M28 Meditation: What is Servant Leadership?
A Reflection by Deacon Alex Barbieri
Last month, we reflected on the verses that make up our mission statement, Matthew 28:16-20. This September, we are diving into our core values and what the significance behind them is. Keep reading for a reflection from our own Deacon Alex Barbieri, who explains exactly what servant leadership is.
Servant Leadership, defined as a “natural feeling that one wants to serve [others first]. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” This definition was coined in 1970 by corporate executive Robert Greenleaf. Today it is primarily a concept used in the business world.
While the term has been used for around 50 years, the concept has been around for over 2,000 years. And while Mr. Greenleaf gets full credit for coming up with the term, Jesus gets full credit for coming up with the idea and implementing it:
“Jesus summoned them and said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” Mark 10: 43-45.
The Gospel accounts are full of quotes, parables, and examples of servant leadership from Jesus. From Christ’s best parable on the subject in the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) to the best example of servant leadership in all of scripture: Jesus dying so that we may all live.
Servant Leadership doesn’t just make for a great talking point in homilies and for fodder for Bible Studies. There are proven advantages behind the concept. The “secret” behind servant leadership is when the leader makes sure that others’ highest priority needs are being served first, the result is that those served begin to grow as persons. According to Greenleaf, while being served, they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to grow as servant leaders.
Rather than traditional leadership, which focuses on the accumulation of power by a few, the servant leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. This was the practice of Christ 2,000 years ago beginning with 12 apostles and has grown to over a billion Catholics today. For St. Francis, we believe so much in the idea of servant leadership that we made it our first Core Value in our Strategic Plan.