In a modern context, the term “servant leader” is loaded with misconceptions, prejudices and connotations that might perplex anyone. What exactly is a servant leader? Definitions abound, but one particularly valuable definition has been provided by Skip Prichard, who once said that servant leaders lead with others in mind. According to Robert E. Greenleaf, a servant-leader should first and foremost be considered a servant. “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first,” he writes in his essay, which was first published in 1970. As such, servant-leaders are consistently thinking of others before gradually wanting to lead them towards a better goal or future. Compared to traditional leaders who prize and congratulate themselves on delineating and applying power by sitting at the top of the social pyramid, servant leadership is dramatically different in that the servant-leader seeks to share power, putting others first and consistently seeking to promote and encourage others to become better versions of themselves.
In the political arena of the United States, I would argue that Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren can easily be viewed as a servant-leader because she was consistently refused jobs that might have promoted her own self-interests, preferring to remain in the shadows and fight for the underdog, as she likes to put it. In comparison to leaders such as Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump, for example, it would be very difficult to argue and accuse Elizabeth Warren of trying to rake in money in the political field or of stuffing her pockets with electors’ money. On the whole, she can safely be seen as a woman, politician and academic who, similar to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, seeks to promote justice and equality before thinking of her own needs. In my mind, Warren would be the ideal candidate and embodiment of what it means in today’s self-absorbed world to be a servant-leader.
Spears’ concept of the STAR model has been applauded on numerous occasions for encouraging servant-leaders to energize and motivate others to engage in risk-taking, which can be dangerous but paradoxically extremely beneficial. The STAR acronym stands for four values that are considered very important. They include support (emotional, physical and spiritual), training (basic and advanced skills), acknowledging (efforts and results), and rewarding others (with pleasure, self-esteem and team spirit). In modern work environments, employees can easily be attuned to these themes. In today’s normative work model, competition is considered the key to success. As such, employees are rarely motivated to work on the basis of work alone. By contrast, they have to be stimulated by their bosses and are trained to consistently compete and work against one another. This characteristic of modern work environments and work organizations, competition, is a key force that I would argue is utterly detrimental to the health, happiness and overall satisfaction of employees. As Spears correctly purports in the introduction to his essay simply titled “Reflections on Leadership”, employees are learning to hedge bets against one another instead of trying to work together, as a team. As such, competition is driving collaborative spirit away, making employees generally speaking mean-spirited, feisty and suspicious of their superiors and of their colleagues. I would argue that the current role model we have adopted as a work environment is hardly conducive to productive, stimulating work that makes everyone happy. Finally, employees are trained to accept condition as they are. In other words, the model of keep-your-head-down-and-don’t-ask-questions is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society. As such, I would cite competition, suspicion and mundane conditions as key themes that we need to address in modern work situations. As such, employees could do well with the STAR model, which seeks to rectify these and many other problems that are making work environments a living hell for most employees.
- Spears, Larry C. (1995). Reflections on Leadership. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Web.
- Greenleaf, Robert K. (1977). Servant Leadership. New York: Paulist Press. Web.