I gave a talk at my church yesterday on Servant Leadership. According to Robert K. Greenleaf, “the servant leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”
In the model of servant leadership, the CEO is at the bottom of the organization (envision an inverted pyramid), serving the needs of her or his Vice Presidents, who in turn serve the needs of their Directors, and so on. In this model, the customer is at the top of the pyramid. Contrast this with the typical top-down hierarchy model present in many organizations, where the leaders of the organization are served by the employees at lower levels of the organization, with the customer at the very bottom or even outside the organizational boundaries. In which scenario are employees most likely to develop and flourish, becoming more effective, engaged, and productive? Which scenario will result in more sustainable outcomes for clients and shareholders?
If you buy in to the model of servant leadership, you may wonder what it takes for a leader to be servant first. In short, humility. Wikipedia defines humility as the quality of being modest, reverential, even politely submissive, and never being arrogant, contemptuous, rude or even self-abasing. I define humility as a willingness to set aside our ego needs for power and status, sublimating the need to win or be right to the greater needs of those whom we serve. I view humility as a value – and a highly underrated one at that.
Imagine an organization where leaders are able to set aside personal agendas and politics and stop keeping score. Imagine a team where all members are not only created equal but contribute equally out of the humble desire to serve the needs of others. Consider an organizational culture that places a premium on humility and service – what success could be achieved in this scenario?
As leaders, we must make a conscious choice to lead by our values every day. I challenge you to adopt the value of humility – lead by example and serve the needs of others first – and see where it leads.