Servant Leadership: Create Peace Out of Chaos


Once long ago, I was appointed to be a student teacher for a class of highly rambunctious 5th graders. There I was, bright and shiny showing up to change the lives of these young kids (or so I thought). I just knew I would have a wise mentor in my master teacher, who, I assumed, would guide me lovingly through the process of learning to be a stellar teacher. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. Her opening narrative to me was, “Oh great, you’re here. Class, this is Miss…... You better be good for her!” Then she turned to me and said, “I’ll be in the teachers’ lounge if you need me.” And I did not see her again till the end of the semester. Now that is immersion!

I descended into the chaos of that classroom, determined I would not spend the next semester ruling by how loud I could scream above the kids. Instead, I attempted to create peace out of chaos.

The place where chaos seemed to reign supreme was during PE and most specifically, during softball games, where their teacher had allowed the kids to change the rules of the game willy-nilly. I began to have them follow the actual rules, and most importantly, I introduced the concept of sportsmanship. After some struggle, peace descended.

I realize in looking back that I had built trust with these kids and they came to love the security of knowing the rules as they played. This spilled over into more positive behavior in the classroom as well. 

How many times have you been involved in a project that frustrated you to tears? Or for you strong types — frustrated you to utter words you would not normally use? Maybe you have experienced something milder like retreat or withdrawal when a team effort spins out of control or morphs into something no one can recognize.

As servant leaders, we are charged with creating peace out of this chaos. How do we do this?

1. Practice being a “non-anxious presence.” People are looking to you as the department or project leader to be a calming influence. It does no good to be the loudest or the most anxious, or show evidence you do not trust the group to reach its goals. As I lowered my voice to my 5th grade class, they naturally lowered their voices. (Parents you know this one.) If you are not naturally a calm person, focus on why you are anxious; it might be a big job, but start the process.

2. Use some people skills. If you have a relationship with your employees or teammates, you will know how to deal with the style of each person.  Spend some time learning their strengths. At SLI, we call this exercise Team Requirements. We look at what skills and strengths are in the group and compare them to the skills and strengths the project requires. Then we put people where they can be most effective.

3. Practice GRP. GRP stands for Goals, Roles and Process. It is an organizational development tool that is not unique to servant leadership, but the way it is applied in a servant-led environment certainly is. Under GRP, our goals should be ones that support the mission and purpose of the organization and they should be oriented toward making a positive impact on employees and their families, customers, suppliers, and the world.  Everyone should understand their role and those roles should be determined by individuals’ gifts and strengths. A servant leader bothers to find out the strengths of each team member. And finally, everyone should know the processes necessary to reach the goal. It should be clear, just like the rules in softball. In the servant-led environment, how you get results is more important than the results themselves, so your processes should support that principle.

Unfortunately, my experience with the 5th graders did not have a happy ending. At the end of my student teaching assignment, I had to turn the class back over to their teacher and watch as what the kids and I built disintegrated.  She believed the way to teach them was to control them and the only way to control was to be louder than they were. As servant leaders, let’s take the time to know our employees’ strengths and weaknesses; be clear in our messaging regarding goals, roles, and processes; and practice being a non-anxious presence for them. 

How do you create peace out of chaos in your area of responsibility? We’d love to hear your story.


Carol Malinski
Director of Content and Curriculum

 The Servant Leadership Institute is dedicated to the implementation of servant leadership in our world.  You can learn more about our speaking opportunities and training programs by contacting us