“The best test (of a servant leader) and difficult to administer, is: ‘Do those served grow as persons; do they while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely to become servants?’” – Robert Greenleaf
This post is the final installment in a blog series on Servant Leadership. Greenleaf’s hypothesis is that this particular servant leader characteristic is both a “best test” and “difficult to administer.” Let’s take a closer look.
To be a “best test” of any outcome is quite a feat. The test criteria include observable behaviors such as: growing as persons, becoming healthier, wiser, freer, and gaining autonomy. But perhaps the most desired outcome (at least for perpetuating the framework) is observing those served becoming servants. In other words, you know you are being successful as a servant leader when you witness those you have served beginning to serve others. I’m not just talking about replicating it—I’m talking about owning it, then watching the cycle repeat itself until the organization embraces a servant leadership culture.
Difficult to Administer
To my knowledge, Greenleaf did not claim any aspect of servant leadership as easy. Serving others may open the door to attempting to take advantage of someone or engaging in any number of unethical behaviors. A servant leader may do so in name only. The reality may be that he or she simply uses servant leadership as ruse for personal advantage versus genuine life and organizational change. There will always be those who talk a good game, but that characteristic does not appear in Greenleaf’s framework, nor will it ever describe an effective servant leader.
The truth is: there is no leadership framework that fully accounts for the most unpredictable element of all—us.
With that said, servant leadership is:
Worth the Effort
Servant leaders believe that people have intrinsic value beyond their noticeable contributions as employees. In essence, those who work for servant leaders approach their work with confidence because they know that they are far more than commodities. It may sound corny, but they love their work because they know they are loved. Don’t believe me? Then take it from someone who knew a thing or two about servant leadership.
“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve… You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Want your people to love what they do? Then serve them, which is loving them, which prepares them to serve, which prepares them to love; and before you know it, an entire generation is in a better place. And that may truly be the greatest legacy you as a leader could possibly ever leave.