My heart sings for the topic of Servant Leadership. I comb book stores, and book purchasing sites, searching for books that give some sort of nod to servant leadership so I can see what is being said on the topic. When I am able to strike up a conversation about it with someone, one question is almost always posed by the person no matter if they have heard of servant leadership before or not. It usually goes something like "Servant leadership, oh you mean like priests, nuns, and other religious type leaders right?"
I guess my thirsty, academically inclined brain never put those two things together because that question never entered my mind when I was signing up for my master's concentration courses. I was an active duty service member at the time, though, and my brain was to used to that version of serving, and leading, that was the connection I made rather than religious leaders. It was not until I came across Tyler Reagin's The Life-Giving Leader: Learning to lead from your truest self that I saw how it applies to both military and faith-based leadership and to many more leadership realms. You may be wondering "Sarah, the title is 'life-giving leader' not servant leader so where are we going with this?" Ok, yes the wording is not the same but these styles of leadership stem from the same place - humility. Reading this book will help you pin point several servant leader concepts so do not skip it if you are not a super faithful person just to avoid the God talk. Read it with your mind's eye seeking the leadership parallels including the root of humility in Chapter 8.
"Choosing to put others before yourself is life-giving leadership" pg. 25. Servant leadership is all about the progress of the people towards their best selves and not about the leader's progress towards fame, fortune, and history books. They give others their best so those people can thrive.
Humility "is the additional influence to your leadership legacy that just might make the largest impact" pg. 94. Reagin uses an example about professional athletes who are humble verses those who are not. We have all seen those interviews with athletes who highlight themselves and that is it...and yet they are members of teams but you would never know it. Compare that person with the likes of say Drew Brees (yes I am a huge Saints fan and no I'm not ready to talk about the Vikings' game yet). His humility is arguably one of the traits that has given him his staying power in a hugely competitive profession. Coaches love to coach him, fellow players love to play along side him, and the whole city of New Orleans rallies behind him every year. In a sport dominated by personnel changes, he has lead his team for 13 years all from a place of humility and has dominated the record books while doing it.
A common misconception about being a humble leader is that YOU will never achieve anything or receive any recognition. "Choosing to be humble doesn't prevent you from achieving or from being successful" pg. 95. The world recently lost a prominent servant leader when Herb Keller, co-founder of Southwest Airlines, passed away at the age of 87. Keller's estimated net worth was $2.5 billion. I would say he was pretty successful wouldn't you agree? Keller and King, the other co-founder, built Southwest on the notion that "if you get your passengers to their destinations when they want to get there, on time, at the lowest possible fares, and make darn sure they have a good time doing it, people will fly your airline" (southwest.com). It was always about the people, not the money, and their current mission statement reflects it: "The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit."
Life-giving/Servant leaders like these examples do not just happen to have the skills and mindset it takes to serve while leading others. They choose it intentionally and they work at it constantly starting, again, with humility. "Leaders who develop [humility] are intentional about putting other people first. They live for something bigger than themselves" pg. 97. This is probably why servant leadership sounded like such a familiar concept to me from a military-mindset. Everyday military service members put on a uniform they are choosing to humbly put the defense of the freedom, and lives, of others before their own. They intentionally choose to live for a cause bigger than themselves. Sure there are people among the service members who do not subscribe to this school of thought and they really are in it for the fame, glory, medals, and ribbons but they are the exceptions.
Developing humility is simple in theory. You first develop an attitude of gratefulness and humility will follow. Practice finding someone, or something, to thank for each of your successes and achievements. When you give a tip, donate money at a bake sale, or give to your alma mater do not look at it as an obligation or set back. Be grateful for the opportunity to improve the life of the recipient; be thankful that you were able to put others before yourself. Cultivating this mindset, and ultimately humility, will be hard at times. It will not come naturally at first because on some level we all want the spot light. But by humbly giving that spot light to those you lead, you will begin to measure your success and achievement by their growth and happiness. You will be choosing to put something, and someone, before yourself. "When you put something that's bigger than yourself ahead of yourself you are choosing humility and...[humility] is the additional influence to your leadership legacy that just might make the largest impact" pg. 94.
Reagin has so much more to say on being a servant/life-giving leader! I could not keep my comments to just one post so come on back Jan 31st for more. Until then, tell me what you think about the book, this post, examples of servant leaders in your life - all of it. Drop a comment below, send me an email, or get at me on my socials. I love hearing from you no matter what medium. Happy reading!