Concept and Spirituality
of Servant Leadership
The Concept of the Servant as a Leader
"The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The best test is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?" Robert K. Greenleaf, The Servant as Leader, 1970
The subjugation of one individual by anotherservant and masterhas demeaned society throughout human history. The idea that the relationship itself, servanthood, could, in some manner, be the foundation for a form of leadership would be deemed by most as utter fantasy. When this insight first occurred is not recorded. Certainly no one spoke more knowingly or commanded more adherence to servitude than Jesus Christ. "Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all." (Mark 9:35) Christ's teachings more than any other encourage and justify the present advocacy of this form of leadership for congregations.
In recent times, the observations and essays on servant leadership by Robert K. Greenleaf have led to what has become a growing worldwide movement of education and advocacy. Writing initially in the 1970s, Greenleaf's creative insight and clear vision of the servant as leader has masterfully detailed the subject beyond improvement. The present author, along with all Greenleaf's followers, are totally indebted to him for his powerful creative instruction.
This chapter attempts to summarize the essentials of servant leadership advanced by Greenleaf. Most of the material is adapted from his introductory content and that of respondents. The collection of Greenleaf's essays, The Power of Servant-Leadership, should surely be consulted. The excuse for not providing further detail here is that Greenleaf's guidance is employed throughout this volume in this congregational application. Greenleaf himself devoted a great deal of attention to advancing servant leadership in religious institutions. The dependency on his seminal work should be kept in mind.
History of Servant Leadership
It is amazing how often a fragile beginning turns into a colossus. But only when the original idea is totally sound. That beginning for Greenleaf was realization that the essence of leadership is service; being "the first person to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served." As common in so many lives, Greenleaf was strongly influenced by the life of another, in this case, surprisingly through a mythical tale. Here, from the Preface and Introduction1 of The Power of Servant-Leadership, is the story.