Servant Leadership: Part 1

Leadership matters.  It is both a rebarbative essential and a winsome desire.  What makes an effective leader matters; yet, what matters may shift with the situation, the culture of the social environment, and the demographics and perceptions of the followers.

What kind of leadership will work today and in the future?  What kind of leadership will you embrace and embody?  If leadership is a calculus, then it stands to reason that style and methods may need to shift over time, even over a single day, perhaps in the same meeting.

A style increasingly referenced, and yet frequently misunderstood, is servant leadership.  Simply put, a servant leader is one who serves others first, who is selfless, not to a fault, but to an end that is not their own.  A servant leader may have common visible attributes: kindness, humility, a strong sense of balanced responsibility, but not all are universal.  Some historical military leaders were  servant leaders, but kindness and humility not always outwardly present.  However, a strong sense of balanced responsibility is a common thread even in the military.

A balanced sense of responsibility can be found throughout military history in both myth and true accounts.  It is most commonly expressed as a leader feeling responsible for victory, or successful defense against invaders, while protecting the lives of civilians and soldiers, and minimizing damage to civilian and military infrastructure.  It often includes thinking ahead to the next battle while considering the capacity and capabilities of the people and the collective company or battalion they constitute.

How does a leader achieve the right balance?  First, by recognizing the need to surround themselves with a balanced group of advisors and lieutenants, to listen to what the people have to say, and to check their assumptions and biases.  Second, by crafting their communications with balanced perspective and recognition for the various receiving constituents and their unique perspectives and roles.  And third, by making decisions that clearly and outwardly maintain integrity of the balance for which they’ve chosen to be responsible.   In other words, by being dedicated to the truth, simultaneously honest and visionary, and committed to the people and their purpose.

Taking the path of servant leader isn’t essential to achieving a proper balance in every possible situation, but I would argue it is the one path that works consistently in every situation in a balanced way with integrity and sustainability.  Our founding fathers had faults and made mistakes.  They had moments of bias, self-centeredness and breaks in integrity and humility.  Yet, many of them embraced servant leadership.  George Washington, John Adams, and yes even Thomas Jefferson were servant leaders.  Abraham Lincoln’s secret to success was embracing servant leadership.  He is by far the best historical example, which is why most of the historical books in my library are about him.  Read a book about A. Lincoln if you want to learn more about servant leadership.