Why the "Servant" in Servant Leadership is Important


At Servant Leadership Institute, we believe leadership based on servanthood is what this world needs today. At one of our recent conferences, our panel of speakers was asked how to address the situation where a company does not want to use the word servant in describing how the company approaches leadership. Our expert speakers, each from a different country, responded from their hearts and basically took the position that what you call leadership may not be as critical as what you may teach others about leadership. I agree with their responses to a certain extent, but in other ways could not disagree more.

I write this on the morning after the attacks on the citizens in Paris, where a nation stands stunned. Events of this nature drive the human spirit to amazing thoughts and actions. I watched in amazement this morning as the citizens of France gathered in the streets singing their national anthem. In times like these, it is so important that leaders show up, stand up, and speak up, or in the case of Paris today, stand together and sing!

The world needs servant leaders more than ever. Authentic, values-based, transformational, situational, or whatever leadership label makes you comfortable doesn’t reflect the action we need in the world today. We need leaders who know who they serve and understand they have a responsibility to stand up and serve. There’s no way around it; we are responsible for those who follow us, who put their faith, freedom, and security in our hands. Servant leadership represents action.

Robert Greenleaf said over 40 years ago that people have a natural feeling to serve first. Our world today has lost that natural feeling of service to others; his thoughts about leadership in this area no longer apply in our world. We are too focused on not offending anyone, not pushing our views or beliefs on others or making anyone remotely uncomfortable. The label we put on leadership seems more important than our behaviors as leaders. The freedoms we have in this world, and most importantly in our country, come with a responsibility to serve others, to treat them with dignity and respect, not political correctness. We need to be able to respectfully disagree about issues. Service to others needs to be in our mindset every day—putting servant leadership front and center and continually reminding ourselves we are servants first and leaders second. Our responsibility to our followers is sacred and must be based on a mindset of servanthood.

My heart this morning is sad for France and the world we live in. Countries and their citizens have questions today about their own security and safety. Let’s stop dancing around the word servant and start embracing it, living it, behaving it! Let’s join together in behaviors of servanthood and set the example for others.

We do not shy away from servant leadership; we believe it is one of the critical components needed in the world today. Let’s stop thinking about ourselves first and live our lives for the sake of others. The world will be a better place once we focus on servanthood in our approach to leadership.

I join the people of France today in singing their national anthem loud and clear so everyone knows we stand united. I invite you to join the Servant Leadership Institute in our quest to change our mindset into one of living our lives for the sake of others. Today I renew my commitment to servant leadership because our world needs it. How about you?

Art Barter

Founder & CEO of Servant Leadership Institute