Serving Self-Leadership

Leaders today have a great responsibility to be proactive and develop themselves. Those that wait for other people to develop them, who are hoping their character is going to grow just by physical proximity to other leaders, or who are waiting for others to provide them the magic skills to be successful reveal that they are perhaps not really leaders at all. This is the challenge and responsibility of self-directed leadership development.

Servant leadership values and ideas often fail to be integrated into leadership development strategies even though the idea is tossed around frequently. Today there are abundant resources to assist in our own leadership development, but one could spend days, weeks, and years consuming them and still miss the whole point.  

I propose that we as leaders need to re-think what servant leadership truly means and what it would look like to submit all of our self-leadership strategies to this over-arching orientation to power and influence.

So what is servant leadership? I’ll lean on Robert Greenleaf’s words as he writes,

“The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons?  Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?”–from “The Servant as Leader” in Servant Leadership. (13-14)

Self-directed leadership development today is usually centered around three things:

  1. Mastery –  The development of skills and competence to get results in whatever context one is in
  2. Strength/Gift Development – Finding ways and places to use and develop one’s one strengths and gifts
  3. Soul care – Combating the pressures of leadership and challenges to one’s emotional and spiritual health to have greater longevity, effectiveness, and personal satisfaction in the leadership journey (I’m including spiritual disciplines here as well)

All of these are important for our development and should be represented in your self-leadership plans, but of what benefit are they for our long-term leadership fruit if our fundamental attitude or understanding of the purpose of our leadership is unclear or off-base?

If we used the criteria of servant leadership as the greatest influence on our plans and strategies, we just may very well choose to focus on the development of different skills, different areas of maturing and character growth, and different strategies for wielding influence and power.  Instead of being tempted to chase competence and skill mastery we may find ourselves chasing trustworthiness, capacity for listening, cross-cultural awareness, or the skills of inquiry and question asking instead.  Instead of focusing primarily on adding to ourselves (skills, strengths, soul care), what would happen if we changed our focus so that we were increasing our capacity to add to other people?

We are not to be driven by skill acquisition or delusions that we must become little CEO’s of our leadership contexts that have all the answers and abilities.  Here’s the question that should drive our self-leadership development:  “Given who you are, where you are, and what you are called to do – Who do you need to become to embody and live out servant leadership (according to Greenleaf’s test above)?”  And then, “What is going to help me become that person?”

To kick-start the discussion I’ll suggest two practical ways to infuse your own personal leadership development efforts with servant leadership DNA.

  1. Include a statement of vision and values in whatever development plan you choose to use.  This is where our values and leadership orientation is expressed and it’s important to work some of this out so that your self-leadership efforts are value-driven and not just need-driven or organization-driven.
  2. Constantly think about three degrees of leadership influence – especially all those people you don’t have direct contact with all the time but that are being influenced through the group of leaders and people that are in your immediate leadership circle of influence.  This will help you think bigger than just what needs to get done RIGHT NOW, but about what needs to be deeply embedded in how people view influence and power for the sake of succeeding generations.

Servant leadership in the Scriptures and in modern leadership theory is not really about us as leaders thinking we are servants.  It is about whether those who are following us and those who cross our path are actually being empowered and served through transformational relationships.  We need to be intentional to move this direction because we have an immense capacity to deceive ourselves that we are being servant leaders all the while those under our influence are not really being served at all.

For discussion, what connections do you make when you re-think the nature and end-game of leadership development as it relates to servant leadership and leadership reproduction?

What ideas or suggestions do you have for keeping your leadership development value driven and fueled by servant-leadership?

  • Richard Lim

    Hi Brian, appreciate your sharing.

    I think there is a difference between personal development and personal leadership development. I can develop myself in all kinds of areas, and some of those may only benefit me. But I can’t develop myself in leadership area unless I have the intention of actually leading. And I can’t lead unless I know where I’m ‘going’, and have people who are ‘going there’ with me. And I won’t have people who want to ‘go there’ with me unless I have their (persons, group, organization) interest at heart.

    In either of those areas, development only happens if there’s exercise. So I can’t just read all kinds of resources and hope to be developed. I have to actually lead (and be evaluated)!

