Servant Leadership — An Oxymoron?

“Anybody could lead perfect people – if there were any”

“Not much happens without a dream. And for something great to happen, there must be a great dream. Behind every great achievement is a dreamer of great dreams. Much more than a dreamer is required to bring it to reality; but the dream must be there first.”

– Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership


The tension is thick enough that the old cliché seems true – you could cut it with a knife. And the tension is seemingly everywhere. We are arguing over politics, labor vs. management, football concussions… the list is long and keeps growing.

It’s time for some reminders from a true classic. If there is a shortage of leadership, what should that leadership be? What is leadership?

I recently revisited Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness by Robert Greenleaf. It is a true classic – he coined the phrase “Servant Leadership”. The book came out in 1977, though his thoughts were formed long before that. Here are some key excerpts:

  • The servant leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types.
  • The best test is: do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?
  • The servant always accepts and empathizes, never rejects. The servant as leader always empathizes, always accepts the person but sometimes refuses to accept some of the person’s effort or performance as good enough.
  • Acceptance of the person requires a tolerance of imperfection. Anybody could lead perfect people if there were any. It is part of the enigma of human nature that the “typical” person “immature, stumbling, inept, lazy” is capable of great dedication and heroism if wisely led.
  • We are in dire need of pacesetters, at least one big one in each field.

What if every person in a leadership position actually was “servant first”? What if their primary concern was that the people they lead “grow as persons”? I think this would make for a little better world, don’t you think?

Randy Mayeux

Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: