We began the twentieth century focused more or less solely on a leader-dominant theory of leadership that assumed a low opinion of the followers' motivation, maturity, and abilities (Waddell, 1994). The style of leadership is considered, by some researchers, to be important in achieving organizational goals and increasing productivity in followers (Awamlch & Gardner, 1999). This may explain why the literature appears to concentrate on leadership styles.The leadership theories and models that seem to appear most frequently include; transactional leadership, transformational leadership, charismatic leadership, situational leadership, and servant leadership. Leadership does not take place in vacuum. It is a dynamic process that involves many social interactions between leaders and followers. The way these different theories and models affect the organization depends on many variables; organizational culture, group dynamics, and sociology of the organization (Johns & Moser, 2001).
The purpose of this paper is to analyze Greenleaf's definition of servant leadership for individuals, organizations, and trustees. The author will provide an explanation as to why he believes leadership is important personally, to his organization, and to society. In addition, a personal model of leadership based on contemporary models will be presented. In his works, Greenleaf discusses the need for an improved methodology to leadership, one that puts serving others, including employees, customers, and community, as the essential priority (Spears, 2004). Servant leadership stresses increased service to others, a holistic approach to work, encouraging a sense of community, and the sharing of power in decision making. The words servant and leader are usually thought of as being diametric. When two diametric ideas are brought together in a creative and important way, a paradox appears.
So the words servant and leader have been brought together to construct the paradoxical idea of servant leadership. Greenleaf (1970) argued that leadership was bestowed on a person who was by nature a servant. In fact, the way a person becomes a leader is by first becoming a servant. A servant leader focuses on the needs of followers and helps them to become more knowledgeable, freer, more autonomous, and more like servants themselves. They enrich others by their presence (Northouse, 2007). In addition to serving, the servant leader has a social responsibility to be concerned with the underprivileged and to recognize them as equal stakeholders in the life of the organization (Northouse, 2007). Where inequalities and social injustices exist, a servant leader tries to eliminate them (Graham, 1991).
In becoming a servant leader, a leader uses less institutional power and less control while transferring authority to the followers. Servant leadership values everyone's involvement in community life because it is within a community that one fully experiences respect, trust, and individual strength. Greenleaf places a great deal of emphasis on listening, empathy, and unconditional acceptance of others. In the evolution of his writings, Greenleaf moved from the individual as servant to the organization as servant.He believed that the relative recent development of large organizations in our world fashioned a new responsibility for those organizations to serve the people within them. To him, the two themes, the individual and the organization, are inseparable (Frick & Spears, 1996). This interest led Greenleaf (1977) to propose a new type of top leadership in organizations called primus inter pares (first among equals).
This concept suggests that the top leader would intentionally limit his/her power by serving as the "first" of a leadership team. This model addressed the critical issues of unrestrained ower, team building, and empowering others. Other writings of Greenleaf took his message to the trustees of organizations, seminaries, universities, and churches. Being an effective, authentic leader requires being true to who you are and what you believe in as a person, understanding your purpose as a leader, being trustworthy, and practicing your values consistently, even under pressure (George, 2007). Mumford, Zaccaro, Connelly, & Marks (2000) suggest that leadership may sometimes be an indirect phenomenon where influence is exercised through cognitive as well as skills performance embedded in a social context. Since leadership is practiced in a social context, the most critical skills an effective leader can possess are communication and listening skills (Ambler, 2006). Being able to read body language, ask questions, provide and receive feedback as well as generate effective two-way communication to help build trust with followers and to prevent future problems are essential skills of an effective leader.
As Trevino, Hartman, & Brown (2000) put it, being open, approachable, and a good listener will allow followers to feel comfortable sharing news, good or bad. Effective leaders are fair and objective in their decision making role (Trevino et el. 2000). Leaders that create a vision, use power in socially constructive ways to serve others, are sensitive to the followers' needs, and help develop their abilities for empowerment are more effective (Howell; Avolio, 1992). Effective leaders set the ethical climate of the organization. Effective leadership requires intelligence, hard work, dedication, and an intense understanding and appreciation of human nature and human beings with a set of technical competencies and a set of emotional competencies, diverse and flexible enough to move with the changing times (Campbell, 2004). Servant leadership may be a unifying theory from which many leadership styles may be integrated.