    I like Greenleaf’s ‘definition’ on Servant Leadership. It’s true that we so often think of servant leadership as simply ‘doing’ things for those we’re leading. But at the end of the day, if those we’re leading are not growing, empowered, or we’re not bringing out the best in them, then we may simply be using them to accomplish whatever it is that we want to accomplish.

    So you are right! If I just want to use people, I would focus on a certain sets of skills or competencies. But if I want to be a servant leader, then I need to develop my heart for people.

    • Brian Virtue

      Richard – I like that semantic distinction. There’s a lot we can do that is “personal development” and it may bear some fruit indirectly or even directly, but there’s an intentionality to developing ourselves to be able to serve and lead people in clear and defined ways. We may add a lot to our own person via development, but it might not have any payoff in contributing to the building of new leaders or disciples. Thanks for sharing that!

      I also liked the link to being evaluated! We often don’t have the eyes to see what the impact of what we do truly is and evaluation helps. If we are thinking first of others, we should be secure enough to welcome evaluation!

  • Jeff West

    I recently finish Crawford Loritt’s book “Leadership as an Identity” and am working through it with a staff guy I am discipling. It is EXCELLENT … the best I have read in years.

    Brian, I like what you said about “reproduction.” I think that way to often, reproduction is NOT even on the radar screen in terms of the end game in relation to leadership. Yeah we KNOW the term “spiritual multiplication” but do most emerging leaders understand what that means? Are new leaders simply skilled at managing others and getting things done rather than reproducing?

    Loritts speaks about a distortion of servant leadership in terms of how some will “serve” to get their way with minimal problems. In this context, servant leadership is simply a mask for manipulation and flies in the face of relational integrity and the “identity” of a servant. This dovetails with what Richard was saying too.

    • Brian Virtue

      Jeff – haven’t read that book, but have heard good things. One of the areas I love thinking about is the role of identity in leadership.
      In the Greenleaf book I quoted from there’s a fascinating section in which he observes that “manage” and “manipulate” both come from the same root word. There’s always some form of “manipulation” in leadership in the sense that leaders are not always leading in a purely democratic or with 100% full disclosure. He notes that difference between negative or coercive manipulation and good leadership is all about the relationship and trust in the leadership and the leadership’s posture towards the best interest of those led. That trust area comes back to the question of identity and who we are – both in what we truly desire for others and to what degree can others really trust us to keep their best interest in mind. I agree with him that if you don’t have trust you don’t have anything!
      Great thoughts Jeff!

  • Benson Hines

    “…we have an immense capacity to deceive ourselves that we are being servant leaders all the while those under our influence are not really being served at all.”

    Amen. And really, you could put a lot of things in place of “being servant leaders” and “being served”: “making disciples” … “becoming disciples”; “teaching well” … “learning”; and so on. We who minister are far better at running plays than scoring touchdowns. Sadly, we often pick “plays” only because they’re widely known “good plays” – not because we’ve actually determined that’s the play most likely to lead to points on the board.

    You hit the nail on the head: The key to this is to START with the outcomes (the “end-game”) – what you would look like as a true servant leader / what others would look like being servant-led. Then we work backwards to decide the methods (however mundane, difficult, exciting, or easy they may be) most likely to get us there.

    • Brian Barela

      We who minister are far better at running plays than scoring touchdowns. Sadly, we often pick “plays” only because they’re widely known “good plays” – not because we’ve actually determined that’s the play most likely to lead to points on the board.

      wish every campus minister would read that benson. legit.

    • Brian Virtue

      Benson, great thoughts and totally agree. Why do you think it’s the case that there is so often such little thought about the end game (both in our practical leadership and in our efforts to develop ourselves as leaders)?
      One thought I had in reading your comment was that it takes mental work and emotional investment to think about core values and strategic outcomes. I’m not sure it ultimately is more work than what people do grinding it out everyday without thinking twice, but I think maybe it’s a different kind of work that many have a mental block towards.

      What do you think?

