As evidenced by the title of this post, I am more often than not a bit cynical when it comes to expecting my fellow man to care about and serve one another. It’s actually a Biblical viewpoint, an evidence of the fallen nature of man: None is righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:23, ESV). Of course, for Christians, there is grace, there is transformation, and there is the perfect model to follow. But is servant leadership an idea that translates well into today’s society as a whole?
There is plenty of evidence that our culture is in a moral decline. Turning on the news evidences growing crime, violence, and injustice. There is a definite movement toward eliminating traditional Christian values. Similarly, the church is also seeing declining membership, with 51.2 percent of Americans evidencing no church affiliation (Shook, 2012).
I am making a connection between Christian belief and Servant Leadership, although that connection is not an essential component to the origins of the movement. Yet Robert Greenleaf’s writings and theories were strongly influenced by his Quaker upbringing (Northouse, 2013). Servant leadership, according to Greenleaf (1977, pp. 23-24.) is a moral principle that says that “the only authority deserving one’s allegiance is that which is freely and knowingly granted by the led to the leader in response to, and in proportion to, the clearly evident servant stature of the leader.” This idea is contrary to the prevailing competitive, hierarchical business models that are still predominant today.
There is equivocation even in texts about the theory itself. Some indicate that Servant Leadership “isn’t for everyone” (Heskett, 2013) and others grant that “some subordinates do not want to work with servant leaders” (Northouse, 2013, p. 226). Stories of servant leadership employed in the workplace include responses by followers of uncertainty or even suspicion (Baron, 2010). So I return to the question: Is there a place for servant leadership in business today?
My heart-felt conviction is “Yes, there is!” The very fact that there are situations such as we saw with Enron and Arthur Andersen reveals a great need for servant leaders. With modern trends away from traditional Christian values and declining interest in church, Christians need to demonstrate that what we believe is real, relevant, and applicable!
We do live in a fallen world. Because of that, and perhaps now more than ever, that fallen world needs the hope that we have in Christ. Paul says it brilliantly:
For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6 (NIV)
Baron, T. (2010, September 27). Servant Leadership Institute [Blog]. Retrieved from http://www.servantleadershipinstitute.com/servant-leadership/the-importance-of-trust/
Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York: Paulist Press.
Heskett, J. (2013, May 1). Why isn’t servant leadership more prevalent? Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2013/05/01/why-isnt-servant-leadership-more-prevalent/.
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership : theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.
Shook, J. (2012, May 24). Church-goers now a minority in America. The Blog – Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-shook-phd/churchgoers-now-a-minorit_b_1537108.html.