Robert K. Greenleaf, the founder of the servant leadership movement, began the movement with this seminal text, published in 1977. It remains powerful, relevant, true and wholly useful.
According to the late Robert K. Greenleaf, founder of the servant leader movement, leaders don’t have to be coercive, manipulative or unpleasant. Though Greenleaf wrote parts of this seminal guidebook decades ago, his ideas and literary references are still potent and influential.
German-Swiss novelist Hermann Hesse (1877–1962) formalized the concept of servant leadership. He believed the fusion of servant and leader embodies the ancient concept of leaders who serve others.
Anybody could lead perfect people – if there were any.Robert K. Greenleaf
In his novel Journey to the East, Hesse shows that a respected leader is first, foremost and always a servant. Dedication to servitude is the true leader’s defining characteristic. Embracing the humble status of a servant makes the leader great.
Accept Life’s Vicissitudes
French philosopher Albert Camus (1913–1960) remains an admired author, an influential prophet and an intellectual force. Camus believed people should bravely face the difficult circumstances of simply being alive.
Camus wrote about the mythological Sisyphus, whom the gods sentenced to push a gigantic rock uphill forever; every time he got it to the summit, it would roll back down. Camus believed people should accept life’s tasks and discover joy performing them.
Modern employees, by and large, don’t trust or respect those who lead them.Servant leaders must step into this leadership vacuum and fill the void to keep current serious problems from getting worse.
Only a true natural servant automatically responds to any problem by listening first.Robert K. Greenleaf
Being a servant leader is sensible, moral and emotionally satisfying, even though it isn’t logical or consistent with most people’s understanding of the world. The positions of servant and leader strike most people as contradictory because they regard service and leadership as opposites.
Social customs are evolving to embrace a “new moral principle.” This view holds that the only legitimate authority is the authority that followers freely grant their leaders. Followers want leaders they approve of, leaders who demonstrate their servant hearts.This new dynamic means institutions need servant leaders who stay steadfastly ethical, strong and viable over the long term.
Never Give Up
Now is the time for servants to take active steps to become leaders. People should never retreat from the world’s problems to seek an imaginary idyllic, passive existence; it doesn’t exist, and it isn’t attainable. Expecting any situation to be immediately what you want or to become exactly what you seek is a toxic delusion. True leaders proactively show their followers that goals aren’t easy to attain and usually demand consistent effort.
We live at a time when holders of power are suspect, and actions that stem from authority are questioned.Robert K. Greenleaf
Servant leaders don’t give up or throw their hands in the air in disgust. Instead, they persevere and serve. Their essential, heartfelt identity derives from service, which means taking action no matter how daunting circumstances may seem.
Serve and Lead
Servant leaders stand in marked contrast to power-hungry people who lead to satisfy their egos, enrich themselves and achieve higher status.
The hard-charging, take-no-prisoners corporate leader, driven by a naked desire for power, and the servant leader, who lives to serve others, work at opposite ends of the emotional, psychological and spiritual spectrums.
People who report to a power-driven leader may or may not benefit from his or her direction and role modeling. In contrast, people who report to a servant leader always benefit by gaining a greater sense of well-being, wisdom and independence. They know their leader prioritizes their interests, welfare and happiness. Inspired by the example of the servant leader, they strive to serve others.
The power-hungry leader’s most powerful motivation, sadly, is to make things better for himself or herself, and that kind of corrupt leadership always fails.
All the essential components of a healthy society depend on servant leaders to move organizations ahead to a brighter future.This holds true for government, business, education, religious institutions, foundations and any setting in which people work together.
Caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built.Robert K. Greenleaf
In business, servant leadership means striving to enact a fresh ethic. In education, it means focusing on the learning needs of those who learn from doing, and that could encompass up to 85% of the population. In bureaucracies, it means being more responsive and responsible, showing concern for people and rejecting bureaucratic conformity.
Servant leaders in religious institutions address alienation and nurture the bonds of common humanity. In government, they set aside arrogance and care more about the needs of the less powerful.
Able to Lead
Even the most selfless servant leaders must be able to lead. If you can’t take charge, you can’t serve anyone. An effective leader gets the ball rolling, develops ideas, establishes the structure of projects, and assumes responsibility for failure or success. Leaders always have clear goals and a strong sense of mission.
Leaders should engender trust, which depends on followers believing that their leaders share their values, are effective and genuinely care about their welfare.
Foresight is seen as a wholly rational process, the product of a constantly running internal computer that deals with intersecting series and random inputs and is vastly more complicated than anything technology has yet produced.Robert K. Greenleaf
Leaders can’t learn if they don’t listen attentively to those with knowledge and expertise. Servant leaders must be exemplary communicators whose message relates to their followers’ experiences and needs.Becoming a servant leader requires initiative and work, but taking the journey to servant leadership can transform you and those you lead.
The Seminal Text
This is the work through which servant leadership became a household word and a revered concept – though often revered more in the breach than in practice. Greenleaf’s prose embodies servant leadership. He writes with intelligence and compassion, never showing off or talking down to his readers. He proselytizes as he explains; he inspires as he cajoles. And he makes every reader feel as if he or she has servant leadership within and will never kowtow to an authoritarian leader again. That is Greenleaf’s great gift.
Robert K. Greenleaf also wrote The Power of Servant Leadership; The Institution as Servant; and The Servant Leader Within.