      • Benson Hines

        That’s the million-dollar question, and I don’t really know why it’s so easy for us to ignore the end-game. I do know we’re rarely trained to start with the outcomes in mind, so some of it’s probably collective habit.

        I can look at when I fail in this, though. I know it’s easy for me to slip into “running plays” (and I’m convicted even as I type this) when I focus only on GROUPS and not also on INDIVIDUALS. I think most of us are fairly good at identifying and meeting real needs with individuals we know well and care about. We do that – almost automatically – by identifying a “Point B” and helping them get there in specific, tailored ways.

        But when I think instead only of “the college group,” for some reason it’s easier to skip that step and start with the methods. So maybe we don’t do it ’cause we don’t make it “personal enough”?

        Just pondering. I’d love to hear if you’ve got other thoughts on that.

        You’re definitely right-on about it SEEMING like more work – I couldn’t agree more. As I beg college ministers to think about this, I know many are immediately averse to the time it adds to the front-end (the planning time) – even though ultimately it may mean we spend LESS time on the project as a whole, and whether that’s the case or not, it will at least be more effective.

        I’ve been blogging on Backwards College Ministry recently, so a lot of this is on my mind. Feel free – anybody – to take a look if it’s helpful!

        • Brian Virtue

          Benson – the bottom line may be that it’s just easier and more comfortable to do what you are already doing even if it takes a whole lot more work than enter into the unknown of looking at the end game critically because it might call forth change.

          Greenleaf in that book I quoted from makes a similar argument to you. He writes that we’re used to caring for individuals, but we’re not trained or prepared to love the whole. He talks about caring for the organization as being essential for organization building. For us to see leadership reproducing in ministry and movements, there needs to be deep passion for the whole which. You’re right in that we’re not really assisted to think that way today.

          Greenleaf argues that caring for the organization (the whole) presupposes a relentless commitment to foster serving leadership at all levels. There’s a chicken and the egg dynamic I feel here with regards to what produces what result, but I’m starting to see caring for the whole and being intentional towards reproducing serving leadership at all levels (which includes self-leadership) as one and the same thing.

  • Janey Nieboer

    All you have said is true and important…but I would like to add that you can do all these things and still miss it if you don’t remember to remain in the vine…intentionally. I was stuck by the idea that if you are truly a leader, you aren’t waiting around for someone to “develop” you. It even makes more sense when I consider that God is our teacher…because of the Holy Spirit living inside of us, which is another reason to stay connected to the vine. The foundation of our servant leadership lies in our abiding in Christ. We or others can build on it through the mastery of some skill set, but without that foundation, the house will soon crumble.

    John 15:4 Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.

    • Brian Virtue

      Janey – thanks for the reflection. For those of us in ministry John 15:4 should be one of the hallmarks of our daily leadership and our plans to develop ourselves. Ministry without the true source of change and power will not be fruitful with changed lives.

      Let me ask a question here that might foster some good discussion:
      If we take this discussion out of an explicit ministry context where leadership is seen in mostly a discipleship and evangelism context, do you think it’s possible for those not filled with the Spirit or non-believers to be servant leaders? While believers have much a clearer mandate towards servant leadership – are they the only ones who can be servant leaders? Are all believers who are “in the vine” and in the power of the Spirit by nature servant leaders?

      These questions fascinate me! What do you or others in the discussion think?

  • Chelsea Morrell

    “It is about whether those who are following us and those who cross our path are actually being empowered and served through transformational relationships.” – I love this distinction. I’ll never forget when the older student coaching me in ocean city asked me if the way I was leading was teaching others how to lead. I’ll definitely be adding in servanthood to that leadership philosophy.

    How do you view skill development in light of becoming a servant-leader?

    • Brian Virtue

      Chelsea – I love that you had a leader ask you that, and a student leader too! That is phenomenal.
      To answer your question – I love skill development :) I have a variety of interests and always am curious about new things that can increase my effectiveness, productivity, or enjoyment of what I’m doing. Skill and competence is important – otherwise you won’t be in leadership very long if at all! But it has to serve an over-arching set of values (including servant leadership) if those skills are going to be put towards service rather than our personal desires. Great skill/competence and a servanthood posture are a powerful combination together. If we took either one away we wouldn’t have a servant leader. Having skill is like having power in some ways (and one source of having power) – it can be used in human affirming ways or in dehumanizing ways, to empower or to control. We need to keep developing our skill, but we need to make sure our skills are serving the right outcomes. Great question! What skill sets do you think are most important for your own leadership context?

