By Curt Fowler
Robert Greenleaf coined the term “servant leader” as it relates to business in his 1970 essay titled, “The Servant as Leader.” But the concept of servant leadership has been around much longer.
“Tao Te Ching” is a classic Chinese text. Experts estimate it was written around 600 BC. The title can be translated as “The Book of the Way of Virtue.” In “Tao Te Ching” the author writes how great leaders are those who are rarely noticed but help their people achieve great things.
Below is a passage from “Tao Te Ching” on leadership:
“The highest rulers, people do not know they have them. The next level, people love them and praise them. The next level, people fear them.
The next level, people despise them.”
A clear example of servant leadership lived out was Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus told his followers, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)
Before Jesus gave up his life on the cross, he gave his disciples an illustration of servant leadership by washing their feet. Washing feet was a lowly task and the disciple Peter even tried to refuse the gesture but Jesus persisted. He then said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15)
Servant leadership has existed for a long time. It is gaining more recognition from popular leadership authors like Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey and Peter Senge. If you want to maximize the impact of your leadership and your life, servant leadership is a methodology you should consider adopting. Greenleaf summarized servant leadership as this, “The servant-leader is servant first… 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 difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first leader to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.
To test your level of servant leadership, ask this question – “Do the people I lead grow and thrive in business and life?”
Next week, we’ll explore how we can live out servant leadership in our lives. Curt Fowler is an organizational growth expert and President of Fowler & Company, a business advisory firm dedicated to helping leaders create and achieve a compelling vision for their organization. He has an MBA in Strategy and Entrepreneurship from the Kellogg School, is a CPA, and a pretty good guy as defined by his wife and four children.
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