It's not what you think

Once a band of people went on a journey to the East in search of enlightenment. Included in this group were several people, each with a skill or talent that aided the group. One of these people was Leo.  Leo is described as a servant who seems to always have what the party needs. He is described as always being happy, willing to help, and keeps a positive attitude. Along the way Leo disappears. The group begins to slowly fall apart. Even members of the group begin to say that Leo took things from the group that would have been useful to them. While the items turn up later, the stress and deterioration of the group leads to arguments and eventually a complete disbandment of the group, with each person going their own way.

When you think of leadership and being a leader, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?  Is it making rules?  Is it enforcing rules that already exist?  Maybe you think of board meetings and sitting at the table with other decision makers. CEOs and presidents may come to mind. Today, try to think of leadership in a way that is completely opposite of what might normally come to mind.

Servant leadership is the concept of leading from the trenches, leading by example, and leading for the end purpose of helping followers achieve their best. Many times leaders are seen as the big boss in the sky who looks down on his or her subjects and barks orders. However, most people have found true leadership in the most unexpected places. The person who helps you set-up and take-down for an event, a person who goes out of their way to give you a ride when you car is broke down, or someone who says you can share their office while your office is under construction. Steven Covey said, “The spirit of servant-leadership is the spirit of moral authority. It says, ‘I’m not into me. I’m into serving you and other people.’”

This concept of leadership is important because leadership is not about lording over one’s subjects, but is about doing whatever is needed to help them succeed. Robert Greenleaf said servant leadership, “begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” The aspect of being a leader is secondary to doing what is necessary for other’s success.   Jesus clearly instructs us that the idea of power and authority should not be among those who wish to truly lead. He says in Mark 10:42-45, “…Whoever wants to become great among you must serve the rest of you like a servant…”  The opening story is a summary of an example of servant leadership found in the Hermann Hesse’s story Journey to the East. Here is a condensed conclusion.

Sometime later, the narrator of the story, a man named H.H. tries to recount the events of the journey.  In an effort to get the complete story he sets out in search of Leo. When he finds Leo he learns that Leo is much more than a mere servant; Leo is the leader of the order that sanctioned the journey to the East. And Leo’s disappearance and the whole ordeal were part of a test. At the outset, the test was failed by all. But now that H.H. had returned to try and understand what happened, he learns that the servant is the leader, and that the knowledge he sought from the journey to the East was just now coming to him.  It is in service that true leadership is found and that the end result is for one to serve and then be forgotten.

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