Who is the servant-leader?
That question can be answered well in many ways.
Servant leadership is a philosophy – a set of guiding principles that can apply in any situation. There are countless ways to talk about servant leadership and no single formula for practicing – or defining – it.
That said, we get some special insight on the subject from Robert K. Greenleaf, a smart and thoughtful man who coined the term “servant leadership” in his foundational 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader.
There, Greenleaf offers his own “best test” of a servant-leader.
Greenleaf chooses his words carefully and expresses himself precisely. He writes:
The best test [of a servant-leader], 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?
Let’s look at the key elements of Greenleaf’s “best test” of a servant-leader.
- Growth. Do those served grow as individuals, personally as well as professionally? The growth of followers is a distinctive feature of servant leadership.
- Health. Are those served healthier? Physically, of course, but as whole people. The healing professions embrace servant leadership especially well because of its emphasis on health.
- Wisdom. Do those served gain greater experience, knowledge, and good judgment while being served? The teaching professions are also naturally inclined to servant leadership.
- Freedom. Are those served freer? Some of the most popular servant-leaders were liberators: Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Mohandas Gandhi; Martin Luther King, Jr., to name a few.
- Autonomy. Do those served have more control over their own decisions and lives? Are they empowered? Good servant leadership involves the sharing of power, not the hoarding of it.
- Leader development. Are followers transformed into servant-leaders? Servant-leaders seek to create more servant-leaders, not more followers.
- Common good. As a result of servant-leadership, is society better off? Greenleaf suggests that servant-leaders should define stakeholders broadly and lead with an eye on the common good.
What strikes me about Greenleaf’s best test is that it’s not about organizational charts, reporting relationships or formal hierarchy. Anyone who meets the best test is a servant-leader. I think that’s great!
What do you think? What strikes you about Greenleaf’s best test? How do you define the servant-leader?
Let us know.
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