Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.
Robert K. Greenleaf coined the term servant leadership, saying that it “begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” And although Greenleaf coined the term, Jesus coined the concept and explained it to his glory-seeking disciples:
Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. Jesus told them, ‘In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called “friends of the people.” But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.’
—Luke 22: 24-26
Jesus did not measure greatness by the number of people who served him but by the number of people he served.
The effectiveness of a servant leader is not measured by rank or position, rather it’s measured by the legacy the leader leaves behind. All leaders should ask themselves, “Does my leadership cause personal and professional growth in others?”
Servant leaders submit themselves to others voluntarily and not under compulsion. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, cast out demons, and chastised the Pharisees when he deemed necessary. He was a strong leader. Servant leaders give selflessly without expecting anything in return.
Servant leaders seek to know the following of those they lead: What are your aspirations? What are your key motivations? How can I help you get from here to there? Because servant leadership embraces self-giving without self-glory, it is an ideal leadership style. Let’s look at a few of the benefits and cautions of this style.
Benefits of Servant Leadership
It’s Not About Just One Person: Many leaders focus on their best interests rather than on the needs of the many. However, servant leaders make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization as a whole rather than just one or two people.
It Improves the Work Culture: Many of us have worked for different companies during our careers, and we can attest that some work cultures are more pleasing than others. When the person at the top is a servant leader, it affects the atmosphere and the people who work there in a positive manner.
It Promotes Customer Retention: Customers often do not know what’s going on behind the scenes in an organization, but they can feel the effects of poor leadership. When employees are unhappy, they pass that on to the customers they serve. In the same way, when employees are happy and love what they do, customers naturally want to do business with them.
It Promotes Innovation: Nothing is more disheartening than to feel that your ideas don’t count. For this reason, servant leaders keep an open mind when their subordinates suggest new ways of doing things. They don’t agree just for the sake of agreeing, but they genuinely consider and embrace those things that would enhance the organization as a whole.
It Keeps the Ego in Check: In a traditional leadership role, the person in charge makes all the decisions, communicates what needs to be done, and then takes credit for the completed project. On the other hand, servant leaders give credit where credit is due to help others reach higher standards of performance.
Whenever you feel like elevating yourself, remember the example of Jesus. Philippians 2:6-7 tells us that Jesus was “in very nature God, [yet] 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.” His mission was not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).