What Does it Mean to be a Leadership Servant?

Are you a Servant? Do you “Put Others First?”

Robert Greenleaf, and several other writers since, wrote about the ideals of being a “servant to others” in one’s leadership practices. He maintained that the origin of the common practice today of Servant Leadership is Hermann Hesse’s “Journey to the East” in which he describes the “Law of Service.”

Hesse - Journey to EastThe Law of Service states:  “He who wishes to live long must serve, but he who wishes to rule will not live long.” (Hesse wrote his book in 1932 before women were in many leadership positions. I believe today he would state it differently.)

Larry C. Spears, in his Focus on Leadership: Servant Leadership for the 21st Century, talks about a new moral principle in that “…..the only authority deserving one’s allegiance…….is clearly evident in the “servant” stature of the leader who are proven and trusted as servants.”

In the Leadership Bible: Leadership Principles from God’s Word, the servant Peter writing in 1 Peter 4:10 tells us that we should “use our gifts to serve others.” In other words, the greatest leaders are servant leaders. Jesus, throughout his time on earth, continually stressed that “I came to serve, not be served.” He demonstrated this concept by once washing the feet of his Disciples at one point.

President George Washington signed his personal correspondence with the phrase, “Your humble servant.” Greenleaf points out how this demonstrates the need for Trustees as Servants.

Serve First 

Are you a Servant First?

Professors John E. Barbuto, Jr. and Daniel W. Wheeler of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln Extension in their article Becoming a Servant Leader: Do You Have What It Takes?, very poignantly ask the question.

Some questions they ask include the following:

  • Do people believe that you are willing to sacrifice your own self-interest for the good of the group? 
  • Do people believe that you want to hear their ideas and will value them?
  • Do people come to you when the chips are down or when something traumatic has happened in their lives?
  • Do others follow your requests because they want to as opposed to because they “have to?”
  • Do others believe that you are committed helping them develop and grow?
  • Do others believe you are preparing the organization to make a positive difference in the world?

Mark Miller in his book “The Heart of Leadership” asks the following about self-assessment question – Think Others First.

  • Do you consider the needs and desires of others before your own?
  • Do you constantly look for ways to add value to others?
  • Do you feel you are a “Serving Leader?”

What does your Leadership Pyramid look like?  Are you at the top or bottom. Leadership Servants always put the Organization and others first – above self.

Are you a servant first? Do you put others First?

I thank you and appreciate your comments.



2 responses

  1. Once you’ve identified yourself as servant first the difficult philosophical question is who do I serve first? That’s where other values come into play and it can be a difficult dilemma to solve. Someone somewhere won’t feel served no matter what your heart and intention. To them you may not be a servant leader. To them you didn’t act quickly enough or the way in which they wanted. However what matters is that you can account for yourself in your own conscience according to the Law of Service.

    1. Susanna:

      You are spot-on in your remark. You can please – serve – some of the people most of the time, but you can’t please all the people you serve all the time. The key is that you consciously pursue your quest of servant leadership with the hope that in the future you will meet their needs. All we can do is “Keep the Quest Alive.”

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.


      Vanguard Organizational Leadership (VOL)

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