      • Chelsea Morrell

        It really depends on the hat I’m wearing for which skill sets are needed. Am I going to disciple, lead a bible study, simply be at places, or lead a ministry team that moment?

        The most valuable skills I’ve seen are the ability to discern what the real question is (what they’re really asking as opposed to what is being said), having Scripture to back up the model/activity/article, and most of all being able to manage time (and myself) well.

  • Lindsay Yeats

    “Servant leadership in the Scriptures and in modern leadership theory is not really about us as leaders thinking we are servants. It is about whether those who are following us and those who cross our path are actually being empowered and served through transformational relationships.”

    Brian, your post definitely got me thinking. That said, could we further flesh out the above statement as it relates to end-game leadership? If we’re thinking end-game, what are some tangible ways to measure (or move toward) some of this? How might this work when leading from a distance, with minimal contact with those being led? How is this influenced in a leadership culture that involves leading not just down, but leading up as well? What does it practically look like to shape a servant leadership culture along the values Greenleaf states (that has generations to come in mind)?

    The following statement was helpful to me: “Instead of being tempted to chase competence and skill mastery we may find ourselves chasing trustworthiness, capacity for listening, cross-cultural awareness, or the skills of inquiry and question asking instead.” I find myself wondering what intentionally pursuing growth in these arenas looks like. In many ways these qualities delineate between being and doing. Our character, who we are, and where we’re at in our growth process can no longer really be separated or removed from the equation.

    • Brian Virtue

      Linds – so glad you hopped in here! great questions. I’ll add a couple thoughts, but hopefully others can engage some of those and add their insights.

      First, I used language like “three degrees of leadership” influence to keep the discussion away from just a leading down context. Servant leadership can influence in every direction, including up!

      Second, I loved that you brought up measurements. Servant leadership is more measurable than we often think – we may need to identify new measurements of our own success and our ministry’s or organization’s success if we want to strive towards bringing our own leadership development in line with servant leadership values and objectives.

      Some of your questions are getting into organizational leadership issues which are big and important questions. I’m going to keep this focused on the question of how to develop yourself as a leader. My one comment is that we shouldn’t underestimate the influence of our own leadership presence if we’ve developed a servant leadership posture and reputation on influencing the whole culture! If you develop yourself into a servant leader, things will change around you because who you are and what you do takes on greater focus.

      You’re right in that those qualities mentioned bring greater integration between who we are and what we do. Do you think that means it is harder or easier to develop those kind of qualities? How would you seek to develop some of the qualities you’ve identified as being most important to your becoming a servant leader?

  • Ken Cochrum

    Lindsey and Brian,

    This is a great discussion about servant leadership over distance. We have two fantastic examples of servant leaders in Scripture who led in different ways. Jesus focused the majority of his ministry locally. You could draw a 15km radius around Galilee and another around Jerusalem and capture the majority of his interaction with people.

    Conversely, Paul planted churches and movements spanning over 1100 km in four Roman provinces in cultures that were ambivalent or opposed to the gospel. He traveled constantly. What Jesus and Paul shared in common was their ability to quickly develop trusting relationships. Their personal authenticity, integrity and genuine care for others laid the foundation for truth and invitation to mission.

    It’s worth noting that both of them referred to themselves as servants.

    • Brian Virtue

      Ken – great examples there. Given how much leadership today is administered across various geographic barriers, what skills or qualities in addition to the couple that you mentioned do you think servant leaders need to be intentional in cultivating through their own self-leadership? What are some of your thoughts on how servant leaders can develop those?

      • Lindsay Yeats

        To me, a theme that seems to run through a lot of the discussion on servant leadership, and relates to the qualities of a servant leader, is communication. I see this playing out in a multiple ways:

        1. Qualities mentioned above (chasing trustworthiness, capacity for listening, cross-cultural awareness, and the skills of inquiry or question asking) seem to have a common thread of valuing communication.

