About 20 years ago, my father in law was visiting our church. We had a meal event after the service. As the meal was finishing up, I grabbed a broom and started cleaning up. He called me aside and told me that I shouldn’t be doing that, I should allow others to do the clean up. I told him that it was important for me to exemplify servant leadership.
But here’s the thing: I wasn’t being a servant leader, I was hiding behind servant leadership.
I am an introvert, so my first preference is to do something other than engage with people. I called it servant leadership, but in reality, I was in my comfort zone.
Servant leadership is not necessarily doing what others don’t want to do; it is doing what you don’t want to do, but need to do.
My father in law was correct (as usual). It wasn’t that I was too good to sweep up, it was that I was more needed interacting with people.
How will you serve? My advice is, find something that really needs to be done but you don’t want to do. Then serve.
1. Strategic Reading. No one who leads has a lot of extra time to read everything. And so much of what is available is redundant or shallow. Find your theme, do your research and read. Read less but read deep. Don’t try to retain everything or read too much, but read, and do so strategically.
2. Network with Similar Souls. You need to know you’re not alone. Isolation is dangerous. You need to be encouraged and you need to encourage another leader. Find a friend with whom you can commiserate. Make one another better.
3. Network with Someone who is Different. Don’t sleep with the enemy but find someone who opposes you, stands for the “other side” of things. Don’t argue; dialogue. Don’t seek to change them, seek to gain info, understand more deeply, and learn.
4. Commit to Grow (until you die). When you stop improving, you start failing. Keep learning new things; stay challenged. This requires humility and passion.
5. Serve someone. Don’t look for someone who can pay you back. Don’t serve to be seen. Find someone who doesn’t deserve it. Serve them. Keep quiet about it. Service is the core of leadership.
Ok, I misled you. I said in the title that these things are quick and easy. They are neither. In actuality, these things are hard, sometimes very hard. However, the more you practice them, the quicker and easier they will become. And the impact they will have on your leadership skills makes them well worth the effort. Put them into practice, you and those you lead will be glad you did.
No one can argue with the insistence that leaders be servants. Jesus modeled it and Greenleaf made a million writing about it. But there may be an issue.
Is there a connection between the rampant entitlement mentality that we see in our culture and leaders who humble themselves to serve others? I think maybe so.
Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. It is unthinkable that the Creator of all things stops to wash the crusty smelly feet of 1st Century fishermen. Unless you fast-forward a few days and observe Jesus hanging by nails on a cross. He did all of this for the purpose of serving the people He loved. They needed a Savior and He volunteered. Notice, He did not volunteer to do something they didn’t need. It would have been pointless for Jesus to offer to stay on earth to keep walking on the water or turning water into wine. They didn’t need that. But they sure needed a Savior.
We may have some indicators of the issue we are facing.
- I believe that some servant leaders are serving in ways that are not really needed. Leaders who show themselves to be willing to do anything for the people they love are an inspiration. People are impressed when leaders sacrifice their own good for the good of those they lead. But if this sacrifice makes no difference, what’s the point? Example: The pastor of a church may refuse to be paid a salary in the interest of the financial constraints of the church. I have seen this happen. It may be a good thing. But it may result in people who renege on their financial responsibilities. By serving in a way that is not needed, the servant leader may be doing more damage than good.
- I believe that some servant leaders are serving themselves. It’s tough to admit but some of us like the attention we get when we “serve.” People are beholden to a leader who is in the trenches, on the frontline. Independent people who can carry the load alone are heroes to many. But there are two problems here: the focus is on the leader and the people are taught to become dependent – they aren’t needed in the process. Healthy organizations involve multiple people. A servant-leadership approach that has ulterior motives is damaging to everyone involved. True servant leaders serve with pure motives.
- I believe that some servant leaders are doing more harm than good. Mono-personality leadership is unscriptural. Lone leaders who do all of the work choke out the operation of Spiritual Gifts. Leaders who spend all of their time waiting on people while never moving them forward do God’s people a disservice. It is possible that a wrong perspective of servant leadership can severely damage an organization.
- Some “servant leadership” is a veil for a leader’s weaknesses. Because of my introversion, I sometimes find it easier to mop the floors after an event than to speak face to face with people. Real servant leadership is sometimes just to be with people.
The goal of servant leadership must be to create more servant leaders. The goal is not for people to feel sorry for us or for people to talk about how noble we are. Leaders serve like Jesus because people need it.
Now, back to the original question: Is entitlement connected to servant leadership? Possibly. Many people feel they deserve something for nothing. The world owes them. We’ve got to combat this ideology. The best way to do so is to serve like Jesus served. Wash their feet; but teach them to wash the feet of one another. Otherwise, they think your job is to keep their feet from stinking. While someone needs to do that, it’s not on the leader.