When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Servant

Another in a series of Leadership-focused blog posts from TPG Companies, Inc.

For Robert Greenleaf, leaders are in the business of creating servants.

Wait. WhServant-waiterat was that?

Look again at this oft-repeated quote of Greenleaf, the father of the Servant Leadership model:

“The best test, and the most difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

In Greenleaf’s notion of Servant Leadership, the leader’s focus really is on making things better for those she or he leads. And – note how radical this is, even 40+ years after Greenleaf made the statement – part of making things better for people is turning them into servants as well.

Who aspires to being a servant?

At the center of Greenleaf’s test of Servant Leadership is the idea that service itself is of value. Or not just of value – that becoming servants is somehow a fundamental good for people.

It’s clear that to Greenleaf, by serving others, we become better people, we become better leaders, and we make a better world as well.

Sounds almost religious, doesn’t it?

Not all leadership theories are so laser-focused on service to those being led. But leadership is always relational, and most leadership theories – especially those that have developed since Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership model – recognize the vital importance of a leader’s concern for the well-being and growth of his or her followers.

Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model, for example, is based on knowing your team members very well, so you can adapt your leadership style to their needs. To really know her team, a leader has to understand them as individuals and adapt accordingly.

That has a whiff of servant-tude about it, don’t you think?

And Jim Collins’ Level 5 Leadership says that to be at Level 5, which is the “Great Leader” level, the defining characteristic is humility – the quality that makes one give credit to others rather than oneself.

Again, there’s something servant-like in that notion of humility.

There are hundreds more leadership models, but here’s one more well-respected example. Kouzes and Posner’s Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership have a servant-like attitude running through them:

  • Leaders Enable Others to Act, by respecting each person and helping them be their best.
  • They Encourage the Heart, by building up the contributions of others.
  • And leaders Model the Way, by making sure people are treated well and know what’s coming next.

This notion of leadership being inextricably tied up with bettering the lives and work of those being led – of acting in service to these people – is a thread that is woven throughout the tapestry of the most widely-relied-on leadership theories of our time.

A part of being the best leader you can be is having a passionate desire to build up the skills and abilities, the hearts and minds, the lives of those being led. And by serving them, to turn them into servants as well.

What do you think?


Copyright TPG Companies, Inc., April 2014

About Paul Kirpes, TPG Companies

For over 35 years, Paul J. Kirpes, Founder and President of TPG Companies, has transformed businesses, corporations, communities, and ventures in the private and public sectors throughout the U.S. as well as internationally. Paul empowers companies, their owners, and leaders to Transform, Perform and Grow!
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1 Response to When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Servant

  1. Pingback: The Decision is Yours | Transform. Perform. Grow.

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