        2. Communication shaped by servant leadership has some profound implications. One thing that specifically comes to mind is a receiver-based consideration. Taking into account who is hearing (or observing) the message, and tailoring the form and content of the message to best love and care for them seems significant. It would also seem that communication is not limited just to words, but is also embodied (for better or worse) in our actions, choices, etc. Chelsea Morrell said it well above when a leader asked her how her leadership was teaching others to lead.

        3. Communication (or the lack thereof) can build or threaten trust in leadership – especially as it happens in a context of leading from a distance. Through communication people are known, which makes possible the consideration of their unique needs, their cultural background and paradigm, the type of freedom and independence that will empower them, etc.

        4. Both Jesus and Paul were very intentional in their communication. They carefully tailored the means and the message to the context they ministered in (Jesus with parables, Paul in Athens, etc.). They also embodied the message in their interactions with people. Paul made intentional effort to communicate from a distance, and to love others in the midst of being physically absent.

        5. Communication is inseparable from, and oftentimes the fruit of, character. The more I grow, and the more connected I am (to God, myself and others), the more I have the capacity to communicate well. This plays out in the decisions and choices I make that are congruent with who I am and what I’ve been called to steward. This impacts my ability to represent these things to others without losing myself or infringing on them. It affects my ability to look beyond myself, my perspective, and my needs to consider others and to tangibly care for them.

        6. Communication seems to be a tangible way of leading up. Entering into potentially difficult situations to offer feedback. In bringing oneself (gifts, talents, insights, etc.) fully to the table to enrich and contribute to the environment.

        Obviously, there are many other factors in servant leadership as well… And I will continue to marinade on them. This was just an initial observation that struck me.

        • Brian Virtue

          Great summary lindsay! Great insights and application in regards to communication and identity as well as the building of trust. I’m going to add to this summary a post from the first blogference two years ago (in which you represented well) entitled “Making Servant Leadership Relevant in Communication” and that might provide more opportunities for some to explore this more.

  • Daniel Curran

    Two questions I ask myself that nurture my servant leadership are asking, “What is really needed here?” and “What are my motives here?” The “what is needed question” helps me because for starters it reveals if I have a necessary or unnecessary role a situation. This question is also a servant question because it assumes I don’t know what is needed and requires revelation from others. The second question is harder to ask myself because it usually reveals some crap. But, as I’ve recently heard said by someone, if you discover you are leading (serving) out of improper motives, your first response should not be to leave the leadership opportunity, …it should be to change your motives! Easier said than done, but these two questions help keep my hands on the basin and towel. Seeking to be “servant of all”, -dc

    • Brian Virtue

      that’s great dan. I love those questions and the attention to motives. This is especially important when one has a lot of influence or org. authority because there’s more clout to execute one’s desires. This is where our motives can be exposed – when we can get what we want through our power and influence, but that might not be what’s actually resulting in the desired outcomes. thanks for contributing dan!

  • Brian Barela

    it’s late in the afternoon and i’ve been monitoring all the conversations but i wanted to explore a thought:

    i thought about the selfishness that comes from not pursuing your own development–and it really stinks.

    from my own lack of doing it:
    –it put undeserved pressure on those leading me to take care of my development inappropriately.

    –it made me take personal the lack of development i wasn’t getting.

    –it kept me in the fog of thinking my leader owed me the best development possible

    not pursuing your own development keeps you from receiving the best from those around you.

    it can be so easy to get caught up what you’re not getting from someone, instead of focusing on how to integrate what that person has to share/give.

    • Brian Virtue

      fantastic point brian. Not intentionally developing as a leader is a very selfish act because of the cost that those in our sphere of influence have to pay. Inaction and passivity are not options!

