Monday, February 25, 2008

Servant Leadership

In my former life, I spent most of my days with executives and leaders. The more time I spent in their company the more accustomed I became to the expectations of their lifestyle and work environment. In general, at the executive level your time becomes the most valuable commodity. It simply becomes more efficient to pay someone else to do the lower level or menial tasks than for an executive to do it themselves.

Over the years, I witnessed countless examples of how the pampering of executives can get wildly out of whack. In my life, I've known leaders who couldn't read their own email and had to have it screened for them. I've known many executives who refused to drive themselves anywhere, would never answer their own phones, and didn't track their own calendars.

Now this might be one end of the spectrum, but when I look at how those people behaved day to day as well, the same tendencies applied. They would throw out decisions and directives, fire missives, craft ultimatums, and arbitrarily fix schedules. It was just expected that the people who worked for them would just figure out the details as needed. If plans had to change, the workers would adapt. The servants react to the leader and his wishes as fluidly as those wishes might change.

In my present life, I've been striving for servanthood. It took me abandoning my old life to even begin to make strides towards becoming a new man.
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. -- 1 Peter 4:10

In my journey towards becoming a servant, I have endeavored to put my full mind and attention towards embracing the menial and mundane. A significant change in my world view has been a willingness to give up my time to the schedules of others. Being willing to perform the simplest tasks, to move at the speed of the slowest person, to support the difficult and dysfunctional people with an uplifting demeanor and countenance. For someone who worked his entire life towards efficiency, expertise, and excellence, you can imagine this is a challenge.

Even as I craft my own true heart of servitude I find a challenge in my roles as a leader. How can I continue as a servant when called to leadership? Can you be a servant leader? My reflection and meditation has led me to think that a servant leader is the only true leader. All others are only shadows. Without a servant heart, a leader too quickly becomes only a traffic cop, a figure-head, or a dictator. This is a trap I've found myself in from time-to-time and one I wish sincerely to avoid in the future.
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. -- Mark 10:42-45

The only way I know to be a servant leader is to focus on the first word first: servant. Being willing to roll-up the sleeves and do the menial and mundane. Assuming firstly that no work is beneath me. Being personal and transparent and allowing for the style and speed of others. Walk softly and lean lightly on the shoulders of others, speak the positive more often than the critical. These are principles I seek to follow.

If you've got insight and guidance, my mind is open.

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