The Servant Leader

The idea of the servant as leader (developed by Robert Greenleaf) came out of reading Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East. In this story, we see a band of men on a mythical journey… The central figure of the story is Leo, who accompanies the party as the servant who does their menial chores, but who also sustains them with his spirit and his song. He is a person of extraordinary presence. All goes well until Leo disappears. Then the group falls into disarray and the journey is abandoned. They cannot make it without the servant Leo. The narrator, one of the party, after some years of wandering, finds Leo and is taken into the Order that had sponsored the journey. There he discovers that Leo, whom he had known first as servant, was in fact the titular head of the Order, its guiding spirit, a great and noble leader.

Robert K. Greenleaf – Wikipedia

The 10 Characteristics of Servant Leaders are: Listening, Empathy, Healing, Awareness, Persuasion, Conceptualisation, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of others, and Building community. Yes! ten times over.

Thanks to Ian Miller for his post nurse as servant-leader which inspired me to delve into the thinking of Robert Greenleaf and others who have developed his vision and out-of-the-box thinking on leadership.

As Ian says, Servant leadership is not a position to be bestowed or awarded by your peers, it cannot even be earned, but rather it is a quality of recognition, returned to you as a gift from those you serve.

Brilliant! Let us aspire to serve thus, with no expectation of reward or recognition.

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2 thoughts on “The Servant Leader”

  1. This reminded me of J.M.Barries’ play ‘The Honourable Crichton’ in which a party of 19th century English aristocrats are shipwrecked on a desert island, in the company of their butler, Crichton. The aristos are totally hopeless at looking after themselves, having always had servants to do it all for them, and only Crichton is able to ensure their survival, and eventual rescue, with his practical skills, innate intelligence, and leadership. The play is really a light-hearted look at the class system, but has deeper meanings when the aristos come to look up to Crichton as their leader and saviour – though I think I remember that, when they return to England, the status quo is resumed!

  2. One of the best known modern Japanese poems, ‘Ame ni mo makezu’ by Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) expresses a very similar wish. This translation is by Hiroaki Sato ..

    neither yielding to rain
    nor yielding to wind
    yielding neither to snow nor summer heat
    with a stout body, like that.

    without greed
    never getting angry
    always smiling quietly
    eating one and a half pints of brown rice
    and bean paste and a bit of vegetables a day.

    in everything
    not taking yourself into account
    looking listening understanding well
    and not forgetting.

    living in a small hut thatched with miscanthus.

    if in the east there’s a sick child
    going and nursing him
    if in the west there is a tired mother
    going and carrying for her bundles of rice
    if in the south
    there is someone dying
    going and saying you don’t have to be afraid
    if in the north there’s a quarrel or a lawsuit
    saying it’s not worth it. stop it.

    in a drought shedding tears
    in a cold summer pacing back and forth lost
    called a good-for-nothing by everyone.

    Neither praised nor thought a pain
    someone like that
    is what I want to be.

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