Servant Leadership is More Than Just Talk

Over the past eight years, I have taught hundreds of local government live classes and created dozens of live and online courses. If you look at the scope of my work, you will notice a common thread that runs throughout: “servant” is the most powerful word in the phrase “public servant.”

I hammered that theme while I served as a county commissioner, and I continue to promote the concept when I have an opportunity to influence public servants whether elected, appointed, hired or volunteered.

Recently, I discovered a “servant leader” theoretical framework that has been around for many years, but is new to me. It is called, “Servant Leadership.” Robert K. Greenleaf introduced the framework in 1970, primarily advocating a leader’s primary motivation and role is fully realized through service to others.

The scope of Greenleaf’s work is perhaps summed up in this one statement: “The great leader is seen as a servant first.”

In many ways, servant leaders swim upstream culturally. “Me-ism” permeates numerous industries and local government is not immune from its influence. However, if Greenleaf was right, and motivation and self-actualization come through serving others, then perhaps a little swimming upstream not only benefits the swimmer but also possibly changes the very mission of an organization.

Actually, Greenleaf noted that organizations and individuals could, through servant leadership, change the world. In his second major essay, The Institution as Servant, he noted:

“This is my thesis: caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built. Whereas, until recently, caring was largely person to person, now most of it is mediated through institutions – often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt. If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.” (source)

Words like “caring” and “just” and “loving” seemingly find rare utterance in boardrooms and council chambers across the nation these days.

Perhaps it is time we not only re-introduce such words into our vocabularies, but also purposefully identify ways to live out these words as a means of rediscovering motivation and self-actualization as public servants.

More on this in my next post.

Until then – Happy Training!

Greg Anderson
Written by:
Greg Anderson
Chief Learning Officer, Strategic Government Resources
Follow Greg on Twitter!@SGRGreg

5 responses

  1. First, Democracy, by political philosophical definition, is dependent upon government employees conducting themselves as “servants”, not as “bureaucrats” or “dictators”.
    Secondly, it is simply a fact, not just in Government but in life, that in the long run you benefit more by being a servant and giving to others who then give back multiple times in return than by viewing life as a series of individual confrontations.
    The most successful businesses strive to create repeat customers, not one time suckers.

    1. “The most successful businesses strive to create repeat customers, not one time suckers.” Absolutely correct, David! Thanks so much for your comment.

  2. […] our previous two posts, we discussed Robert K. Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership theoretical framework for leadership […]

  3. […] this series of blog posts, we are discussing Robert K. Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership theoretical framework for leadership […]

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