We talk about servant leadership a lot in our churches and missions, but different leaders mean different things when using the term and practice servant leadership differently.
(Now that I have begun a PhD program in organizational leadership, I will use my monthly blog to discuss leadership theories and offer practical application in ways that will help the Church accomplish the Mission.)
Robert K. Greenleaf developed the leadership theory we call “servant leadership” in 1970. Greenleaf (1977) based his theory of servant leadership on examples from the New Testament. Other theorists have continued to explore the Scriptures and leadership studies and have furthered the description of servant leadership. Jesus Christ set the example when he washed his disciples feet and finished with these words:
John 13:14–16 ESV “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”
In servant leadership theory, leaders primarily attend to the needs of followers, while accomplishing organizational goals as a secondary priority. Servant leaders build trust with their followers by communicating openly and honestly, exhibiting personal integrity, and trusting followers themselves. Servant leaders listen to their followers’ personal concerns, help them grow wiser and healthier, and empower them to achieve their individual goals. Such leaders seek to create a culture focused on caring for the needs of all the organization's members as they work together to achieve common goals, all the while seeking to develop many other servant leaders within the organization.
Patterson (2003) developed seven constructs for describing servant leadership: (a) love, (b) humility, (c) altruism, (d) vision, (e) trust, (f) empowerment, and (g) service. In Patterson’s definition, love concerns itself with moral judgment and action. Humility shows itself by keeping proper perspective of oneself and staying focused on others. Altruism consists of concern for the welfare of others and acting with complete fairness. Vision focuses on the personal vision and faith of followers, not the organization’s vision, rather the individual’s goals and fit within the organization. Leaders build trust through integrity and mutual respect. Leaders empower others by truly sharing power, emphasizing teamwork, and valuing input. Finally, the mission of servant leadership will be achieved by service as a way of life, attitude of the soul, and manner of being.
Servant leaders primarily concern themselves with serving their followers, while also helping them contribute to the organization's mission. How applicable is servant leadership in leading your church or mission?
Greenleaf, R. K. (1977) Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist.
Patterson, K. A. (2003). Servant leadership: A theoretical model. Servant Leadership Research Roundtable, Virginia Beach, VA.