Monday, January 31, 2011

During a sermon a pastor friend of mine preached not long ago, he made a statement essentially saying that all one has to do to see a leader is to look for a servant. I have confronted and contemplated that saying and the implications surrounding it before... and I probably will again. It seems that many people, especially in Christian circles, have ascribed to some theory of servant leadership and consequently to the broader human relations foundations upon which scholars and others have built servant leadership and similar types of theories. Several have also suggested that they base such beliefs primarily on their interpretation of Mark 9:33-37, a passage that loosely states that those who would be greatest must be servants. Closer inspection suggests that these may have misinterpreted that passage since, "… God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him" (Acts 10:34b-35, NASB). Furthermore, the word for great in the Greek (ìÝãáò) has no relationship to the word for lead or leadership (åkóåíÝãêwò). Additionally, the observations that: (a) some people have placed service squarely into their descriptions of correct ways to lead, and (b) those descriptions have subsequently influenced their traditions, which now also define leadership as service and vice versa, have not accounted for the other observations that: (a) different people define service in different ways, and (b) what appears as a service to some might actually present as a disservice to others. Additionally, since "… faith, if it has no works, is dead…," (James 2:17b, NASB), then the suggestion that one had the correct motives or behavioral intentions would seem to provide little justification for the almost necessarily confounded results.

Another problem seems to emerge when defining leadership as service. This problem appears to relate to most all of the traits listed in all the leadership theories presented over the last century. The problem: organizations have routinely desired the exhibition of what theorists have called leadership traits from all members, not just leaders. For example, have organizations only desired for leaders to serve? Have they not also desired for followers and peers to serve, as well? In a study designed to identify major leadership traits and attributes, Winston and Patterson (2006) cited over 90 leadership variables they gleaned from a survey of over 150 articles and books on leadership (they actually found that the day they looked, a popular online database listed over 26,000 articles regarding leadership). Some of these variables included selecting; equipping; training; influencing; focusing others on the mission and objectives, causing others to expend spiritual, emotional, and physical energy, both willingly and enthusiastically; and using critical thinking skills, insight, intuition, persuasive rhetoric, and interpersonal communications. Most every organization would arguably describe these and most of the other attributes cited as competencies they desire in leaders. I posit, however, that it also appears likely that those same organizations would desire for their followers to exhibit these attributes, as well. Which organizations would not want followers to use critical thinking or superior communication skills when they confront challenging situations? Which organizations would not desire for their followers to understand and to buy into their missions and objectives, so well that those followers, independent of any leader inputs, motivate each other to provide discretionary effort to achieve tasks, objectives, and goals? Some theorists might arguably call that level of follower input a type of self-leadership or possibly a form of emergent leadership, but can they have it both ways? To me, it seems somewhat disingenuous to define leadership only in terms of functional position, while further suggesting that anyone in any position throughout an organization can exercise leadership, based on situational contingencies.

Winston, B., & Patterson, K. (2006). An Integrative Definition of Leadership. International Journal of Leadership Studies, 1(2), Article 1. Retrieved July 16, 2008 from



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