Are You 21st Century Servant Leadership Literate? | Developing 21st Century Glocal Servant Leadership.

Are You 21st Century Servant Leadership Literate?

Bruce Nixon, in a 2004 article entitled “Creating a Cultural Revolution in Your Workplace to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century” defined the situation we are at the beginning of the 21st century by saying:

We are in the midst of a transformation than can only compare with the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. We call it globalization. It affects every aspect of our lives – social, political, cultural, spiritual, and ecological. It is transforming institutions of every kind including community, family, and our individual lifestyles. It is the century we are going to need “servant leaders”, more than ever before (p.1).

Ronald Claiborne in a 2010 article “Benefits of practicing servant leadership” quotes Karakas (2007) as saying”

“Leadership in the 21st century must deal with problems of global uncertainty, chaos, innovation, change, dynamism, flux, speed, interconnectedness, and complexity therefore, the benefits of practicing servant leadership becomes a critical success factor in any business.”

Karakas goes on to state in Claiborne’s article that “All leaders in the 21st century need to be social artists, spiritual visionaries, and cultural innovators” (p.1).

It is insightful that Jeff Iorg, in his book “The Character of Leadership, states in describing servant leadership, “Servant leadership is, in its essence, an attitude. Servant leadership is defined more by who you are than by what you do” (p.117), and yet our talk must match walk in order to be a true servant leader. How is this essence and attitude lived out for the world to see.

Who hasn’t been watching the nation of Egypt in the world news over the past weeks/months as we have seen the resignation of President Mubarak, and the call for a more democratic nation? In an article by Saba Mahmood, in the Jadaliyya, entitled “The Architects of the Egyptian Uprising and the Challenges Ahead”, one of the leading architects of change is listed as Hossam Hamalawy, a prominent Egyptian blogger and consummate ethnographer of the Egyptian street” (p.2). The other leader to gain worldwide attention during Egypt’s pro-democracy uprising, as reported in IslamiCity, The woman behind Egypt’s revolution” is twenty-six year old Asmaa Mahfouz, who graduated in 2008 from the business school of the American University of Cairo (p.1).

Servant leadership takes many forms, some outside corporate boardroom and office. Whether it is being a servant leader attempting to usher in change in a nation, or whether it is being a servant leader in our particular vocation, as a fellow human being, becoming a servant leader is a process that happens over a lifetime. It involves for many of us becoming a work in process as we continue to read, study, and slowly implement change into our lives, developing that servant leadership perspective.

Alvin Toffler, in his book The Third Wave, makes this thought provoking statement:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn” (Starke, Christ-Based Leadership, 2005, p.11)

Dr. Bruce Winston, Dean of the School of Global Leadership and Entrepreneurship  program at Regent University, has noted in his book (Be A Leader for God’s Sake , 2002), the following observations relative to servant leadership:

Employees and followers want leaders who are honest, open, and who keep the   organization moving in a positive direction during both calm and stormy seas.       Employees and followers want leaders who are “others-centered.” Employees and followers want leaders who can bring out the best qualities in them. Beyond   this, leaders must also love all the organization’s stakeholders from customers, vendors, regulators, shareholders, members, as well as contributors (p.9).

In his book, Dr. Winston refers to Max DePree’s book Leadership Jazz, and shares an excerpt from his book, providing a wonderful and colorful description of the employer/employee exchanges that happen in servant leadership:

A Jazz band is an expression of servant leadership. The leader of a jazz band has the beautiful opportunity to draw the best out of the other musicians. We have much to learn from jazz-band leaders. For jazz, like leadership, combines the unpredictability of the future with the gifts of individuals (p.10).

Kouzes and Posner (The Truth About Leadership, 2010), in their chapter Leadership is an Affair of the Heart, state, “Exemplary leaders interact in ways that make others feel more confident and capable, elevating people to a higher plane,” which is what servant leadership is all about. They quote Gary Strack, former CEO of a regional health care system in Florida, who states that the purpose of leadership is to create a legacy and not a legend, going on to say:

I constantly remind myself that my name is not on the organization. I think all          leaders, including myself, need to be reminded of that and that we are just in our       positions as stewards of our people and organizations which have been entrusted to us (p.139).

So how can we evaluate our leadership style and determine if we are servant leaders putting others needs ahead of ours, being good stewards of our followers and our resources? Calvin Miller (The Empowered Leader: 10 Keys to Servant Leadership, 1995) provides Five Evidences of Power Abuse:

  • Giving up those disciplines, we still demand of underlings.
  • Believing that others owe us whatever use we can make of them.
  • Trying to fix things up rather than make things right.
  • Closing our minds to every suggestion that we ourselves could be out of line.
  • Believing that people in our way are expendable.

In The Steward Leader: Transforming People, Organizations and Communities, R. Scott Rodin (2010) quotes leadership expert Max DePree’s saying, “The first responsibility of the leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the leader is a servant.” In his book, he relates the story told by Robert Greenleaf about a king who asked Confucius what to do about the large number of thieves in his country. Confucius replied, “If you, sir, were not covetous, although you should reward them to do it, they would not steal.” Greenleaf goes on to say:

This advice places an enormous burden on those who are favored by the rules, and it established how old in the notion that the servant views any problem in the world as in here, inside himself, and not out there. And, if a flaw in the world is to be remedied, to the servant the process of change starts in here, in the servant, and not out there (pp. 17-18).

Perhaps we would be wise to remember this quote from Robert Greenleaf found in The International Journal of Servant-Leadership:

The true test of a servant leader is this: Do those around the servant-leader become wiser, freer, more autonomous, healthier, and better able themselves to become servants? Will the least privileged of society be benefited or at least not further deprived? (2007, opening page in book).

