In his classic book entitled Servant Leadership: Journey into the nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, Robert K. Greenleaf suggests the concept of the servant as leader became out of reading Hermann Hesse’s ‘Journey to the East’.
In that story, Leo accompanies a party on a journey as the servant who does their menial chores, but who also sustains them with his spirit and his song. He is a person of extraordinary presence and all goes well on the journey until Leo disappears. Then the group falls into disarray and the journey is abandoned. They cannot make it without the servant Leo.
The narrator, one of the party, after some years of wondering, is taken into the order that had sponsored the journey.
There he discovers that Leo, whom he had known first as a servant, was, in fact, the titled head of the order, its guiding spirit and at a great and noble leader.
Greenleaf suggests that the concept of servant leadership in this story clearly says to him that the great leader is seen as a servant first, and that simple fact is a key to greatness.
Leo was actually the leader all of the time, but he was a servant first because that was what he essentially was.
Leadership was bestowed upon a man who was by nature a servant.
This principle is embedded deeply in the teaching and example of Jesus. “He said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to served ……………………” (Matthew 20:26-28)
The following is extracted from the writings of Tom Marshall and can be found in his book Understanding Leadership published by Sovereign World.
In the process of redemption, Jesus not only brings into existence a new and redeemed type of power, but he also creates and models a new kind of leader to handle that power. Both are necessary because you cannot join the new creation to the old any more than you can safely put the new wine into old wineskins. In other words, the old type of leader cannot understand, let alone handle the new kind of power, nor can the new kind of power do the sort of things the old type of leaders usually wants to do.
When Jesus said “Not so with you” (Matthew 20:26 NIV), he cancelled out the legitimacy of all existing concepts of leadership. In their place, he introduces the only type of leader who can safely be entrusted with power without being corrupted by it. That leader is the one who:
Is a servant by nature and
Has got beyond the status syndrome.
After all, leaders lead, servants serve. If leaders are going to be the servants what are the servants going to be, and who is going to be the servants what are the servants going to do, and who is going to do the leading?
The first thing that we have to get clears is that we are dealing with a question of character or nature, not a question of function. The servant leader is fist and for most a servant by nature, it is what he is, not merely what he does.
Servanthood is the motivation that drives his behaviour, and motivation is all important in a servant.
A person can carry out all the duties or functions of a servant, or do the task that’s that a servant has to do, but do it unwillingly or resentfully or just for the money. The person on the receiving end of what is being done becomes aware of the lack of real service. Often a person genuinely and willingly serves but sees service as a meant to an end, that end being used to rise to a position where you can longer have to serve people but have other people serving you.
Therefore they serve wholeheartedly all the time they are on the way up, but when they get to the top they turn into tyrants. They somehow reckon they have paid their dues by waiting on other people, now it is their turn to sit back and give the orders and watch other people jump to it for a change.
Finally, because servanthood refers to the leader’s character or nature, it is not affected or changed by the role they fulfil. They can be given leadership and it can be taken away from them, they remain servants.
They can take up leadership and lay it down, their nature never alters. Their in-built natural motivation is simply to serve. If they find they can serve best by leading, they will lead. If they find somebody else who can lead better, or they can serve better in another role, they will pass over leadership without a single pang and happily become a follower again. They fulfil their natural motivation to serve.
It is also noteworthy to point out that our Constitution and legislative instruments like the Local Authorities Act 23 of 1992 and the Regional Councils Act 22 of 1992 establishes structures aimed at developing our fledgeling democracy. Examined closely, however, it is apparent that the Namibian Constitution also envisions a State built on the service hood of civil servants, in some cases servant leaders, to achieve the democratic vision espoused by the Constitution.
Being a servant, and if we are leading, a servant leader becomes second nature to us. In other words, we do it naturally and spontaneously so that whether we are making the decisions, or carrying out someone else’s decisions, issuing instructions or obeying orders, pioneering something new or facilitating else’s vision, we do it to serve not only our loved ones but also the broader society and our country in general.