By Saki T Nikodemus
The Servant Leader
SERVANT leadership is a concept that is hardly understood, and therefore less appreciated by the 21st century leader. Our contemporary leadership erroneously confuses and equates a “servant” to a “slave”. These two are not the same – a servant is not a slave.
My own definition of a servant is someone who voluntarily, freely, intentionally, purposely and deliberately “chooses” to render a service without necessarily expecting to be rewarded for the service rendered. In addition, a servant is someone who thinks about the needs of others first, before thinking of his/her own needs.
A slave in my understanding is someone who is stripped off his/her rights as a human being, and “forced” to render a service, often against his/her will. A slave has no joy or pleasure in providing a service, while a servant derives his/her satisfaction from serving the world of mankind.
Our experience with oppression and colonialism as developing nations has greatly skewed our understanding of the concept of servant leadership.
Perhaps the first question that comes to our minds is, “how could one be a leader and a servant at the same time”? And it almost sounds like a contradiction. But I want to suggest that in the context of true leadership, being a servant is not a derogatory or demeaning concept.
In fact, from a true leadership standpoint, you can never become a great leader, unless you are a true servant first. It must be understood that this concept of servant leadership is not something new or unique to our contemporary leadership. However, the ultimate leader, Jesus Christ, introduced this concept first.
One of His students, Matthew, recorded His statement in this manner, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be last – 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” – Matthew 20:26-28.
I believe this great leader of all times laid down a concept that we cannot afford to ignore as leaders of today. The above-quoted statement contains the greatest secret of true leadership, as well as the process necessary for becoming a genuine leader. It is vitally important that we understand that true leadership has its highest expression in service. If it is your aspiration to become great in your leadership, then you will have to decide to become a true servant first, as defined above. Therefore, the secret to greatness as a leader is in serving everyone else.
I am convinced the world could have been a much friendlier and safer place today, if we had more servant leaders. Africa could have been a more developed place, if we had more servant leaders on this great continent.
Namibia could have been a more progressed nation, if we had more servant leaders. If perhaps you have been wondering why a continent blessed with so many resources, could have so many hungry faces, then the answer is quite simple – Africa lacks servant leadership.
Dr William F Kumuyi once made this profound statement, “Despite the damage colonialism has done to Africa’s capacity for holistic development, the continent is still endowed with enough development potentials that servant leaders with native wisdom may process and deploy to launch Africa into the collective wealth orbit. Africa’s misery isn’t only a function of colonial hang-ups, but also the upshot of flawed leadership”
I want to stress with all sincerity that what will salvage Africa, as a continent, from its ever-deepening crisis, is servant leadership, nothing less and nothing more. We need leaders – in all arena of life, who have a heart for serving others. Leaders who first will think about the needs of others, and perhaps not just think about their needs, but will also do something about it.
The opposite of servant leadership is self-serving leadership. And that is no leadership at all, because any leadership that is preoccupied with its own needs only, is fast on its way to the garbage heap of life. Relating to this truth, Martin Luther King Jr once remarked, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity”.
To understand this principle as a leader, you must answer the following question, “What do I serve to others?” As a leader, you must seek to serve your gifts, talents and abilities to others to the maximum extent that you can.
I believe that if you discover your unique gift or special talent and commit to serving it to the world of mankind, then your significance will cause people to seek you out as a leader. You will become an influence through exercising your gift, rather than through manipulation. The more you become a person whose gift is valued, the greater your influence will be as a leader.
True leadership means discovering and serving yourself to the world. In essence, it is crucial that we note that all true leaders are simply glorified servants. Therefore genuine leadership is not measured by how many people serve you as the leader, but by how many people you serve.
We need to be bold and frank enough to ask ourselves as leaders, “How many people am I really serving to the maximum extent of my ability? This is very important, because the greater your service, the greater your value to others, and the greater your leadership. I want to simultaneously encourage and admonish you not to seek greatness, but to serve your way to leadership. It was Dr Myles Munroe who stated, “The shortest distance to leadership is service”.
My objective for this article was simply to introduce rather some basic thoughts regarding servant leadership. I trust that it has provided some stimulus that will enable you to look at servant leadership as the key to achieving greatness in true leadership. Because I am strongly convinced that true leadership, really, is not about reducing people to one’s service, but giving oneself in service to others. That is the spirit of true leadership.
In my next article we will look at the characteristics of servant leadership. In other words, how do you become a servant leader and what are the benefits of servant leadership?