Dr. Corné Bekker, associate professor for the School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship, Regent University, in his paper Prophet and Servant: Locating Robert K. Greenleaf’s Counter-Spirituality of Servant Leadership, (2010), states that for Greenleaf, servant leaders are characterized by:

  • Being visionaries
  • Having high ethical standards
  • Doing things with excellence
  • Being persuasive
  • Rational thinking
  • Being prophetic [futuristic] imaginative
  • Ordinariness
  • Comfortable with paradox
  • Being a good listener
  • Accomplishing transformative actions

Dr. Bekker, noting that Greenleaf himself was a religious man, and described servant leaders leading as prophets by (a) healing, (b) persuading, (c) creating systems of thinking, (d) opening alternative avenues for work, (e) serving, (f) inspiring, (g) facilitating individual and societal transformation, (h) empowering followers, (i) uniting leaders and followers, (j) building bridges between organizations and communities, and (k) by ushering in a new era of servant leadership. The intended outcome of these prophetic servant leaders is to re-imagine and reshape the social domain of leaders and organizations (p.10).

I would refer you to pages 11-12; table two in Dr. Bekker’s paper, for additional descriptions of the nature and functions of a servant leader as prophet by Greenleaf.

Dr. Bekker’s paper and concluding thoughts are extremely appropriate here at the close of this paper. Referring to Greenleaf, he states that Greenleaf’s servant leader is a person who “Seeks to bridge the two opposing worlds of self-interested commerce and the altruistic philosophies of public service and social transformation. Greenleaf proposed that the leader is a prophet that facilitates the formation of a new vision that unites and transforms (both individually and societal). He imagined a world marked by service, equality, unity, and new possibilities of radical altruism (p.12).

Blackaby and Blackaby (2006), remind us servant leaders:

  • Delegate
  • Give people freedom to fail
  • Recognize the success of others
  • Give encouragement and support (Spiritual Leadership, pp.110-111).

Lee Strobel, a former award-winning journalist at the Chicago Tribune, noted in a section in his book What Would Jesus Say: to Mother Teresa, an observation by Warren Wiersbe from his book On Being a Servant of God, the distinction between servants who are manufacturers, and those who are distributors, noting:

Some people manufacture there compassion for the needy out of whatever is         motivating them. For instance, maybe they’re feeling guilty over their own influence. Perhaps they pity the poor or altruistically sense they should give something back to the world. Maybe they have a neurotic drive to put the needs of others before their own in order to make themselves feel worthwhile. Whatever the source, they have to create their compassion and, sooner or later, it’s probably going to run out.

However, Mother Teresa isn’t primarily a manufacturer but a distributor, as she      empties herself serving others (1994, pp.64-65).

Jeff Iorg, in his book The Characteristic of Leadership: Nine Qualities that Define Great Leaders, says, “Leaders should sacrifice themselves, care for people, and be personally involved with their followers” (p.116). He addresses the issues of motives, a good way to self examine ourselves to see if we indeed are leading from a servant leaders heart by providing some choices we can make to make sure we are on track:

  • Choose to do a dirty job – like cleaning toilets, changing diapers, and do it without any fanfare or expectation of appreciation.
  • Choose to serve anonymously – doing this without recognition or reward helps to purify motives.
  • Choose to serve secretly – do something for someone else, but do not reveal your personal involvement, let it remain anonymous.
  • Choose to serve an enemy – help them personally and quietly in their time of need.
  • Choose to make someone else successful – remember “it is not all about you” and assisting someone else with their accomplishments, helping them succeed is a great way to purify your motives (pp.131-136).

Whether you believe Jesus at best was just a good man who lived and died on planet earth some 2000 years ago, read the story found in the Bible’s Gospel of John 13.1-17. It is the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. This is what being a servant leader is about. Would any of us as an organizational leader be humble enough to wash someone’s feet if that is what it would take to make him or her committed followers? Who among us is the next Mother Teresa?


Bekker, C. J. (2010). Prophet and Servant: Locating Robert K. Greenleaf’s Counter-        Spirituality of Servant Leadership. Retrieved February 19, 2011 from   

Blackaby, H. T., & Blackaby, R. (2006). Spiritual Leadership. Nashville, TN: B & H.

Claiborne, R. (2010). Benefits of practicing servant leadership. Helium, Inc. Retrieved      February 11, 2011, from            practicing-servant-

Iorg, J. (2007). The Character of Leadership: Nine Qualities that Define Great Leaders. Nashville, TN: B & H.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2010). The Truth About Leadership. San Francisco, CA:   JOSSEY-BASS.

Mahmood, S. (2011). The Architects of the Egyptian Uprising and the Challenges             Ahead. Jadaliyya. Retrieved February 21, 2011, from

Miller, C. (1995). The Empowered Leader: 10 Keys to Servant Leadership. Nashville,       TN: B & H.

Rodin, R. S. (2010). The Steward Leader: Transforming People, Organizations and

Communities. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Spears, L. (ed.). (2007). The International Journal of Servant-Leadership. Vol. 3.    Gonzaga University.

Stark, D. (2005). Christ-Based Leadership. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House.

Strobel, L. (1994). What Would Jesus Say. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

The woman behind Egypt’s revolution. (2011). IslamiCity Articles. Retrieved February      21, 2011, from      450

Winston, B. (2002). Be A Leader for God’s Sake. Virginia Beach, VA: School of     Leadership Studies. Regent University.

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