What Is the Potential of Servant-Leadership?
Greenleaf's long and rich experience in building major organizations was an ample ground for his idea to grow and bloom. It was not until the 1960s, however, that the idea received support. Now, the little tree seems to have started fruiting. Now, this is how the whole thing began. One day, Greenleaf read 'Journey to the East' – a short novel by Hermann Hesse – about a bunch of people who started out on a long and adventurous trip in pursuit of spiritual wealthy.
The story convinced Greenleaf that it takes more than just strong will, tough character and a knack for reigning to be a leader. A true leader is not someone who merely exercises power on servants, but someone eager and capable of helping other people. In other words, a true leader is actually a servant.
Greenleaf carried this idea over to his works. Experience in serving other people is a must for a decent leader, and it comes as a yardstick for the leader's greatness. This is, Greenleaf says, the approach that must be used in state institutions and businesses with authorities and managers serving their subordinates, customers and the society at large. A true leader must be able and willing to share power and the right to make decisions. Just like two opposing magnetic poles are attracted to each other, the two opposite notions – service and leadership – make up a logical and meaningful whole and generate a genial idea that helps overcome the long-standing and seemingly insurmountable barrier between different social groups. Here comes the ultimately new notion of servant-leader. In his explanation of the notion, Greenleaf stresses the priority of service. First and foremost, servant-leader is a servant. This is what he wrote in “The Servant as Leader”. He said that all genuine leaders have a burning desire to serve other people's needs. They take great care that other people benefit from their leadership. Material and spiritual wellness of those being served and their readiness to serve each other are the indicators of the quality of leadership. So is their own readiness to serve each other. The only good leader is one who inspires in his or her subordinates a sense of freedom and respect to each other and self-respect. The only good leader is one who frees servants of depravity and destitute and therefore changes their view on life for the better. The only good leader is one who brings up civic consciousness in people and helps them build their own lives in their own fashions.
The idea of servant-leadership is apt to disrupt the obsolete autocratic principles and create a revolution in the minds of both leaders and servants. It has a tremendous transformational potential that can change our attitude to life completely. It is not unlikely that it will impact employment relationships and contribute to the betterment of understanding between employees and employers in the foreseeable future and, consequently, bring peace and harmony to the society.