Servant Leadership

Something is in the air about leadership right now. Yesterday I decided to write my post today about Servant Leadership, drawing on copy I wrote for my book, Working for Good: Making a Difference While Making a Living, and related eBook, 26 Principles of Working for Good.

I was delightfully surprised this morning when I read Seth Godin’s blog post from yesterday entitled Thanks for Leading.

A couple hours later I received and email from Jim Sniechowski, PhD, co-author of The Heart of Marketing – Love Your Customers and They Will Love You Back, informing me the he posted a piece on Servant Leadership today on his blog and opened with a reference to my eBook.

One of the core points of Seth’s blog post was that discomfort is part of leadership “If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader.”

Jim’s piece focuses on the essential role of listening in leadership and conscious marketing.

I can certainly relate to both of these.

When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is one who is loved.
Next one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.

If you don’t trust the people,
you make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.When his work is done,
the people say “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”

Tao te Ching #17

One of the questions I have been contemplating recently is the question of being invisible as a leader, as least to many of those whom you may be leading. And how, through such invisible leadership, you might be disregarded, disrespected, and perhaps even abused in some way. While this question does not keep me up at night – in part because I have found the following quotation from Rabindranath Tagore to be true, “I slept, and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and beheld that service was joy.” – it is something I think about, especially as I encourage others to cultivate and practice conscious or servant leadership.

To be sustainable and to garner broader acceptance, servant leadership must serve the leader, as it serves the organization and others in it. From the Buddha “I have searched the entire universe and found no one more worthy of my love than myself” to Shakespeare “to thine own self be true,” timeless wisdom instructs us to tend to ourselves, so we can attend to others.

As I consider the ten characteristics of a servant leader, as articulated by the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leaderships – listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and building community – I think the keystones – the elements that hold it all together – are awareness and stewardship, because they are the two that provide the opportunity for the leader to consider themselves, and to include stewardship of their personal resources – their energy, time, talent, etc. to ensure that they can continue to serve.

Referring back to Jim’s post, the leader must listen to himself as much as to anyone or anything else. And, referring to Seth’s post, if standing up for himself creates discomfort for the servant leader, then it might be a good sign that he is on the right edge. After all, consideration for others (including our servant leaders) may be what others need to learn sometimes and may be essential to the health and well-being of the community.

This is a line of exploration I am truly interested in exploring in more depth. So, comments welcome… please!


Tao te Ching translated by Stephen Mitchell

Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership

Customer Centered Leader

Ten Characteristics of a Servant Leader