I was revisiting Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf this week. It is a true classic. The phrase “Servant Leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. The book develops his thoughts more fully, and provides the true and sure foundation from which all succeeding writings on “servant leadership” flow.
Here are some thoughts, with quotes from the book
He wrote the definitive line about servant leadership:
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.” The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types.
And then he established the agenda for a servant leader’s life and career:
The best test is: do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?
And then he reminded us of the scope of the servant leader’s influence:
And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?
And he understood that leadership is leadership of real, “flawed” people:
Acceptance of the person requires a tolerance of imperfection. Anybody could lead perfect people — if there were any. It is part of the enigma of human nature that the “typical” person – immature, stumbling, inept, lazy – is capable of great dedication and heroism if wisely led.
As I revisited this classic work, it dawned on me that we have a genuine shortage of servant leaders at this moment. And with a shortage of such leaders, there is a pretty good chance that this shortage will be perpetuated. Not good!
This is what I think. We all have a tendency to become like the people we follow. Oh for more true servant leaders to follow….
Here is the definition page of “Servant Leadership” from the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership web site.