The basis for any leadership behavior, which may encompass any number of styles, then becomes service first. Servant leadership is a sensible theory that promotes ethical, responsible, supportive, and effective leadership (Omoh, 2007). It does so by approaching leadership as coming from within a set of values and commitment to growth of self and others, a grounded theory with identifiable principles while allowing for adaptability across many situations and organizations. There has been a shift in the culture of the world that is seeking honesty, integrity, and leadership that is able to succeed regardless of power, positions, and titles. Greenleaf saw servant leadership as a course to a better, more compassionate society. Greenleaf’s goal was for the development of strong, effective, caring communities in all segments of society (Greenleaf, 1970, 1977; Spears, 2004). A realistic problem in focusing primarily on theoretical approaches to leadership is addressing how theory helps real people in real situations.
How does knowing this inform the author's actions in his role as a leader?
Realistically, determining what works and what makes sense are the important things in the real world of leadership. As stated earlier, leadership is complex and draws upon both the ethical and practical to attempt to make sense of this complicated and chaotic world. In education, many American students are failing to achieve even basic reading and math skills. This author believes that effective leadership is vital in his school, all areas of society, as well as the planet. Identifying the degree to which servant leader characteristics are found in effective leaders will help determine if those effective leaders so needed in this rapidly changing world are indeed putting service first, demonstrating commitment to developing the potential in those served, and meeting the goals needed for success. Effective leadership is critically important to our education system. Without strong leadership, the disparate elements of effective practices cannot be brought together and maintained (Eaker et al. 2008). It is virtually impossible to reculture schools or school districts into high-performing learning communities without widely dispersed, high-quality leadership. Schools need strong leadership more than ever, but not the autocratic authoritarian that has symbolized strong leadership of the past (DuFour et al., 2008). They need men and women who realize their ultimate legacy will be determined by developing other leaders throughout the school and district who can take the organization even further after they have gone. Schools need servant leaders. Many factors shape the extent to which a person becomes a leader, including genetic predisposition, family environment, school, life, and educational experiences (Conger, 2004).
This author has adopted servant-leadership as a guiding philosophy. It offers a means to personal growth spiritually, professionally, emotionally, and intellectually. This conscious choice and desire to help others is an intellectual endeavor that was entered into thirty years ago by becoming an educator. I now, through a life-time of experience, feel that I have developed leadership skills through life and work experiences, reading, and education that will help me to make leadership contributions as an educator. Servant leadership provides both the intellectual and the experiential components necessary for becoming an effective leader. Another strength that appeals to this writer is that servant-leadership has the potential for healing one’s self and others. Many people have broken spirits and have suffered from a multiplicity of emotional hurts.
Although this is part of being human, servant-leaders acknowledge that they also have an opportunity to help strengthen those with whom they come in contact (Spears, 2004).
Servant leadership is viewed by some as an extension of transformational leadership. However, Patterson (2003) concludes that servant leadership is a viable theory. A number of noted leadership authors, including (Spears, 2001), have claimed that servant leadership is a concept compatible with and enhancing to other leadership models. The emotional attachment of followers to the leader and motivation of followers to go beyond their self-interests for the good of the group due to the leader's behavior is consistent with transformational leadership (Laub, 1999). It could be argued that servant leadership, like transformational leadership, transforms followers by modeling effective leadership behavior, by enabling others to move beyond what they thought possible, and by encouraging others to make amazing contributions to the organization. To be an effective leader, you must be a trusted ethical individual who has worked at developing a reputation for ethical leadership over the long haul (Trevino et el., 2000).
Effective leaders have an attractive, realistic, and believable vision of the future state of their organization (Northhouse, 2007). They also have the communication skills, including social influence principles (persuasion), to relate this vision to their subordinates. These leaders develop creative, critical thinking in their followers, provide opportunities for them to grow professionally and personally, welcome positive and negative feedback, recognize the contributions of others, share information with followers, and have moral standards that give emphasis to collective interests of the group and organization (Howell ; Avolio, 1992). Effective leaders empower and inspire their followers to achieve organizational goals. They use their power in socially constructive ways to benefit the followers and the organization. The highest form of authority that effective leaders have is that which is bestowed upon them by their followers whom they serve.