Robert Greenleaf wrote his classic essay on leadership, The Servant As Leader, in 1970. His essay served as a springboard for a new way of thinking about leadership. Unfortunately, in our world today, we see so few leaders who embrace the concept of servant leadership. Greenleaf suggests that the only authentic use of power within an organization is when it serves others.
How do we grow into being servant leaders invested in the well being of others?
In Greenleaf’s vision of a servant-leader, a person has to desire being a servant first. Leadership qualities spring naturally from a person who chooses to identify and serve the needs of others. Two important personal qualities that lead to someone being an effective servant leader are listening and understanding. To start down this path, developing deep listening skills which will lead towards understanding what others’ need, results in a desire to serve them and fulfill a shared vision.
Parker Palmer’s essay, Leading from Within, describes the work we have to do in serving others through the lens of what most leaders lack. He writes:
In America, at least, our declining public life has bred too many self-serving leaders who seem lacking in ethics, compassion, and vision. But if we look again at the headlines, we will find leaders worthy of respect in places we often ignore: in South Africa, Latin America, and eastern Europe, for example, places where people who have known great darkness have emerged to lead others toward the light.
Our work is to develop our self-awareness, build a strong ethical base, exercise our capacity for empathy and compassion for others, and craft a vision that people want to embrace. The philosophies of Greenleaf and Palmer resonate and explain the work ahead if we desire becoming a servant leader.