radical shift in how they approach their roles so as to create institutions of great depth and quality.
Community Leadership Programs
- The third application of servant leadership is it role in community leadership organizations and the importance of building true community. M. Scott Peck wrote about this in his book, A World Waiting to be Born, in which he says, “The world will be saved if we can create three well-managed, large institutions- one in the private section, one in the public sector, and one in the nonprofit sector. I know that such excellence in management will be achieved through an organizational culture of civility routinely utilizing the mode of community.”
- A fourth application of servant leadership is the use of service-learning in the various colleges and universities across the country. During the last twenty-five years, experiential learning educations programs are developed in virtually every college, university, and secondary schools. Service-Learning has become a major focus combining service and learning. The National Society for Experiential Education has published a massive three-volume work on the topic.
- A fifth application of servant leadership is the use of the philosophy in formal and informal, as well as corporate education and training programs. And dozens of management, organizational consultants, and leaderships consultants employ servant leadership materials as a part of their work with organizations. As a part of total quality management approaches, Servant Leadership is making headway for corporations in understanding how business is developed and conducted, while still positively affecting the bottom line.
- Programs relating to personal growth and transformation are using the servant leadership approach as a way for people to grow and evolve -spiritually, professionally, emotionally, and intellectually. Servant Leadership has ties to emotional intelligence and human potential. The key to servant leadership is that it offers and encourages everyone to seek out opportunities to both serve and lead.
In the end, Servant Leadership is full of curious and meaningful paradoxes, just like life. The seeds of servant leadership have been planted in the minds and hearts of people who seek to better the human condition. Indeed, Servant Leadership provides the vehicle and framework for known and unknown individuals to continue to hope and guide the way to the creation of a better, more conscious and caring world community.
To A Better World,