The term “Servant Leadership” often sparks an electric current up and down the spine of leadership “gurus” who love to cite the benefits of taking this approach in business, non-profits or any organization. And for good reason — the principles behind this approach are not merely popular, but genuinely valuable to both the leader and those under his or her care when executed effectively.
Unfortunately, there are misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding this approach to leadership as well.
One recent article that appeared in World Magazine (click here) suggests that some managers, eager to reap the benefits of the approach, launch into that mode without preparation and setting a proper foundation. The net result is often frustration, burn-out, and wasted resources. The article summed it up this way; “…servant leadership has been taught, seldom caught, and often fraught with misunderstanding.”
Typically, the leader understands the need to serve others by holding their development as a key part of team building, trust and communications, but fails to recognize that it starts from within the leader. It’s not the sum total of outward actions on a scorecard, but a change in personal perspective that flows, naturally, to an effective way of leading with the consequence of those added benefits.
Consider the ultimate servant leader – Jesus. He didn’t arrive with a 12-step program, a tri-fold flyer and a glitzy web site. He didn’t take business meetings on the golf course or try to broker deals with a cell phone. He, instead, focused on relationships. In fact, while he came to save the world from sin (the ultimate in serving others), the most important relationship was with his father and he mentioned that he was here to do his father’s will.
Matthew 7:20 states “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” This remark is nestled between discussions of recognizing people by their fruit (what generates from within and produces an external result) and a discussion of obedience with the house built on rock versus sand account. Clearly, a key to producing good fruit and building a house on the rock is having the right focus — on God, serving Him, and obeying His directives.
Jesus certainly served people — his disciples and strangers, too. However, his first mission was to serve his heavenly father. As a consequence of that perspective, many additional benefits were recognized in the process.
So was the example of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet an act of servant leadership, or was it really demonstrating that he had a heart willing to do what was needed when needed? Anyone could wash feet (or do this or that), but the heart attitude and focus is the place where real leadership begins or falters.
Another key factor is the recognition that God doesn’t need us to serve Him — what could we do for or give to an omnipotent, eternal God? However, He supplies us with the ability and resource to serve Him — 1 Peter 4:11 “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Again, quoting from the World article;
That is why genuine servant leadership is so hard and rare—it stems from a heart set on serving the Father with every fiber of who we are. We do not have this and only God can give it. Without the impact of Christ, servant leadership becomes just another business technique, devoid of its necessary foundation. Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” Paraphrased to explain servant leadership we could say, “Without a heart for serving God, servant leadership on our own is nothing.
So grab some books on Servant Leadership, study up and get ready to change your perspectives on team work, trust, communication and team development. However, to really make a difference, you need to start with your heart, Bible study and prayer.
Change the inside first so that the processes of outward actions are genuine and motivated for the right reasons.