Should leaders love the people they lead? Conventional wisdom says, “NO! Leaders should maintain professional distance and focus on the business at hand. Success of the organization and personal advancement should be the primary concerns.” Thankfully, there is another approach. Servant leadership has been gaining credence since it was introduced by Robert Greenleaf in the 1970s, especially in the church and non-profit sectors. Today many for-profit organizations, such as those listed in the “100 Best Companies to Work For,” support the servant leadership philosophy.
Love for others is what sets servant leadership apart from other leadership approaches. In fact, servant leadership involves more than engaging in the correct set of behaviors. It requires authentic character and genuine care for your followers. As Christians we are called to practice a higher type of leadership, modeled after the ministry of Jesus and marked by love.
What does this type of love look like?
- Having a heart to serve others.
- Putting others’ best interests above your own.
- Caring about the welfare of the people working with you, and taking an interest in their personal lives.
- Promoting kindness, respect, and honesty in the workplace.
- Recognizing when others are feeling down without being told.
- Having courage to speak into other people’s lives, even when it is difficult.
- Investing in the holistic development of your followers.
Not to be mistaken with a warm, emotional feeling, servant leadership love is a moral love described by Bruce Winston as “Doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.” It can be expressed as the Platinum Rule: Do to others as they would like you to do them. In 1 Corinthians 13 the Apostle Paul discussed the supremacy of love over the greatest possible exploits. No matter what amazing leadership feats we may accomplish, without love we are nothing and we gain nothing. One of the most popular verses in the Bible, John 3:16, portrays love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…” Simply put…Love gives.
However, servant leadership is more about “being” and less about “doing.” At its best, servant leadership flows from the heart devoted to God. It is founded on a strong identity as being a child of the King. Servant leaders value what God values, and place priority on what God places priority–PEOPLE! Servant leaders view themselves as servants first rather than leaders first. They are servants and stewards rather than leaders and owners. They recognize leadership as a gift from God through which they can effectively serve others. Empowering followers and inspiring vision are expressed through love.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, servant leadership is not for the weak of heart. Rather, it takes great courage and conviction to take the posture of a servant and to love those entrusted to your care.
Leadership is influence; the foundation of influence must be love.
“Fortune: 100 Best Companies to Work For.” CNN Money. com
Bruce Winston, Be a Leader For God’s Sake. (Virginia Beach, VA: School of Leadership Studies, 2002).