  • Anonymous

    I resonate with the implications of Brian’s words. 9/15 quals for biblical leadership are emotionally-based. Most of us know the facts. Mismanaged relationships are the main culprit for killing teams, not lack of skill. I’m just gonna list out atrocities, threats to leadership I’ve seen in my years. Let’ start with seminary:
    – A Seminary experience that makes students think that skills will give them a red-carpet to influence
    – A seminary experience that effectively disciples a chasm between theory and life
    Now allow me to pick on threats to leadership I’ve seen from CCC
    – The idea that going to seminary will qualify someone to influence.
    – Too quickly giving s’one the “keys” to the car if that s’one has not yet the miles on one’s odometer. Too often, the keys go to the most passionate-sounding, best-talking. Seminary can take this to the next level, and at worst, can dispense the tools to smokescreen the sometimes hidden foundation of leadership that God is building.
    – The idea that structural changes by themselves will lead to increased leadership. This is akin to the lie that one needs a position to lead. Related to this is the lack of thought regarding the relationship between the structure and the organic. I believe Satan wants to keep these separate.
    Now, a few sociological and theological threats to leadership
    – Captivity and blindness to our 1st-class position as Westerners. In practice, feedback becomes “in-house” and not seen through the eyes and experience of the marginalized, which in CCC land, are not just ethnic minorities.
    – Related to point 1, not seeing how contextualized our ministry is. That part is not wrong. It is wrong, however, to expect others to come into our culture in order to be a better CCCer or believer.
    Now some positive things we can do:
    – Adopting a “kenosis” view of others. The word comes from Phil 2, where Christ, who is God, empties himself. Having preached in dozens of churches, the common stance is assuming that if enough knowledge and skill can be had, cross-cutlrual min can succeed.
    – Growing in self-awareness. Counseling. Inventories, discovering how the greatest Xtn virtues were discipled into our souls and the grab they still might have in our lives.
    – Immersion into contexts where we are the minority. I’m Chinese ethnically; white CCC was one of the best gifts for my soul. I’m a cautious cessationalist; my home church is charismatic.
    In summary, I’ve just jotted some threats and some positive responses to servant leadership. Ok. Just a few quick, raw thoughts just to add to the convo!

  • Brian Virtue

    thanks compadre :) I know who you are even though others might not and you’re right on in so much of that.

    I’ve become quite passionate about examining some of these issues as it relates to power and marginalization because it’s one of the dominant barriers today to seeing great progress in racial reconciliation as well as multicultural partnerships.

    You highlight one necessary area for development as a servant leader today – understanding what power is, it’s impact on the marginalized (ethnic minority, women, or any other potential group in a given situation), and how to use it.

    If anyone is reading this and that’s one of the first times you’ve thought about some of these issues, I recommend checking out a book by MaryKate Morse called Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space, and Influence

    I’m going to attach a link here to a post from the very first blogference 2 years ago titled “Making Servant Leadership Relevant in Diverse Contexts” that might be helpful too because it focuses on some of this.

  • Justin Irving

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for a great challenge here. I’ve appreciated the interaction above, and the key arguments you’re pointing us toward. As others have already noted, the call to take personal ownership of our self-leadership development is great, especially enacting this in light of Christ’s John 15-type abiding and empowering work within us in the journey.

    I also was really drawn to the statement Lindsay quoted:

    “Servant leadership in the Scriptures and in modern leadership theory is not really about us as leaders thinking we are servants. It is about whether those who are following us and those who cross our path are actually being empowered and served through transformational relationships.”

    I think this is a call which draws us back to Greenleaf’s vision of servant leadership which you point us to earlier in the post. Greenleaf also makes a big deal that the servant leader is “servant first.” In other words, it flows out of a natural desire to authentically serve, and then leadership because an expression of authentic service and not a means to manipulate followers. In order to move toward this servant first approach, we can’t just take it on at a behavioral level. Rather, we must change–or even more importantly be changed by Christ–from the inside out. When we are transformed at the deep level of personhood, then the attitudinal and behavioral dimensions of our leadership can follow along–the behaviors of serving others as leaders becomes a natural outgrowth of who we are as servants first. But this is hard and intentional work that–at times–does not produce the most immediate results. However a well cultivated servant first orientation is far from ineffective; such servant self-leadership develop will yield the most lasting and eternal impact on the people and communities around us.

    Anyway, enough for now, but I wanted to jump in to say a big “thank you” for your great reflections and encouragment.

