What does Servant Leadership mean to you? Robert Greenleaf (founder of The Greenleaf Center of Servant Leadership) says that true leadership “emerges from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others” and that “the leader has responsibility for the followers.” I had the recent opportunity and honor to speak to a group of 75 emerging leaders from 21st Century Leaders, a non-profit organization created for the purpose of shaping the leaders of the next generation (http://21stcenturyleaders.org/). We discussed leadership styles, personal spheres of influence, and specific action items to help start these emerging leaders down the path of servant leadership.
First, we worked together via audience participation to better understand leadership styles as a two-sided pendulum. The left side was all about power and control (“I decide,” power, authority, leading from position). The right side was all about service and responsibility (“we decide together,” respect, consensus, leading from behind). The big question posed at this point was, “what type of leader would I want to follow?” From that perspective, it was much easier for these emerging leaders to understand the type of leader they would want to be. One style demands service, while the other style enables and inspires service.
Second, we talked about different spheres of influence in regards to servant leadership. With a leader that seeks to serve others, there tends to be multiple spheres of influence. For the young leaders (most in high school), some of their spheres included the classroom, athletic teams, clubs, volunteer organizations, family, friends, and church. I encouraged the leaders to look at each of these spheres as a platform to lead via service. By building relationships with individuals in each of the respective platforms, the young leaders have an opportunity to better understand the needs of the group members, seek out opportunities to help, and begin to influence others via setting an example of service.
Finally, we defined a two action items for the 21st Century Leaders to start down the path of servant leadership. First, I encouraged each of the leaders to seek out a mentor. The goal is to find someone that you respect and admire for their life of service and spend some time with him/her. Ask this mentor two core questions. To start, “what are three things that you would recommend that I could do right now?” Next, “how can I help you?” These two questions are engineered to get the young leaders thinking about opportunities for growth and improvement, as well as teeing up a great opportunity to serve an elder. Second, I asked each of the students to find somewhere to serve. Find an opportunity to give back to your community, whether it be building a house via Habitat for Humanity, helping out with the Red Cross, or going on a mission trip. By developing the habit of serving at a young age, I’m hopeful that these students will continue in a life of servant leadership.
One of my favorite quotes regarding servant leadership is from Romans 15:1-2 (MSG): “Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’“ Servant leadership can begin at any age, and it looks different for every person; however, one question is planted firmly in the heart each servant leader – how can I help? If you aren’t already asking this question, I challenge you to begin asking it today in one sphere of influence. I think you will be amazed by what happens.