What Is Servant Leadership? Where Does It Fit In Our World?
Robert Greenleaf coined Servant Leadership as a term in 1970. It’s basically the idea that a true and humble servant is the best one to take the role of a leader. According to him, if you wanted first and foremost to serve others, then you would make a better leader than someone who first had the desire to lead others and then, only second, a desire to help.
With Servant Leadership he felt that a person with an unquenchable thirst to raise up his fellow humans would arrive first at a solution to help them to do so (in other words before the person who was more interested in simply being a leader).
Frankly, his idea of Servant Leadership seems airtight to me. I agree with him completely. Put the other person first. I really get that.
Seeing the needs of another, and then wanting to help them—putting that ahead of any of your own desires—(to me) is a significantly higher ideal than trying to find a way to just advance your own agenda. Do I realize this is an oversimplification of the arguments against Servant Leadership? Yes. Of course it is.
Certainly there is value in a person having been trained for traditional leadership. We need those people as well, and in times of strife and turmoil, it may be only the seasoned leader who can help us see our way clear. In a military battle, for example, I would rather follow the General who had been there before (and been trained as a leader) over someone in Servant Leadership who just “liked people and wanted to serve.” Again a simplification, but it does provide a valuable line of distinction for the ways in which we can apply this.
Where servant leadership fits in our world
For me, then, the ideal place for Servant Leadership is in the world of Spirituality. In fact it fits amazingly well here. Why? Traditional leadership places the leader above the group. Servant Leadership does not. In the world of spiritual guidance, this idea makes the rest of the process flow almost effortlessly. Let me explain a bit.
The other day I asked my wife if something I had written had taught her anything. It wasn’t until later that I realized what a mistake that was. A better goal for me would have been to strive not to teach her something about spirituality, but instead to remind her of what she may have already known, but had maybe forgotten.
See, teaching implies an inequality. I obviously am saying I know more than she does, hence my ability to teach her something. The problem with this in the realm of the spirit is that we are already equals. We are already everything. By helping her remember, on the other hand, I acknowledge that if she can remember, then she must have already known it at some point. We are equals again.
By pretending that what I was saying was new to her, I only stroked the fires of my own ego by saying there was a difference in my spiritual ability and hers and this is not the case. This would only show that I myself am not ready.
Not only that, but even if it were possible for me to teach her, then I would always be limited to only what I have learned so far in my own life. She would therefore be limited in what she could learn from me because I would be limited in what I could teach. If I didn’t know everything, I couldn’t teach everything. This would be a disservice to her because, spiritually speaking, our rightful gifts are the abundance of everything.
In other words, for the aspiring Spiritual Guide or Leader, only Servant Leadership works. We have to realize that either their needs are above ours, or at the very least that our needs are equal. Only by recognizing the perfection of their Soul can we truly grasp the idea of the perfection of our own. We have to see the oneness in all of us. This is where, I believe, Servant Leadership prevails where traditional leadership fails.
Can I help her learn other, more worldly things? Yes. And traditional leadership works here. Why? Because (as in our battle example) we may have lived certain experiences the worldly learner may not have lived. So in this area, yes. We can guide those worldly learners. Even teach them, perhaps—though learning happens from inside and not from the teacher.
As a teacher we can only guide them to make the mental connections they themselves need to make in order to understand. Teaching isn’t telling. You don’t give enlightenment, per se. They have to find it within themselves.
For this reason, I find Servant Leadership more ideal for the realm of the spirit, than for the realm of the world, because there will always be inequality in the paths that two people have chosen to walk. In that way they can help us learn things from their lives as well that we may not have known.
There is one more reason that Servant Leadership works here. To teach implies imperfection, because if you do not know, then obviously you lack. In the world of the spirit this cannot be true. You are perfect. If I teach—which means I see the need to help you—then I suggest you are spiritually imperfect, which cannot be. It would be a false teaching.
It is only in our humanity where our confusion exists.
Servant leadership offers the Spiritual Leader what it cannot offer the Worldly Leader: a way of thinking that aligns concepts properly to keep them from overpowering those that would rather be reminded than reprimanded.