“let the greatest among you become like the youngest,
let the leader become one who serves1”
This concept is applied and taught in churches around the world. It is applied in so many areas of our personal ethos, but it seems as though it is least applied where it can have the most effect day in and day out, in business. Servant leadership is not a new concept, Jesus highlighted its importance almost 2000 years ago and it’s had growing recognition in business over the last 40 years. However, when posed to a group of Christian business students, questions arose over the vulnerability of this leadership style in a competitive business environment and the effectiveness of servant leadership in getting things done.
In 1970, Robert Greenleaf, former director at AT&T, founded the modern Servant Leadership movement in response to the prominent power-centered authoritarian leadership style that seemed to be failing institutions. He redefined effective leadership as servant leadership:
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. He is sharply different from the person who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive to acquire material possessions. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types… The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served”2.
Servant leadership promotes the concept that the organization exists for the person as much as the person exists for the organization. This captures a stakeholder oriented view of the organization. Servant leadership is outworked in the following ways:
- forming relationships with subordinates
- empowering subordinates
- helping subordinates grow and succeed
- behaving ethically
- having conceptual skills
- putting subordinates first
- creating value for those outside of the organization
Recent research has shown evidence that servant leadership is a unique leadership style that drives organizational commitment, operational performance, and financial performance in many organizations3. In America, in particular, we celebrate our freedoms, but maybe our freedom isn’t only for our own opportunity. Rather, we can use our freedom as an opportunity to love and serve one another for the greater good of organizations and society. Why hold on to authoritarian leadership styles that have lesser results? Servant leadership holds the key to performance and impact moving forward. In fact, it is our key to greatness!
- Luke 22:26, https://www.bible.com/bible/97/luk.22.
- Greenleaf, R.K. 1970. The Servant as Leader. Westfield, IN: The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.
- Overstreet, R.E., Hazen, B.T., Skipper, J.B., & Hanna, J.B. 2014. Bridging the Gap between Strategy and performance: Using Leadership Style to Enable Structural Elements, Journal of Business Logistics, 35(20), 136-149.