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Servant Leadership

by Gloria Pace King

February 6,2007

We are all destined for something great. However, it’s only manifested when we surrender ourselves to a cause much greater than who we are. For as long as I can remember, being of service to others is what I felt I was destined to do. A servant leader is who I am. A servant leader is who I think each of us should strive to be. Serving many years as a nurse, working in the not-for-profit world in other capacities, and now serving in a leadership role for a health and human organization, I witness each and every day the importance of servant leadership.

In those rare moments when the phones are not ringing, when there are no questions that demand my immediate attention, and the entire world is quiet, I often reflect on what it means to be a leader. The realization that I am responsible, not only for the well being of a company, but for developing human potential is at times quite overwhelming. These factors often force me to think about what leadership really means and how fit I am for it.

In my own growth, I have embraced the theory that true leadership means being a servant. It begins by wanting to serve first. Other people’s needs and priorities become my top concern. The “servant leader” gets things done by finding the needs of others and filling them. In the world of psychology, The Law of Psychological Reciprocity states, “human beings are instinctively impelled to return to others the feelings and emotions they give us.” I believe that there is truth to this theory. I believe that each of us has the capability to impact the thoughts, deeds and actions of those around us.

I know that many individuals wonder how practical is “servant leadership” in times of high stress and in an environment of turbulent and continuous change. Well, I believe that there are three key things that we all can do to provide “servant leadership.” These three things are to listen, to be aware, and to heal. Listening is key to achieving results with anything or anyone. It involves seeking to clearly understand what others are saying and how they are feeling. Awareness is being in tune with yourself, as well as those around you and honestly attempting to understand who you are becoming. Finally, there is healing. Healing is the activity of reframing negative circumstances into positive expectations. We each have the power to heal.

Robert K. Greenleaf wrote a book entitled Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. In this book he shares with the reader his viewpoints of what it means to be a servant leader and why servant leadership is so important. This is an amazing book. Part of what makes the book so great is Greenleaf’s experiences with other people, either by meeting them or reading about them and the impact that they have made on his life. One particular experience that Greenleaf gives note to is a television interview with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Carl Stern of NBC conducted this interview. Before concluding his interview, Carl Stern asked Rabbi Henschel, what I consider to be one of the most powerful and thought provoking questions you could ever ask someone. He asked him, “What message have you for young people?’ Rabbi Henschel’s response was captivating. He responded by saying: “I would say: Let them remember that there is a meaning beyond absurdity. Let them be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power, and that we can – every one – do our share to redeem the world in spite of all absurdities and all frustrations and all disappointments. And above all, remember that the meaning of life is to build a life as if it were a work of art.”

I too believe that the meaning of life is to build a life. It is what we are all destined to do. We are servant leaders placed in our communities, religious institutions, businesses, governments, and schools to help build the lives of others. It’s not until we begin to live by Rabbi Henschel’s thought that we will see lasting and effective change in our community.

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