A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. –Lao Tzu
The servant-leader – especially by situation – at times chooses to exceed his or her authority as he or she embraces the challenge; this is often disturbing to others (a mild under-statement I know). When folks are disturbed they push back; they resist in all manner of creative and unexpected ways. The servant-leader is at risk of being marginalized or of being ‘removed’ from the process or of being undermined, shunned or betrayed.
No wonder folks choose not to serve/lead; even servant-leaders by role hesitate. On one hand it is wise to hesitate; only ‘fools rush in’ – Aristotle reminds us that ‘rashness’ is not the same as ‘courage.’ On the other hand, no matter how careful you are, how gentle you are, how invitational you are, how collaborative you are choosing to serve/lead is risky at best and at times it is truly dangerous.
Given all of this, why would anyone choose to step out ahead and serve/lead? What’s in it for them? What’s in it for the other(s)? Well consider this: Because each of us is unique and because each of us have certain skills, talents, abilities and capacities and because we, for the most part anyway, espouse that we care for the other(s) – all of those stakeholders we serve; we are called to serve/lead and we respond to the call by choosing to do so. We have knowledge and experience that others need and in choosing to offer these up we choose to serve/lead.
To be a servant-leader requires the courage (i.e. heart) to choose, to act, to experience, to reflect and to learn. It requires embracing doubt more than surety. As Lincoln reminded us: It involves trusting the ‘better angels of our nature’ and the ‘better angels’ of the other(s). To be a servant-leader requires that one believes that ‘we really are in this together’ – interdependence rooted in trust is required.
Being a servant-leader is risky if not dangerous. Yet, there is hope. There is hope for the person who chooses to serve/lead because for the most part those who freely choose to follow are capable of embracing both the ‘good’ news and the ‘disturbing’ news; they are capable of engaging the burning questions and they are capable of thinking together in ways that tap the wisdom of the collective (which, for the most part, is more impactful than the wisdom of the individual).
Gentle reader, it is crucial to remember that being a servant-leader is rooted in a desire to serve first and to serve the highest priority needs of the other(s) so that the other(s) grow as persons. As I conclude this morning I am recalling the words of John Quincy Adams:
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.