Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
I smiled when I read this passage from Matthew this week. Turns out that one of the most cutting edge concepts in organization leadership, servant leadership, is biblical. Except when Robert Greenleaf goes through it, the word of our Lord is not mentioned. Greenleaf lays down servant leadership as an exercise in collaboration, trust, foresight, listening, all wrapped up and tied together with a strong ethical canon of power and empowerment. The objective of servant leadership is the individual growth of person/leader, not advancement within the organization. As the individual grows and learns, his sphere of influence is widened, thus creating a ripple effect, where other people are served and are bettered, or at least not subject to further deprivation and suffering.
I am reminded of the story of Our Lord washing his disciples' feet. It always moves me to see our Bishop wash the feet of the people in our Diocese on Holy Thursday. A simple, but powerful gesture, signaling the source of the strength that any real leader possesses. Our Lord also talks frequently about those who are last shall be first and those who are first shall be last. He speaks of this with such matter of factness that it sends shivers down my spine, because there is no mistaking his words nor his meaning. I experience a similar feeling when I see the new priests laying prostrate on the floor in front of the whole congregation, shortly before they make that final promise. And I also experience the same feeling, over and over again, when I talk to the homeless on the sidewalks of The 'Kan--that of being in the presence of true, unmistakable Firstness, Holiness. We are called to serve and to learn; and if we are doing our best work, in the process we lead.
George Washington is a perfect example--one of the greatest leaders of this country. His ambition was nothing beyond that of a gentleman farmer. Yet his strength lay in serving the ideals of democracy. He became the point man in the bitter struggle to birth the American nation and in the process, became of one civilization's greatest soldiers, evermore to be remembered by every American school child, for always. His ambition was not remotely connected to that outcome.
In theory, much of the discussion of servant leadership is exciting and noble. In practice, it's unsettling and disquieting. You give yourself completely away. Psychologically and emotionally, you are almost barren. Not only that, you are vulnerable to the slackers, the power brokers and the ambitious. You are on uneven footing most of the time. And the rest of the time, the other guys play to your bad knee. A lot of the time you do not obtain equilibrium incrementally, but rather absorb it unknowingly. And it's not until you really need it, usually in crisis, that you realize you have strength to stand firm against the gales. Being a servant is everything it's cracked up to be.
But yet, as your results roll in, and you can feel your values and your integrity in each hand, you are heartened. And your eyes should be opened further to the plight of those around you and their needs. And your courage and your strength grow deeper and wider. Not to be served, but to serve. Help me this day.
The 'Kan EWA