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  • Writer's pictureJason Weber

The Servant as Leader: New Thoughts on a Saturday

I have been spending time re-reading the writings of Robert Greenleaf. As I came into learning about Servant Leadership, I have based the majority of my understanding on his work. The book I am reading, titled The Power of Servant Leadership, is worthy of being read and reread to understand the thoughts and perspectives of a man that inspired this idea of servant leadership.

Of course, there are always many perspectives to consider, and Greenleaf is not afraid of sharing those perspectives, but the unique lived experience Greenleaf talks about makes the idea of servant leadership relatable - even today.

My favorite element of servant leadership is what Greenleaf calls "The Best Test."

Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will he or she benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?

This is a powerful question in itself; one that requires thought and exploration. Additionally, I feel this best test lends is self to perspective. While bothersome to many, there is no set definition of servant leadership. Instead, we have the best test from Greenleaf. Yes, there are many authors who have provided their definition of servant leadership - but there is no original set definition. Perspective is what makes servant leadership so impactful. There are many debates - especially in literature - around how servant leadership can be applied personally, in the workplace, in our communities, etc. However, I don't think it is a matter of right or wrong. Instead, I think it is a matter of perspective.

When we consider the first part of the best test, Do those served grow as persons? What does this mean? What does this look like? How do I know if those I serve are growing as persons? This is the beauty of the question. But, this does not satisfy many. As I was engulfed in my reading, something popped out that I needed to be reminded of. There is more to this best test - an addition that adds clarity and specificity to the idea that being a servant leader requires the whole person. Their thoughts, actions, and feelings all play a role in serving.

Greenleaf, when discussing servant leadership and persuasion, is brought to the reality that there needed to be another stipulation added to this best test. Greenleaf states, "I would now add one further stipulation: "No one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly" (p. 43).

For me, I feel this addition - which is not talked about in literature from what I can find - further adds to the depth of what it means to be a servant leader. First, do those we serve grow as persons? Do our actions enhance the experience and mindsets of those we interact with? Second, and more specifically, are they healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? Or, are we interacting with others in a way that empowers and uplifts them. Are we encouraging and challenging those around us to try new things, consider new perspectives, and fail safely? Third, what is the effect on the least privileged? Do our actions inspire others to steward behaviors of caring and support to others? Finally, we now should consider, is anyone being hurt, directly or indirectly, by our actions. Or, do we ensure we are functioning in a way that is just and fair.

Even as I am writing this, I am debating the words that I am using. Part of learning and growing is developing an understanding for perspective. For me, this makes sense today. However, I know there may be an experience that changes how I few this additional element to the best test.

Will I look back and say I was right or wrong - no. I don't think that is appropriate. But I will reflect back and examine how I grew to change my mind.

I leave you with this - how are you impacting those in your world? We can debate the meaning of servant leadership all day long. For me, the essence is in how we interact with those we come into contact with.

I wish you all the best - lots more to come!


Greenleaf, R. (1998). The power of servant leadership. The Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership.

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