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Servant Leadership

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Robert Greenleaf makes the argument that the best leaders are servant leaders. These leaders step ahead and ask, “Who will go with me”. By putting the needs of others first the leader is creating a more effective team. To lead in this way requires accepting the risk of failure. Effective leaders are capable of garnering the trust of followers. Followers have a level of trust in their leader to step ahead with him or her despite the risk in order to achieve a goal. Accepting unknown risks means leaders and followers may encounter problems on the journey to achieving their goal. Greenleaf states that the usual leader reacts to problems by pining the problem on somebody else, rather than responding, “I have a problem”, and “What can I do about my problem”. I disagree in part, and believe they should look at it from the team viewpoint. What can we do about this problem? The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The leader should listen to the problem and utilize available resources and followers to solve the problem.

An effective leader is one who can sense the unknowable, and is able to foresee the unforeseeable. While some attribute this to mystical or supernatural gifts, I agree with Greenleaf that this is what gives good leaders their “lead”. This is a trait I have noticed in effective leaders throughout my professional career. Good leaders often make decisions based on intuition. Past experiences, critical thinking, and deductive reasoning also help fuel their decision-making. Leaders should be able to foresee what can be reasonably foreseen. I am not sure that I am willing to formally criticize a leader if they react to an immediate event rather than foresee it. We are often too quick to point a finger when the perfect outcome does not arrive. Leadership evolves and strengthens with experience. An ethical, effective leader will realize this mistake and will learn from it. Next time a similar situation arises the leader will be able to foresee it and will navigate appropriately.

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