Servant Leadership: The Values of a Servant Leader

Story Highlights
  • Servant Leadership idea comes from the interpretation and exploration of “Journey to The East”, a novel written by Hermann Hesse in 1956
  • An effective leader has the blend of servanthood and leadership competency
  • Effective Servant leadership is the mentorship and friendship
  • The best leader is first a servant and servant leadership is a choice
  • Leaders Add Value by Serving Others

The idea of servant leadership is unconventional in the logic that it is not about heroic leadership, but the development of others for their betterment. A servant leader has growing authority and applies such authority ethically and morally as a basis to serve others. A servant leader is a giver in social collaboration, who defines and measures the success of their leadership by the well-being and advancement of those whom he/she leads.

The idea of servant leadership was first introduced by Robert Greenleaf in the year 1970 in one of his essays titled “The Servant as Leader”. The review of this article summarizes his philosophy of servant leadership with two examples. The values and characteristics of a servant leader are described in this article with an example. The article prescribes that secondary schools should cultivate servant leaders among students, through curricular and extracurricular program designs.

The Values and Characteristics of a Servant Leader

A servant leader values diversity and recognizes the intrinsic value of each member in the community. Each member in the community is valuable and has different talents that are integral to the wholeness. He creates the milieu in which these talents can be nourished and polished. A servant leader celebrates differences rather than promote identical followers. He values diversity in the community and enables others to discover and reach the full potential for the betterment of him and of the team.

This is a teamwork in which every individual contributes for collective success, instead of competition. A servant leader believes that power passes through, but not from him. He is entrusted with moral and ethical responsibilities to use his power for the betterment of the community. A servant leader has twofold roles which are interrelated and interchangeable.

Greenleaf emphasizes that the best leader is first a servant and servant leadership is a choice. In his view, Servant Leadership starts with the natural feeling of one who wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is completely different from one who is leader first. He also emphasizes that service to others develops legitimate power for leadership. A servant leader focus in leadership is for others to reach their full potential.

Servanthood and Leadership Competency

An effective leader has the blend of servanthood and leadership competency, but it starts with a servant heart, the focus of placing others before self. The existence of a servant is the true identity of a servant leader and the title of a leader is the role one plays in his domain of influence.

Servant Leadership idea comes from the interpretation and exploration of “Journey to The East”, a novel written by Hermann Hesse in 1956.  The story is about a group of men going on a mythical journey and each of them has his own aspiration and dream. One of the men is Leo, a servant who does chores and encourages the others with his songs and positive spirit. In an unfortunate turn of the plot, Leo goes missing. Then, the group falls apart and the journey ends itself. The narrator wanders for years and is eventually taken to the Order that had sponsored the journey. He is surprised to find Leo and comes to the realization that Leo, being the servant, was truly the head of the Order. Leo embraces the hybrid identity of a servant leader, serving by leading and leading by serving.

Mentorship and Friendship

Another important aspect of servant leadership is the mentorship and friendship, as demonstrated by Elwyn Brooks White in the children’s classic, Charlotte’s Web, between Charlotte the “Spider” and Wilbur the “Pig”, in 1952. Wilbur, who was born a runt (small pig), lives in the barnyard of Zukerman. With the help of Charlotte, Wilbur enters a county fair, becomes famous and escapes the fate of slaughter. Prior to the passing of his best friend, Wilbur asks Charlotte why she has helped him. Charlotte replies,

I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life anyway? We’re born; we live a little while; we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you I was trying to lift my life up a trifle

Charlotte and Wilbur’s symbiotic relationship brings completeness to both the leader and the led. Again, Charlotte and Wilbur live in a barn, a community with various animals under the same roof, showing the importance of friendship and mentorship between clearly different characters. The farewell speech of Charlotte to Wilbur indicates that the transcendent nature of human beings to live beyond one’s self-imposed limitations and the importance of uplifting and encouraging others as a method of establishing meaning for self.

Read more: 10 Characteristics of a Servant Leader

This servant leadership is differently illustrated by John Maxwell’s in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. He highlights the significance of a different kind of value in his Law #5: Law of Addition. The theme of the law is : “Leaders add value by serving others.”

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