Monday, October 29, 2007

Servant Leadership

I’ve been hearing and seeing this phrase “servant leadership” more frequently over these past weeks. Some have called for more of it, others want to define it and understand it better, and I’ve even heard some folk really misuse it (at least from my perspective). Last week I even had some good friends agree that I was doing a good job of demonstrating it (Just how is one to take that? It strikes me that if someone receives a commendation for servant leadership it somehow negates the whole business.). I’m looking forward to working with this vitally important concept, servant leadership, with colleagues in the coming weeks.

Here are a couple of random things that are running through my head on the subject today:

  • Servant Leadership Isn’t Necessarily Flat – I’ve noticed that sometimes when people call for servant leadership, they also call for a more flat organizational structure. It is as if servant leadership and hierarchical organization structures don’t work well together. I think they can work very well together, and it might be that servant leadership works best within good organizational structures and hierarchies. It seems to me that when we approach our organizational system building asking questions like “who should work for me so that I can get my work done?” we set ourselves up for a crummy display of servant leadership by focusing on the leader’s needs rather than the followers’ needs. A better question might be “who would serve this person/group/department best as a leader/resource.” With a focus on which leader would best serve the followers, we begin to set ourselves up for good servant leadership. That sort of approach then leads us to good hierarchical structures since one of the considerations in answering such questions is “who has the talent, time, resources and attention to give leadership in this circumstance.” Flat organization structures may set us up for crummy displays of servant leadership because they spread leaders too thin. Jesus fed 5,000, but washed the feet of only 12.
  • Servant Leadership is Leadership – I’ve noticed that sometimes when people call for servant leadership, what they really seem to want is a servant, not a leader.
  • Servant Leadership is More Walk Than Talk – Especially in the Christian ministry circles in which I operate, talk works really well for a while. But it takes servant leadership in action, over the long haul, to really make the difference. We need to resist settling for talk, and probably work a little harder to notice walk.

What do you think? Post a comment if you’d like to get in on a conversation.