Taking Jesus To Work With You
(photo credit: Brian L. Powell)
While servant leadership is a timeless concept, the phrase "servant leadership" was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970.
Servant leadership is a philosophy, or practices, that enrich the lives of individuals, organizations and ultimately sets out to create a more just and caring world.
As women in the business world, I am finally seeing this concept being put into practice. Themes like emotional intelligence, building trust, and working toward a culture of engagement is on the rise in the corporate realm. It’s interesting, because it took several decades after Greenleaf’s publication for corporations to finally "get it," that is to say when people feel valued on the job, when they feel like they are making a contribution and contributing to the whole, when they are kept in the loop with communications and included to come up with ideas, when they feel like not only their work matters, but they matter, and when they enjoy their working environment, they are more productive. It took Wall Street several decades and a lot of metrics to figure out that how people feel affects how people work, and that it all has a bearing on productivity.
The idea of servant leadership is this:
"The servant-leader is a servant first. Servant leaders focus primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible."
Robert Greenleaf recognized that organizations as well as individuals could be servant leaders. He held the great belief that servant-leader organizations could change the world. In his essay The Institution as Servant, Greenleaf said…
"This is my thesis: caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built. Whereas, until recently, caring was largely person to person, now most of it is mediated through institutions – often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt. If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them."
In today’s corporate world, there are now many advocates for his philosophy including: Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, Peter Senge and others. But perhaps the greatest advocates for this philosophy should be us…CHRISTIANS.
As it turns out, while the phrase "servant leader" was coined by Greenleaf, the idea is certainly not original to him. Servant leadership can be found in many religious texts, but nowhere is it better demonstrated than by Jesus. When we look at the life of Jesus his words, clearly the theme of servant leadership comes shining through. In Mark 10:42-45:
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Jesus is the role model for servant leaders. He put love of others first. He was fully aware of his position as a leader, but all who encountered him experienced him as a servant before he became their Lord and Master. Jesus voluntarily served others. His primary role was not as a foot washer, but he was ready to serve. Jesus set the example; walking the talk. It took courage to lead in that way. Friend to sinners, and not fearful of speaking truth, Jesus gave his life to serve us.
So here’s the deal… Servant leadership is not just for our church lives. It’s not about whether or not we serve on the session, deaconate, or a committee. Servant leadership is a way to live and work with people. It’s about having a serving heart and putting the needs and care of others in the forefront. And it’s about how we see others – as beloved, deserving equals in the eyes of God. So, do you have a servant heart? Does it go with you wherever you go?
We began our discussion talking about the business world, so let’s go back there. Think about your own actions while at work. Are you a servant leader in the workplace, and how would you know? Maybe it would help for you to consider your answers to these questions:
When you’re at work, are you empowering others, giving trust, recognizing contributions, saying thank you, and focusing on the needs of staff/others?
Are you flexible to consider and respect people’s ways of doing things though they might be different from yours?
Do you listen… really listen to receive and think twice before responding?
Do you have empathy? Do you maintain respect and the self-esteem of others?
Do you work to build community and engagement? Do you put others before yourself?
For every one of these questions, Jesus could have answered yes. To the least (fisherman and the like), he empowered them to be leaders. He gave this trust, recognizing the value of everyone he met. He focused on needs – physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. He did not demand or condemn. He listened. He thought carefully about his answers, even phrasing them in ways to draw out ideas and different ways of thinking.
Jesus did not build walls, he built bridges. He saw value in those who others would have killed. He showed us that it is not about what we do, or what we contribute, but it’s all about grace. And he not only empowered us with the Holy Spirit, he told us that if we love Him, we would do likewise.
So do you take Jesus to work with you? Are you a servant leader? How would your co-workers answer that question? How would you answer it?
Maybe the love and peace of Jesus Christ be with you always!