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Servant leader or self-serving leader?

Boris Joaquin

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Servant leader or self-serving leader?
More and more businesses embrace the concept of 'servant leadership,' a model based on Jesus’ leadership

I entered the training industry back in 2000 by facilitating a series of Servant Leadership learning sessions entitled Lead Like Jesus Leadership Encounter, designed by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges. I became a master trainer for it and eventually a country representative for the Philippines. 

When we first ran the program, I honestly thought it would not work because of its spiritual underpinnings. Amidst this, more and more companies are coming to realize that the nature and quality of one’s leadership is not just a matter of experience and education or people skills, but is essentially character-based that is founded on such values as stewardship, responsibility, and accountability. It has almost been two decades, and we’re still running the program in the corporate world.

Jesus, the leader

When you think about Jesus Christ the Savior, also try to think about Jesus the Leader. 

What can you learn from Him as a leader? Jesus was clear about His mission here on earth. Of Himself, He said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” That was evident in His earthly life; it became all the more so in His sacrificial death on the cross.

More and more books have been written on Jesus’ leadership model. At the same time, more and more businesses embrace the concept of servant leadership as a professional development intervention to help improve efficiency and productivity, with a dose of humility, particularly in the area of customer service, whether external or internal.

A wise adage says that “recognition is the prerequisite to recovery.” Any skilled doctor would like to diagnose first before giving a prescription, so that’s how we would approach any servant leadership intervention. Hence, our first aim to move away from being self-serving leaders.

The driven and the called

Gordon McDonald, in his book Ordering Your Private World, distinguished two kinds of people. I find this helpful in understanding the difference between these two leadership forms: the driven and the called.

Gordon says that people who are driven think they own everything: their relationships, possessions, and positions. As a result, they spend most of their lives protecting what they own.

You can tell if you are a driven, self-serving leader by way of how you treat feedback. Have you ever received feedback from subordinates? If you “killed the messenger,” you might be a self-serving leader. 

Why? A self-serving leader sees critical feedback as a threat to his position and would put up his defenses by discounting the message and the messenger.

You could also tell whether you are a servant leader or a self-serving leader by the leadership legacy you create. 

Do you create ways so that others may lead? Self-serving leaders who are protective of their position feel threatened by anybody else who might be good. They are afraid that others might say, “Oh, they ought to lead rather than you.” On the other hand, Gordon describes “called” leaders as those who think everything in life is on loan – he sees himself as a steward of his relationships, possessions, and roles.

When you see your relationships as loaned to you, you treat people with utmost care and respect. You seek to contribute to their growth in the borrowed time you have with them. In contrast, can you imagine what it would be like if a leader felt like he owned the people around him?

A leader with a sense of calling also treats his position as something loaned or something entrusted to him by God and by the people he is attempting to lead.

If you give a servant-leader feedback, they love it. Why? If the only reason they are leading is to serve, they will welcome suggestions on how they can do it better.

Servant leaders love seeing other leaders developing in their group. To them, the development of people is one of the most important things they can do. So when a truly good leader comes along or grows from among the ranks, they welcome this development and are willing to share leadership or even step aside and take another position to help achieve their organization’s goals more effectively.

The question for you is this: Where are you on this? Do you think that things are on loan or that you own everything? Are you a self-serving leader or a servant-leader?

The servant-leader journey

Now, the reality is that we are all self-serving to some degree because we came into this world as self-serving. Is there anything more self-serving than a baby? I mean, babies don’t come home from the hospital and say, “Can I help around the house?” The more you grow and mature as an adult, the more you realize that life is about what you give rather than what you get. 

Having said that, we need to recognize that becoming a servant leader is a journey. We are like brand new laptops with a default system, and our default is naturally to be self-serving. We have to change settings and, almost daily, log on to that new setting; otherwise, we start off with our natural default, the way we were originally wired.

Even if you are aware and conscious that you have to be a servant leader, in your heart, you will be constantly challenged by options and temptations to get you back into your driven, self-serving leadership mode. It would be good if we can ask ourselves on a daily basis this question: “Am I going to be a servant-leader today or a self-serving leader?”

Let us now answer that question. A dose of honesty here is worth years, months of denial. Now, that is how you begin your journey to become a servant-leader. –

If you want to conduct a Lead Like Jesus Leadership Encounter in your organization or community, you may email or connect through their Facebook page.

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