    Grace and Peace,

    Justin Irving

    • Brian Virtue

      Thank you so much Justin for hopping in the discussion! Especially with such late notice.

      For all who are reading and commenting, I want you to know Justin is a professor of ministry leadership at Bethel Seminary. He was one of my professors in the Transformational Leadership MA program a few years back and since then he has helped to design and engineer a DMin program in Servant Leadership. If some of the issues raised in this discussion today are motivating and energizing to you, you might have interest in the MA program I did. Contact me and I’d love to talk more. If you’re thinking about a DMin, I’d encourage you to consider Bethel’s program and to contact Justin. Bethel is one of CCC’s seminary partnerships as well.

      I’m including a link to a resource page on Justin’s web site that has links to several of his more scholarly treatments of servant leadership theory. There’s some great stuff in there. Here’s the link.

    • Brian Barela

      justin thanks for commenting! as the founder and fan of social media i have not seen a lot of professors engage the blogging platform.

      i’m very encouraged!

      “Rather, we must change–or even more importantly be changed by Christ–from the inside out.” –that a highly motivating & frustrating quote for me.

      motivating because when the spirit has done that type of work it has literally made me so much more effective–not in the work sense but in living out the spirit’s desires in light of my leadership role–sometimes that is skill, but often times it’s art, or the “how” i do what i do.

      frustrating bc i see a huge lack of self-leadership in my own life and in many of those i know.

      question if you have time: i know you cannot teach urgency, but how do you lead in that w out unhealthy frustration/anger? that’s honestly stopped me many a time from engaging people on this issue bc i know my tone would keep them from hearing my heart.

  • Victor Toh

    I just wanted to say this post and all of the comments have been tremendously helpful in my thinking.

    I’d like to share a similar point that I heard recently made in a sermon. If we think of our fundamental role/identity as being a leader we could be more likely to end up manipulating people through our ‘servant’ leadership.

    Like Ken did above, the pastor used the example of the apostle Paul. Do you recall him ever addressing himself as a leader? Yes he did call others to imitate him as he imitates Christ, and exercised incredible influence. Yet he always wrote of himself as a doulos, a bondslave. Of course he was a great leader! But I’m wondering how often he thought that of himself?

    I guess I’ve grown up in a culture where we hear leadership emphasised so much (‘every Christian an influencer’, ‘the world needs leaders’ etc). Maybe what was not emphasised as often is that we must first want to be a bondslave of our Lord and a servant to people. Then to see that the way to fulfill that is by using our influence as a good steward. (I’m guessing we assume that’s a given but do we underestimate the need keep reminding ourselves as well as those we lead?)

    We keep talking about servant leadership as if it’s merely the right and good way to be a leader.

    What if we start to think and speak more of our identity as a bondslave? And recognise that leadership is what we do as slaves of our beloved and loving Master, instead of the other way around? Maybe speaking of ‘influential servanthood’?

    • Brian Virtue

      Thanks for jumping in Victor! I agree that we have to try to get outside of our culture sometimes to see how we’ve been influenced in how we think about leadership.

      I don’t think we need to be afraid of using the word leadership, but as you and Justin both just articulated – we have to think serve first for ourselves and orient our self-leadership about becoming the kind of person who serves and who can competently engage leadership activity in ways that results in both serving people and in new laborers that are serving in return. Paul didn’t build himself up, but he provided the next generation with leadership qualifications. Jesus didn’t flaunt leadership, but he embraced certain positions (i.e. rabbi) and he taught on the kingdom ethic of using power and position (Matt 20:20-28). But you nailed it when you said both of them were servants first – serving Christ and serving others.

      One thing I totally agree with you is that many Christians talk about servant leadership but it becomes a cliche without clear definition and clearly defined outcomes. This is a lot of what I was going for in the post for today – we have to have clarity on what are leadership outcomes are called to be and about who we have to be to facilitate and lead towards those outcomes. That clarity should then inform the steps we take in leading, equipping, and developing ourselves. A huge part of that clarity is just as you say – servant first.

