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Servant Leadership — An Overview

Leadership came up several times in the first three World Cafe events including an explicit reference to servant-leadership which I feel it is a concept worth exploring. Serving and opening a path to leadership should have merit in education and I want to expand on the characteristics used to describe the servant-leader. I drew extensively from an article written by Larry Spears (2004) called Practicing Servant Leadership. Spears was the CEO at the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership. Its namesake, Robert Greenleaf, was the person responsible for developing and articulating servant-leadership.

A definition cited by Spears was servant-leadership “begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant–first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.” Making sure people’s highest priority needs are served came up several times in our conversations. Words such as community, safe, listening, empathy, and compassion are a small sampler of descriptors provided in conversations. The following represent 10 characteristics attributed to a servant-leader, drawn from Greenleaf’s writings.

1. Listening: This can be broken into two parts. There is a deep listening to others, but also quiet reflection. Listening deeply to others represents compassion and quiet.regular reflection reveals wisdom.

2. Empathy: Through listening to others to understand, the servant-leader seeks empathy to accept and recognize special and unique spirits of those he/she listens to. Empathy calls for appropriate behaviour or acceptable performance from those being led.

3. Healing: The relationship between the servant and others carries an implicit message. There is a search for wholeness, integrity and completeness of the person. To be whole, one must feel listened to and served.

4. Awareness: Awareness is a disturber and awakener. The servant-leader is aware of both internal and external landscapes allowing for an integrated, holistic person to emerge. This awareness is a seeking to understand issues related to values and ethics.

5. Persuasion: This refers to the servant-leader using persuasive rather than positional power to make organizational decisions. Persuasion acts to build consensus rather than using coercion, manipulation, or power.

6. Conceptualization: This is the ability to balance the need to ‘dream great dreams’ and simultaneously remain focused on day-to-day functions of an organization.

7. Foresight: Allows the servant leader to learn lessons from the past, the immediate realities of the moment, and potential consequences that might arise in the future.

8. Stewardship: The rubric of servant-leadership is one in which all CEO’s, staff, and trustees act as stewards holding something in trust for the greater good of society. Stewardship is based on openness and persuasion rather than power and control.

9. Commitment to the growth of people: This is the responsibility to nurture the growth of each individual in a community. Members are allowed to reveal their gifts and, in turn, serve.

10. Building community: The servant-leader is aware of a shift from local community to large institutions to global networks as the primary shaper of human lives. This awareness calls the servant-leader to search for and identify various means to build and sustain community.

Greenleaf proposed the best test of the servant-leader is to ask, “Do those served grow as people? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? What is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

When I consider the best test, I am inclined to further wonder, “Is the role of a teacher ideal to serve? Is the role of teachers, in whatever capacity, best defined by asking: do children in their care become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely to become servants?” I include a vast grouping of people as teachers because many are called to serve and teach in various capacities. Parents and family members want their children to grow just as teachers in schools want their students to grow.

About ivonprefontaine

In keeping with bell hooks and Noam Chomsky, I consider myself a public and dissident intellectual. Part of my work is to move beyond (transcend) institutional dogmas that bind me to defend freedom, raising my voice to be heard on behalf of those who seek equity and justice in all their forms. I completed my PhD in Philosophy of Leadership Studies at Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA. My dissertation and research was how teachers experience becoming teachers and their role as leaders. I focus on leading, communicating, and innovating in organizations. This includes mindfuful servant-leadership, World Cafe events, Appreciative Inquiry, and expressing one's self through creativity. I offer retreats, workshops, and presentations that can be tailored to your organzations specific needs. I published peer reviewed articles about schools as learning organizations, currere as an ethical pursuit, and hope as an essential element of adult eductaion. I published three poems and am currently preparing my poetry to publish as an anthology of poetry. I present on mindful leadership, servant leadership, schools as learning organizations, how teachers experience becoming teachers, assessement, and critical thinking. I facilitate mindfulness, hospitality retreats. and World Cafe Events using Appreciative Inquiry. I am writing and researching about various forms of leadership, how teachers inform and form their identity as a particular teacher, schools as learning organizations, hope and its anticipatory relationship with the future, and hope as an essential element in learning.

2 responses »

  1. An amazing article, thanks for the writing.

  2. Thank you for the response. I am grateful when people take time from busy schedules to respond.


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