Robert Greenleaf is noted as one of the most powerful advocates of Servant Leadership in the last century. And his work is well worth reading. However, the real teacher on servant leadership is one who walked the earth 20 centuries ago and is still alive today. He says this:
You know that this age’s rulers lord it over the people they lead, demanding authority over them. That is not what I’m teaching you. If you want to be great in my Kingdom then you shall serve the very least – considering yourself lower than them. Just as I did not come to be served, but to serve, laying down my life to be a ransom for all of you. (Paraphrase of Jesus speaking in Matthew 20:25-28)
Jesus teaching would seem very clear, n’est-ce pas? Hard to twist. And yet how often have I heard lofty leaders speak on servant leadership – calling their “team members” to serve them – to lay down their lives in the service of the leader’s vision. This isn’t servant leadership. It is, in fact, the very thing Jesus is addressing. That part in all of us, in our fallen human nature, that wants to lord it over others – to be first.
Servant leaders rarely teach on servant leadership. Instead, they live it out. They are servant leaders. We are taught by their example. Humbled by their humility. And guided into servant leadership ourselves by their example of following the real Servant Leader, laying down their lives for their friends. And what a life it is they’ve lived.