The balance of the youth group’s Sunday school lessons in leadership are designed to teach an appreciation of the principles of Servant Leadership. My first introduction to servant leadership took place as I was leaving the Leadership Development Program at the Center of Creative Leadership. The CCL bookstore is strategically placed near the main doorway of the building. You can’t walk in or out of the place without passing the bookstore. As I was walking through the hall, I glanced over to the store and one title on the shelf jumped out at me: “Servant Leadership.” I had to go in to find out what that meant.
Servant leadership encompasses Biblically based leadership principles. Hank McKinnell, former Chairman and CEO of Pfizer, is a strong proponent of servant leadership. He wrote several articles about the topic that were posted on the internal, employee only web site. I always found his perspectives fascinating. When I found the book at CCL, it started me on a journey of discovery that absorbed much of my learning time over the following year. By this time, I had been teaching an adult Sunday school Bible class for about 10 years. Never during that time did I study servant leadership. We discussed all kinds of other things such as doctrines and life’s lessons, but the understanding of servant leadership escaped me. Servant leadership is based in part on the teaching found in Matthew 20:25–28 (KJV) which reads:
“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
In the New Testament, the word “Gentiles” is used to describe non-believers. To distinguish between the leadership principles of the Gentiles and His leadership principles, Jesus uses the phrase, “But it shall not be so among you.” As He goes on to teach His disciples the leadership principles we call servant leadership, He leaves no room for misunderstanding. If you are a follower of Christ, servant leadership is the right and effective leadership style to pursue. It isn’t an option, it’s a mandate. There is no plan “B.”
Servant leadership does not mean abdicating your authority and allowing the inmates to run the asylum. Remember, leadership is a process of influence. Anytime you seek to influence the thinking, behavior, or development of people toward accomplishing a goal in their personal or professional lives you are taking on the role of a leader.
I believe that people want to succeed; my job as a servant leader is to create an environment where that can happen. As a servant leader, I fully support those entrusted to my care as they endeavor to reach their full potential. As their steward, I entirely expect that some of these people may in fact climb the career ladder faster than I will and be more successful than I am in business. That’s fine with me. My job is to help them recognize their potential and reach for their goals.
To sum it up, servant leadership is a nurturing leadership style in which the leader equips their subordinates for success. When we provide the education, tools and techniques to those we lead to help them become successful, guess who else gains success? The leader of course! Success flows upward for the servant leader. Servant leadership when coupled with an understanding of situational leadership makes a powerful leadership one-two punch, promising an increased chance of success for its practitioners.