Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations, and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.
Robert K. Greenleaf first coined the term servant leader in 1970. “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.
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. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”
Some of the most well-known advocates of servant leadership include Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, Peter Senge, M. Scott Peck, Margaret Wheatley, Ann McGee-Cooper & Duane Trammell, Larry Spears, and Kent Keith. See what they have to say about servant leadership here.
Although servant leadership may be a relatively new term, it was actually Jesus that was the first recognized servant leader. While the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest among them, Jesus humbled Himself and washed their feet. This was significant because they were preparing to eat a meal and their feet were dirty from walking on a dusty path. It was customary to have clean feet at a meal as the tables were low and feet were exposed. The disciples never thought to wash each other’s feet because they felt that they were above that task. The fact that their leader served them in this way left them in silence. This act preceded His death on the cross where He gave His life so that we may all live through him. He was the ultimate servant leader and His example is one that we can all follow as leaders.
There are many servant leaders throughout history including Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and the list goes on and on.
There are also quiet servant leaders. Those that will never end up in the history books, on the news, or in the spotlight. One of those servant leaders is Pat Snider, a teacher and administrator in South Carolina. Pat lived and worked her entire career as a servant leader, teaching and leading thousands of students and teachers on a journey of excellence. Her dedication to making others successful before herself was lived out each day in her classroom and in her office. Her ability to guide the toughest students while inspiring the good to become great was infections. Her desire to serve was second to none in the business of education. Congratulations Pat on your retirement this year. Thank you for being my teacher, my co-worker, my mentor, and mostly my friend. You inspired an average student who never took the first AP, honors or gifted class to become the first in his family to go to college, receive a full scholarship, and to eventually earn a doctorate in leadership and program development. You are truly a servant leader.
Dr. Andrew B. Hooker