Leadership is often associated with authority, decision-making power, and the ability to command others. However, there’s a leadership style that flips this traditional perspective on its head—servant-leadership.
In this blog post, we’ll delve into the concept of servant-leadership and explore a biblical perspective of how it can transform any society or work environment.
What Is Servant-Leadership?
Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy that emphasizes serving others as the primary objective of leadership. As Christians, the lifestyle, conducts, and practices of Jesus are the set standards for anyone who hopes to take on an overseeing role in any sphere of life.
What the servant-leader should be, individually as a person, and how he should serve were part of Jesus’ core teachings that Christians worldwide imbibe in their worldview. SERVICE is the keyword.
We can point to scriptures such as Matthew 20:26-28 which says:
“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (NIV)
These were the words of Jesus when he was washing the feet of his disciples and one of them retorted saying he should not, for He is their master. Jesus went on to tell them to do unto others as He had done to them.
Servant-Leadership is a position of sacrifice
From His words, we can see the portrayal of a great leader (the servant leader) as the one who did not come into a leadership position to enjoy the honor and wealth that comes with the office.
Rather, it must be seen as a position of compulsory service. It is a sacrificial position.
What service a servant-leader provides for his followers may differ but at the very least, it must begin with something that may ordinarily put him or her at a disadvantage. We can see Jesus washing his disciple’s feet as a good example.
A Servant-Leader sets examples for followers
It is often said that the leaders of a nation often determine the overall conduct of the citizens. While that only accounts for a bit part of the responsibility of the nation in its entirety, which is for leaders to make beneficial policies and citizens to be moral and law-abiding, Jesus reiterates the role of the leader’s own convictions. A servant leader only produces followers that will themselves be servant leaders.
In the ministry of Jesus, his style of leadership was one defined only as discipleship. For our own benefit, we can refer to it as the process of raising new leaders in the image of the model leaders.
Jesus called His followers and told them to follow Him to make them fishers of men, He did it while doing the same thing—“fishing for men.” The purpose behind Jesus’ adoption of the twelve was to shape, mould, and nurture them into the kind of person He is.
Therefore, we can say that if a leader is corrupt and his followers watch his conduct and mannerism, he doesn’t have to set up a masterclass in corruption to teach them how to do it. This is how a society of ill-will and non-committed members is born.
John 13:14-15 (NIV): “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
Seeing Jesus go to the extent He did to serve his purpose on earth was what positioned His followers to become leaders themselves after He was done on earth.
And one of the testimonies of the works of Jesus as a servant leader was that His disciples were like Him. It was evident that they were His followers. Not just in their speech and wisdom as led by the Holy Spirit but in that they were willing to die for Him.
It wasn’t also how good He was to His disciples as well but how good He was to others even those that did not believe in Him. The scriptures record that Jesus went about doing good. And His disciples went about doing the same—healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out devils etc.
So, we can begin to ask ourselves if there is such a leader amongst us or in our nation that we feel has served all his followers enough to shape their thoughts and even their passion in his likeness and frame them to become better persons themselves.
Servant-Leaders do not serve their own personal interests
The scripture we will be using to explain this is Philippians 2:3-7 (NIV), it reads:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
In the KJV version, the scripture says that “do not put your interest above the needs of others.” In Africa, we are ruled by a set of ambitious leaders whose ambition is nothing about how much good they can do for their people but how high they can climb in the political ladder.
In other words, it is often like they have a bucket list of positions they want to strive to get and they would pay anyone or kill anyone to get there. First of all, this is none of the characteristics of a servant leader. He is there to serve but not himself.
He is not there for the payroll or how much money meant for development he can siphon. It is also not an opportunity to put up acts of nepotism and install his children and wives in the political set up when he should be raising other leaders in an exemplary manner.
It is dishonesty that is paramount in such a person who comes into office. A servant-leader must consider himself to be one with his flock and must demonstrate an acute willingness to put their interests above his own and showing them what good leadership is supposed to be.
1 Peter 5:2-3 (NIV):
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
This is an attempt to emphasize the importance of humility, selflessness, and a willingness to serve others, which are key principles of servant leadership. They encourage leaders to prioritize the well-being and service of those they lead rather than seeking personal gain or power.
Leadership is less of an opportunity to lay hold of power, rather it is the grace to be stewards of their followers.
Servant leaders do not need offices
It is not at the point of election that one becomes a servant leader. Rather, everything is developed over time. This means that both office holders and their followers can take on the role of servant leaders as individuals in how they conduct themselves.
This is what sponsors the development of the society as a whole. It can start with being an active listener to the plight, concerns and aspirations of others—friends, families, and strangers. It is important that anyone who must be a leader in any office must have developed the ability to empathize and listen to followers long before he ever get into such a position.
As a servant-leader, you must be capable of reflecting on your own actions and motivations, striving to align them with the needs of others. That way, when given a chance in an office, you do not get to become the same type of leader you criticize on the internet.
You can echo it to yourself that you are called to serve not because it is an obligation but because it is what you do in your daily life. You are already a steward, not that you are just striving to become one.
It is the greatest form of evangelism that exists. Servant-leaders often experience higher levels of employee loyalty and retention, as followers appreciate the care and attention they receive.
Key notes for the average servant leader
Lead by Example: Model the behavior you want to see in your team. Be an active listener, show empathy, and prioritize others’ needs.
Build Trust: Trust is the foundation of servant leadership. Consistently demonstrate your commitment to your team’s well-being to build and maintain trust.
Foster Open Communication: Create an environment where team members feel safe sharing their thoughts and concerns.
Provide Growth Opportunities: Invest in the professional and personal development of your team members. Help them achieve their goals.
Recognize and Celebrate Achievements: Acknowledge and celebrate the successes and contributions of your team members.
Adapt and Evolve: Servant-leadership is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Be flexible and adapt your leadership style to the specific needs of your team.
Servant-leadership is a powerful and transformative approach to leadership that can only be done the right way, which is the way of Christ. You can create a positive and productive environment around you everywhere you find yourself.
So, embrace the principles of servant-leadership and get in a position of service needs first—watch how it transforms not just the life of others you meet in your journey but yours as well.