Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Merits of Service Leadership

Today I spent the morning at the District 11 Toastmasters Leadership Institute, along with some of my fellow members of the Chief Anderson Toastmasters chapter. For the second session, I attended a fascinating presentation (given by Jennifer Pillion-Walker) which is relevant to my 40 Days of Giving project:

Service Leadership

For those with only a passing familiarity with Toastmasters International (as I had until a few months back), it's most likely known as a public speaking organization. And it's true that the major component of what takes place within the organization - public speaking and the evaluation of those speaking so that members can grow in their abilities.

However, in addition to this Communication track, Toastmasters also features a Leadership track. Now, this is clever on a number of levels ... the most obvious being that it gives members a tangible benefit for taking leadership positions within the organization. To be awarded with the highest level within the organization - Distinguished Toastmaster - you must commit a not-insignificant amount of time to leadership activities.

The structure of the leadership taught and exercised in Toastmasters is, therefore, leadership through serving others. The alternative is an authoritarian leadership style, which doesn't really tend to work in a situation where people have choice about participating. (It can seem to work, at times, if people have - or feel they have - no options. But the truth is, people always have options, so it really never works.)

As Pillion-Walker points out, this is service leadership, a term coined by Robert K. Greenleaf, after whom the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership in Westfield, IN, is named. He, of course, didn't come up with the concept - Lao Tzu was citing this concept in the 4th century B.C. and a few hundred years later Jesus also had a thing or two to say about it. In more recent times, leadership experts Ken Blanchard, Peter Drucker, and Stephen Covey have taken up the cause.

The servant-leader is servant first... Becoming a servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first... The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant first to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and the most difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? - Robert K. Greenleaf

The best (rulers) are those whose existence is (merely) known by the people.
The next best are those who are loved and praised.
The next are those who are feared.
And the next are those who are despised.
It is only when one does not have enough faith in others that others will have no faith in him.
(The great rulers) value their words highly.
They accomplish their task; they complete their work.
Nevertheless their people say that they simply follow Nature. - The Way of Lao Tzu (Tao-te ching)

But Jesus called to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. - Matthew 20:25-28 (also essentially the same quote from Mark 10:42-45)

Leadership is lifting a person's vision to high sights, the raising of a person's performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations. - Peter F. Drucker

Leadership ... is not something you do to people; it's something you do with people! - Leadership & The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. - John Quincy Adams

A footnote in my Tao Te Ching says that "best" can be translated as the "highest type" ... would that we all would choose to be the "highest type" of person, let alone the highest type of leader, that we could be.

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