Servant leadership: Not a new concept

ServantLeadership_200As the Christian world approaches Easter, the scriptures that are read center more and more on Jesus in his final days, as he traveled and taught, working closely with his disciples and followers. A favorite reading at this time of year is the story, written by John the Apostle in his gospel, about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples gathered for the passover meal. (In those days, most travel was on foot, and the roads were dusty, meaning that a day’s labors or journey left one’s feet filthy dirty. Those who were better off had servants to give the evening foot baths.) When one, Simon Peter, protests, Jesus explains that Peter and the others don’t understand why he, the teacher and lord, is doing the work ordinarily done by servants, but soon it becomes clear:

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

Thus we are introduced to one of the earliest recorded examples of servant leadership.

Sitting, as I have, on countless boards of review for Scouts advancing in rank, I almost always ask each boy, especially those in leadership roles or higher ranks, what he feels the role of a leader is. Usually, the answer has something to do with directing, coordinating, assigning, or otherwise “bossing around” the others in their patrol or troop. A discussion about the real meaning of leadership follows, and I try to guide the Scout into realizing that his role as a leader is to serve those he leads.

The Boy Scout Handbook explains about leadership and tells Scouts that they can lead in many ways even if they don’t have formal leadership positions, including leading by example. The “Be” part of the youth training continuum (which includes troop-level, council and national training) states “Youth members are taught to strive to be servant leaders—a term that encompasses the concept of others-first leadership. The youths learn to care about others and to help them succeed.” The Order of the Arrow, which of course is founded on the principle of unselfish service and devotion to the welfare of others, has a segment on servant leadership in its conclave training initiative program.

Much of this is theoretical knowledge, and difficult for teenagers to grasp, but they can understand the actions of an iconic figure of their contemporary lives. The young wizard Harry Potter gives us a great example of servant leadership. Even though Harry did not hold a position of leadership at Hogwarts, his actions toward others made him a leader because he embodies many of the ten characteristics of servant leaders as established by Robert Greenleaf, as is pointed out in a recent article by management blogger Scott Eblin, who writes:

People want to be around and be led by people who embody those traits.   Maybe we see in Harry what we hope or would like to see in ourselves. Maybe the magic was not so much in the wand and the spells as in the way Harry led others.

Perhaps you can think of other real-life examples of servant leadership in action. Use the opportunities you have to instill that concept in our youth. Demonstrate it yourself through your actions toward others. Be the servant that you would like to see in other people. In doing so, we can bring it to life for our Scouts and help them to establish a lifelong purpose of leading by helping others.

Image: Lisa Maki / GodlyWoman


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