I’ve been thinking a lot about the term “servant leader” lately. I’m not sure why, but when I started a Google search, not much was coming up on what a servant leader looks like.
Back in the late 90’s and early 00’s this was one of the buzz words in the non-profit sector. Now, I hardly ever hear much about the phrase “servant leader” used anymore in the mainstream leadership conversation. I think the term was overused and is now tired. The presence of a true servant leader in the workplace seems somewhat of a distant past.
However, I believe our hearts are more thirsty than ever for this type of leadership today. In a day and age where everything is about how it can benefit me first, I’m not sure that we spend much time on how we can help another life thrive and flourish. Yet our followers are craving this kind of leader.
The greatest example of a servant leader is found in the Scriptures. His name is Jesus. When Jesus came on the scene in His day, the landscape of leadership was all about power, control, and leading by fear or dominance. Even His disciples secretly argued about which one of them was the greatest. The contrast was when Jesus taught and lived by a new example. His service to others unlocked hearts. Because Jesus genuinely loved people, He was able to serve them with a different example of leadership. His service transformed lives.
What about you? Do you want to be a part of helping other peoples’ lives be transformed? How much time do you and I spend figuring out how we can maneuver to the top of our organizations at the expense those we work with? In the home, are we about isolation, self gain, and protection, or about investing into the lives of those we love.
Love transforms all of us. It softens our defensive posture and enables us to process life differently. Have you ever wondered what it might look like to be led by a servant leader? Have you ever wondered how you could be the servant leader our culture desperately needs? Here are four signs you can use to know if you are a servant leader or if you are being led by one.
I. The Attitude of a Servant Leader - A Servant Leader is more concerned with helping others become great than exhausting others to be the greatest. (Mark 9:33-37)
33 After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” 34 But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”
36 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”
If you are led by a person who is willing to help you thrive, you are being led by a servant leader. A servant leader isn’t threatened by the success of others. In fact, they celebrate the achievements of others. A servant leader doesn’t marginalize others with judgment. They openly care and accept others, much like a little child.
II. The Ambition of a Servant Leader - A Servant Leader is more interested in offering his life for the sake of others rather than demanding allegiance from others. (Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:42-45)
20 Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. 21 “What is your request?” he asked.
She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”
22 But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”
“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”
23 Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”
24 When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
If you are being led by a person who is willing to pay the price of sacrifice for your benefit, you are being led by a servant leader. Instead of having a large appetite for greed and power, a servant leader is willing to incur a loss, for you to experience a gain.
III. The Action of a Servant Leader: A Servant Leader is willing to be an example of service for others instead of consuming others for his service. (John 13:3-5; 3:12-16)
3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.
In our day and time, its all about who is at the top. How much can I consume and discard. With a Servant Leader, there is a contrast of how power is used. Does the person lord it over others, creating a dictatorship for self gain? If you are being led by a person who is willing to set the example first, when technically they really don’t have to, you are being led by a servant leader.
IV. The Aspiration of a Servant Leader - A Servant Leader is an advocate for the interests of others instead of depleting others for their own interests. (Philippians 2:2-11)
1 Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
If you are being led by a person who believes when one person grows we all benefit, you are being led by a servant leader. A servant leader is willing to create opportunities for others to thrive.
In his book, The Power of Servant Leadership, Robert Greenleaf asked this question: "Do those served by you grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?” Think about the question for a second. People serving one another changes lives. Jesus’ service to others transformed lives.
Will you and I be willing to use our lives to serve others? Here is a simple leadership test: Do people follow you voluntarily? If not, why not?
Greenleaf went on to say, "We are not asking, 'What service can you render as a leader?' but rather 'What leadership can you exercise as a servant?’"
If you are currently being led by a servant leader, take time to encourage them. They are rare. If you desire to become a servant leader, use these four signs to keep at it. We can all contribute to the lives of others. When we do, we all benefit.
My dream is to help you live out your calling and thrive. I believe that your best days are before you…not behind you. We all need a little coaching, encouragement, wisdom, and help from time to time. We can’t accomplish our goals in isolation or always on our own. We need each other. It’s time to thrive. Let’s do it together. Remember, you are not alone. Click here to set up a Discovery Coaching call.