I’ve seen a lot of leaders in my years – some very good at leading and others only in positions of authority which they mistake as leadership. I don’t have much respect for those who use their positions to wield power to feed their enormous ego. On the other hand, I have great respect for those in positions of authority who choose to be humble, who desire to serve others and who generate a following not by demanding it, but by earning it.
According to the Wikipedia page on “Servant Leadership” in discussing Robert Greenleaf’s essay The Servant as Leader, “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”
When I think of the hundreds of “leaders” I have encountered in business, I have encountered people from both ends of the spectrum. I work for a manager who knows his stuff, who is incredibly helpful, who may walk away from a one-on-one with more added to his to-do list than to mine, and who I am thankful to serve in part because of his willingness to serve others. On the other hand, I can easily point to others who think their position of authority gives them the right to demand the unreasonable, to demean those reporting to them in public, to yell at their subordinates and treat them like dogs. Which do you think will have the more loyal following? Obviously, the servant leader.
I believe the truth holds regardless of context, not just in business. I’ve seen church leaders span the gamut with the same effect. Anyone who thinks the principle doesn’t apply to spouses in the home hasn’t been married long or learned much along the way.
I am grateful for those in positions of authority who have learned and who demonstrate leap year lesson #43 – The best leaders are servants.