The sublimity of servant-leadership

Servant-leaders are grown from servants. How do you find someone with servant-leadership traits? You first have to know the tools used to form servants. If you don’t recognize the tools, you won’t recognize the handiwork.

Character and Servant Leadership: Ten Characteristics of Effective, Caring Leaders from The Journal of Virtues and Leadership, lists listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community as key traits found in abundance in all servant-leaders. I encourage all leaders to read the original works of Robert Greenleaf, but the article gives an effective primer.

Yet, many articles I have read on servant-leadership do not addresses the prerequisite character attributes for the formation of servants. Humility, as previously described, is a necessary ingredient. Why? John Dickson makes an excellent point in Humilitas:

“Perhaps the most obvious outcome of being humble is that you will learn, grow and thrive in a way the proud have no hope of doing. The logic is simple: people who imagine they know most of what is important to know are hermetically sealed from learning new things and receiving constructive criticism.”

Using the above list, if I practice humility, I am listening more than speaking (which will perpetuate even more listening)…

…I will develop empathy out of hearing (rather than merely listening for a moment to interject)…

…This will foster a desire for healing in regards to myself, others, and relationships (instead of focusing on just myself and my needs)…

…And these efforts will develop awareness of what all of us share, including our common struggles, approaches, reactions, and so much more (instead of thinking it’s all about me)…

…further leading to conceptualization of common problems and struggles we all share (versus concepts which miss the mark because needs were not properly identified in scope and depth)…

…Which will further lend to foresight to anticipate, mitigate and manage these problems and struggles (versus a lack of foresight due to lack of conceptualization)…

…This requires me to develop the art of persuasion with those who are resistant to my perspective (a combination of traits including all of the above)…

…And as I become successful, so does my responsibility to stewardship as I recognize the indebtedness I feel towards others for helping me to get where I am…

…Which fosters a sense of commitment, as the tasks before me are no longer about me…

…Finally leading to that almost ethereal quality of community, which comes naturally, as the success of others is upheld over our own, in reciprocal fashion. The culture is about all of us, instead of a collection of individuals.

One final thought about humility before we move on to other character traits necessary for servant-leadership.

Developing humility, as it turns out, is not as hard as maintaining it. The more you learn, the more you grow. The more you grow, the more you confront the enemy of humility: pride. What is the glaring problem of many “experts”? They often don’t recognize when they are wrong, since it doesn’t happen with the same frequency it once did. To be humble when one has plenty of reasons to be humble is an exercise in confronting reality. To be humble as those reasons are removed is an exercise in will.

Which, coincidentally, is the subject of the next post…

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