In his seminal essay, The Servant as Leader, Robert K. Greenleaf (who first wrote about this concept in 1969) writes: “The difference [between the ‘servant-first’ and the ‘leader-first’] manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will he/she benefit, or at least, will he/she not be further deprived?”
How do we help one another discern, emerge and name our ‘highest priority needs’? To what extent am I – are ‘we’ – committed to consciously serving our highest priority needs’?
The result of this type of serving is that both those served as well as the one who is serving grow – become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more serving – as a result. As Greenleaf notes, this ‘result’ occurs ‘while’ one is being served.
In order to live into this test one must think, choose, act and examine the results of one’s actions (upon oneself and upon those served). As Charles Handy noted: Reflection plus Experience is the Learning.
In order to live into and out of this test one must be faithful to this process without any guarantees that those served will, indeed, grow as persons. The goal, then, is to be faithful to living into and out of the test without any guarantee that one will be effective. Why? Because it is the right thing to do; this is what it means ‘to serve/act rooted in integrity.’ Mother Teresa’s words can help us: ‘I am not called to be effective; I am called to be faithful.’
The servant-leader helps people grow and develop their ‘Spirit,’ ‘Head,’ ‘Heart,’ ‘Hands.’ If all do this then all grow and develop in these ways – that is, all serve and all are served in this way.
Another way of looking at growth/development is by looking at P.I.E.S. When I serve, and am served by others, in what ways do I grow/develop physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually?
Physically (Hands): In what ways do the servant-first leaders care about my physical well-being? In what ways do they demonstrate that they are concerned with my physical well-being? As a result, in what ways do I take care of myself, physically, so that I can bring my physically healthiest self to my daily endeavors? In what ways do I support and honor those I encounter who have physical disabilities?
Intellectually (Head): In what ways do the servant-first leaders encourage me to continue my own intellectual development? In what ways do I choose to continue my own intellectual development? In what ways do we (think: ‘team’ for example) encourage and support the other’s intellectual development?
Emotionally (Heart): In what ways do the servant-first leaders support my emotional well-being? In what ways do I commit to taking care of my own emotional well-being? In what ways do ‘we,’ support one another’s emotional well-being?
Spiritually (Spirit): Is my work, in and of itself, meaningful for me? In what ways does my work feed my spirit? In what ways does living into our Mission (personal and collective) feed our spirit? In what ways do my core values and core guiding life-principles feed my spirit?