Posted by: chrismaser | May 9, 2010

CHARACTERISTIC-7: Servant Leadership

As auto manufacturer Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” In the end, it is the collective heart of the people that counts; without people, there is no need for leaders. Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu thought a good leader was one who, “when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, ‘We did this ourselves.'” Such is servant leadership.

A good servant leader is a person with a fine balance between the masculine and feminine aspects of their personality. Such balance is critical because servant leadership often means putting relationships ahead of immediate achievement and knowing when each is important.

A servant leader intuitively knows that service is an attitude, not a function. Hence, such a leader does what is right from moral conviction, usually expressed as enthusiasm, which causes people to want to follow with action.

A leader is one who values people and helps them transcend their fears so they might be able to act in a manner other than they were capable of on their own. This is the essence, the first rule, of true leadership. As such, it calls to mind a scene from the movie Karate Kid II, in which Miyagi, a Japanese man who is the central character, is translating the rules of karate displayed on the walls of the Miyagi family dojo in Okinawa: “Rule number one: karate is for defense only. Rule number two: first learn rule number one.”

One might translate this to leadership as follows: Rule number one: Leadership is service to others based on inner strength of character. Rule number two: first learn rule number one.

Leadership has to do with authority, which is control, or the right or power to command, enforce laws, exact obedience, determine, or judge. Two kinds of authority are embodied in this definition: that of a person and that of a position.

The authority of a person begins as an inner spiritual phenomenon. It comes from one’s belief in one’s Higher consciousness, which acts as a guide in life when one listens to it. As James Allen noted, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

Thus, a person who has only the authority of position may have a socially accepted seat of power over other people, but such power can exist only if people agree to submit their obedience to the authority. A person who holds a position of authority yet does not live from the spiritual authority within can only manage or rule—through coercion and fear—but cannot lead, because, as American mathematician Norbert Wiener observed, “A conscience which has been bought once will be bought twice,” to which Lord Acton might have added, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

A leader’s power to inspire followership comes from a sense of authenticity, because the individual has a vision that is other-centered rather than self-centered. Such a vision springs from strength, those Universal Principles that govern all life with justice and equity, as opposed to the relatively weak foundation of selfish desire. It is the authenticity that people respond to, and in responding, they validate their leader’s authority.

Managerialship, on the other hand, is of the intellect and pays minute attention to detail, to the letter of the law, and to doing the thing “right” even if it is not the “right” thing to do. A manager relies on the external, intellectual promise of new techniques to solve problems and is concerned that all the procedural pieces are both in place and properly accounted for—hence the epithet “bean counter.”

Good managers are thus placed at a disadvantage when put in positions of leadership, because all such people can do is rise to their level of incompetence and remain there, in which case an ounce of image is worth a pound of performance. Similarly, a leader placed in the position of managerialship is equally inept because the two positions require vastly different skills.

Only an effective leader can guide the process of sustainable community development; an effective manager is the one who keeps it running smoothly. By way of example, think of driving a herd composed of a hundred head of cattle.

There are three basic positions in driving cattle, with two basic functions: “point” (= leader) and “flank” and “drag” (= managers). The person riding point is the leader, the one out front guiding the herd. The flankers, or people riding along the sides of the herd, manage the herd by keeping it moving in the desired direction while preventing individuals from leaving the herd. Riding drag means bringing up the rear or keeping the cattle moving at a given speed while preventing individuals from dropping out of the herd, which is part of good managerialship. Together, leader and managers are responsible for moving the whole herd safely from one place to another.

A leader must be the servant of the parties involved. Servant leadership offers a unique mix of idealism and pragmatism.

The idealism comes from having chosen to serve one another and some Higher purpose, appealing to a deeply held belief in the dignity of all people and the democratic principle that a leader’s power flows from commitment to the well-being of the people. Leaders do not inflict pain, although they often must help their followers to bear it in uncomfortable circumstances, such as compromise. Such leadership is also practical, however, because it has been proven over and over that the only leader whom soldiers will reliably follow when risking their lives in battle is the one who they feel is both competent and committed to their safety.

A leaders first responsibility, therefore, is to help the participants examine their senses of reality and their last responsibility is to say “thank you.” In between, one not only must provide and maintain momentum but also must be effective.

But beware! Most people confuse effectiveness with efficiency. Effectiveness is doing the right thing, whereas efficiency is doing the thing right, although at times it may not be the right thing to do.

When the difference between effectiveness and efficiency is understood, it is clear that efficiency can be delegated but effectiveness cannot. In terms of leadership toward creating and maintaining a sustainable community, effectiveness is enabling others to reach toward their personal potential through participation in the process. In so doing, a leader bequeaths a legacy of assets invested in other people.

A leader is also responsible for developing, expressing, and defending the follower’s civility and values. Paramount in the process of creating and maintaining a sustainable community are good manners, respect for one another, and an appreciation of the way in which we serve one another. In this sense, civility has to do with identifying values as opposed to following some predisposed process formula.

For a participant to lose sight of hope, opportunity, the right to feel needed, and the beauty and novelty of ideas is to die a little each day. For a leader to ignore the dignity of the interpersonal relationships, the elegance of simplicity and truth, and the essential responsibility of serving one another is also to die a little each day. In a day when so much energy seems to be spent on mindless conflict, to be a leader is to enjoy the special privileges of complexity, ambiguity, diversity, and the challenge of including others in a meaningful way.


Series on Qualities Of Leadership:

• The Essence Of Leadership: Personal Values And Philosophy Of Life

• Characteristics Of An Effective Leader

• Characteristic-1: Other-Centered And Authentic

• Characteristic-2: An Honorable Person

• Characteristic-3: Balancing The Masculine And Feminine

• Characteristic-4: A Therapeutic Person

• Characteristic-5: Detachment And Equanimity

• Characteristic-6: Being A Good Follower

• Characteristic-8: Sharing Leadership

• Characteristic-9: Willingness To Delegate Authority

• Characteristic-10: Encourages Leadership In Others


Text © by Chris Maser, 2010. All rights reserved.

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This article is excerpted from my 1998 book, Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. 235 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.

If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.



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