      I might take a different road on the semantics side of things than you, but I would totally embrace what I see as the main call to change in your comment – we need to do a lot more talking about what it means to use power and influence to serve and empower others than we do about how to accumulate power and influence!

  • Daniel Curran

    PS reading “Servant Leadership” by Greenleaf had a profound impact on my leadership formation — the dean of students at my college recommended it and made me buy a copy. I’ll be forever grateful.

    FYI: There is now a Greenleaf Servant Leadership Institute founded to promote his writings and servant-leader philosophy: & It’s noteworthy that he was a leader in industry, a VP and lead architect in the development of corporate culture in AT & T. It’s noteworthy that to Greenleaf servant-leadership is not just an individual exercise, but rather a “corporate” one.

    In his second major essay, The Institution as Servant, Robert K. Greenleaf articulated what is often called the “credo.” He said:

    ” This is my thesis: caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built. Whereas, until recently, caring was largely person to person, now most of it is mediated through institutions – often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt. If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.”

    • Brian Virtue

      Thanks for including that link Dan. That’s a great resource. I just re-read “The Institution as Servant” not too long ago and that quote stood out to me. I loved his emphasis on contributing to a better society.

      • Brian Virtue

        Hi everyone! Great job today with your insights and reflections.

        I’m not saying that to shut down the dialogue. I’ll continue to track with things for a few days for all who continue to visit and participate in the discussion.

        I’m going to pose a question for the discussion moving forward:

        If you were to come up with a self-leadership development plan (or if you have one already), what would you include in it to help you become a fruitful servant leader in your context?

  • Phillip Baron

    Without being too simplistic, what i am learning about servant leadership is that it has to do more about dying than mastery. The major obstacle in my own life is my drive to be important/significant instead of finding my life in Christ. The longer I lead the more I find that Jesus is dealing with my heart than my success in leading others. My team becomes more secure and able to blossom the more that they know and sense that I am in the presence of God.

    Yes we need the skills and training and a lot of cultural undoing to embrace a Biblical foundation, but eventually its the brokenness that brings about the power of true transformation.

    Lastly I find that much of the process of servant leadership is a willingness to embrace grief and sorrow as part and package of the process. To love well means we will be hurt, for we are people who continually sin and are living in a fallen world.

    • Brian Virtue

      Phillip – I absolutely loved that. Thanks so much for sharing that. As I think about my own development as a leader, I don’t think I began a clear journey towards servant leadership until I had a significant season of having to learn how to grieve. I would say it was the process where head and heart began to come together. I just finished this week “The Gift of Pain” by Dr. Paul Brand and am more convinced that our willingness to enter into pain – our own and others, is a vital piece of growing into a servant leader.

      I’ve suggested to some leaders before that part of their development needs to be expanding their capacity for pain so that their capacity for love can be expanded, but I’ve always fallen short in finding helpful and somewhat practical suggestions for growing leaders to invest in this part of their identity and character. What thoughts would you give to someone if this was part of their personal development plan?

      • Phillip Baron

        It really begins with their view of God. Is His love so great that I can abandon myself to the suffering He is using to perfect me? Think of Christ on the cross and the author of Hebrews understanding of suffering in the perfecting of Christ as a man.

        Also the more I am amazed by how great God’s grace plays in how He relates to me, the more I can relate to others in grace. Because we are so bound by “works” that make us deserving, that is how we relate to those around us. As a result, our relationship with others has less to do with love, and more about making me successful. Only to the point that i understand how much Christ holds me, can i let go of myself to really serve others.

        Keller, Piper and others like them have helped me develop a practical theology that keeps me God focused. It also helps to be in a community where there are people around you that can actually tell you truth in love, even if it may risk the relationship.

        • Brian Virtue

          Phillip – more great thoughts. I couldn’t agree more that authentic servant leadership can’t be achieved in isolation from community. We learn to love well in leadership through learning and experiencing love and grace in community. That’s why works or dependence on pragmatism will leave us short of truly loving those we influence. You make a great point that we can’t pass on deep expressions of grace, love, and servanthood if we aren’t receiving it and internalizing those things from Christ Himself. We can’t give what we don’t have! Thanks for sharing your reflections!

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