Valuing Servant-hood for Today’s Leaders


When I was growing up, my mother was the youth director of our church.  In elementary school, there are pressures about being cool.  I was an active church member (and yes, a choir boy in the literal sense).

My mother expected her children to be the model young person, which involved participating in church required activities.  For me, that meant participating in morning worship where the youth were required to lead devotion periodically. A call for volunteers would go out to the youth.  Of course, most of my peers felt comfortable rejecting those requests to participate.

Sadly, I was expected to accept these requests.  My mother told us (her children), “If no one else participates, I expect my children to (lead devotion) because I’m the youth director.”  I was forced (obligated) to participate because of my relationship to my mother and a direct request from any youth advisor.

In doing these volunteer services out of obligation, I had an internal resentment about participating in church functions as a youth that carried on for several years later in life.  As a more mature adult, who is a church leader, I now participate in church activities because I have a love and passion for serving others. Likewise, many managers interact with their employees out of a sense of obligation and not due to their internal desire of helping others.  This article examines the value of servant-hood in today’s organizations.

Employees want leaders that care about them and their well-being as individuals.  In the book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey discusses the competitive advantage of having trust in organizations: “The ability to establish, extend, and restore trust with all stakeholders – customers, business partners, investors and coworkers – is the key leadership competency of the new, global economy.”

A Watson Wyatt study indicated in high-trust organizations there is almost three times higher return than in low-trust organizations for shareholders.  However, one study noted that only 51% of employees have trust and confidence in senior management. Some of the reasons that workers are so cynical and apathetic of today’s leaders is the lack of personal interest of managers in their workers’ welfare.  Most managers are self-absorbed in getting ahead and doing things that are in their own self-interest. Unfortunately, some people do not want to subscribe to servant leadership.

In order to climb the corporate leader, some individuals become ruthless and take advantage of others. Not every manager wants to be a giver, and many would rather take from others.  Dr. Richard Daft, the author of Management, argues the importance of knowing your own personal motivations: “…the first requirement for being a good manager, is understanding oneself.  Managers’ characteristics and behavior can profoundly affect the workplace and influence employee motivation, morale, and job performance.”

Dr. Draft went on to explain that when managers operate from a higher level of development by focusing on the needs of followers and empowering workers to be successful that these managers are exercising a form of servant leadership.

Many leaders operate under a sense of servitude.  Servitude relates to the obligation required due to the position and other. Yet, servitude speaks to a forced behavior that is filled with negative connotations such a bondage and involuntary labor.  On the contrary, servanthood involves an internal willingness to help others out of choice and voluntary commitment.

Kenneth Haugk, author of Christian Caregiving: A Way of Life, argues that servanthood has more positive benefits when dealing with human beings: “At best, the person snared by servitude acts out of a sense of duty and fear, but the person living in servanthood acts out of a sense of commitment and love.”

When there is an obligation rather than an internal compass when making decisions involving others, an individual may be captured with the internal instinct of doing what’s in their own best interest.  The outcome can be negative to the organization.  For example, a new manager is in charge of a new organization.  Instead of getting to know his new employee, the manager starts hiring people from the outside to fill positions internally. Morale tumbles. Trust is lost, and the opportunity is blown for this manager to build healthy relationships. 

On the contrary, servanthood is about meeting the needs of others.  The concept is very foreign to a society fuelled by selfishness.  Servanthood injects into leaders a strong desire to serve and work for the benefit of others. Gareth Jones and Jennifer George, authors of Contemporary Management, explain the merits of leaders serving their followers.

They explain, “When leaders empower their subordinates, the subordinates typically take over some of the responsibilities that used to reside with the leader or manager….Empowerment increases a manager’s ability to get things done because the manager has the support and help of subordinates who have special knowledge of the work tasks.”

Employees want leaders who are looking out for their self-interest. For example, a senior manager must downsize her workforce in order to be competitive. She seeks to empathize with the downsized employees and opts to inform them early and personally, talking with each affected employee about their circumstances; she leveraged her network and got all of the affected employees job offers from other companies.

The employees’ situation did not change due to the manager’s behavior. However, their perception of that manager and organization changed.  Servanthood is a much better attribute than servitude given the cynicism about today’s employees.

Finally, managers need to change what they are doing if organizations want to achieve higher performance. Doing things in the best interest of their employees is a good start. Yet, leaders must begin by digging deep within themselves to discover a servant-oriented character.

This article examined the value of servant-hood in today’s organizations in order to provide a competitive advantage. Most managers are indifferent to their workers.  With servanthood, leaders can rewrite the organizational direction and instill a teamwork attitude.  Pray that it’s not too late.

© 2015 by Daryl D. Green


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