“I dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold service was joy.” – Rabindranath Tagore
The Japanese Samurais’ legendary fearlessness and martial prowess echoes in history. Poets carried stories of their skill and bravery across vast oceans. The reader might be surprised at the meaning of the word “Samurai”, it means – “To serve”. Samurais served their Lords with legendary discipline and a collective aspiration to a warrior code that they deemed to be higher than themselves called “Bushido” (The way of the warrior).
The way of the Samurai lives on only within the memory of some. Some of the principles that they lived by will however never die as they form the fabric of some modern legendary businesses and sports teams.
Aspiration towards something higher than ourselves, disciplined action in service of others and always honing our skills are principles sorely needed to meet the challenges of the current business landscape and life in general.
Quite many readers might relate to the narrative of joy experienced from unconditional giving, especially if the gift was helping someone to change her life in a meaningful and lasting way.
When you have passion for witnessing someone or a business transform into the greatest form of themselves you might have had at least a glimpse of how the principles of Servant Leadership can act as a catalyst for purposeful and sustainable change.
The word servant might conjure up conflicting images in various peoples’ minds, ranging from constructs such as slavery to servant heroes such as Nelson Mandela whom held an aspiring vision in higher regard than themselves.
When we embark upon the journey of servant leadership we are all challenged to renewed thinking by the following proverb , – “If service is below you then leadership is beyond you.”
This article is a medium to offer a legion of alternatives to seeing service as a form slavery. Servant Leadership experienced as a practical paradigm shift has the potential to transform individuals, businesses, and even countries into greatness. Individuals whom choose to wear the mantle of servant leadership have the opportunity to improve their families’ situation and even communities.
When we acknowledge the servant leadership capabilities within us all and dare to tread on the journey towards actualisation of this wonderful gift we soon become conscious that our own minds are potentially the most restrictive slave masters of them all, that is when we allow it to be.
Thoughts entertained long enough tend to become beliefs. Perpetual thinking that forms beliefs such as:
“I am not good enough”
“Only people with born charisma can lead”
“you have to have a title to lead”
“I am an introvert therefore I cannot lead”
“I do not have the skill nor experience to lead”
“Giving and serving is conditional”
“I am a failure”
“My job is to order people what to do therefore I am not a servant but a master…”
is in fact stumbling blocks that we have created ourselves that prevents us from unleashing our authentic and inherent servant leadership potential within.
The first step towards actualisation of our servant leadership potential is to rid ourselves of our self-inflicted and limiting beliefs and actions. Countless servant leaders have proven that “the mind that perceives the limitation is the limitation”.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You cannot feel inferior without your consent”, revealing the truth that we are either good enough to serve and lead or not, by choice and individual perception.
Those brave servants among us who are self-motivated individuals that came to the realisation that even without a prestigious title, they are true leaders in practise, by continuously improving themselves and becoming an example that others want to follow, deserve our admiration.
Several introverts who realised that their introversion is actually a blessing as it can empower them to spend many hours alone, without distractions, honing their craft to perfection without needing to engage others as frequently as most extroverts have the need for.
When you have the sincere mindset of a servant leader skills can be acquired and experience developed over time only the drive and passion to do so is required.
Unconditional giving is true service to, and love for others whether it is skills transference or any other form of gift. Conditional giving is a form of enslavement albeit that it might be veiled by certain rewards in some instances. Mother Theresa is a pristine example of a servant leader whom believed in unconditional love and giving.
“Calm seas never made a good sailor” – Although the author fully recognises that very tough times do not in general provide immediate gratification, even quite the opposite indeed, difficulty is a great teacher in many ways.
The accumulation of challenging experiences endured and overcome becomes powerful tools that the servant leader utilizes to teach others to triumph over similar circumstances.
Making mistakes, losing your job, even closing businesses, albeit very painful, does not make you a failure. It is very natural for our egos’ to not appreciate nor like the blows suffered that failure inflicts so masterfully. The true servant does well, however to guard against those thoughts of being a failure, for if they are entertained long enough they can become powerful and negative beliefs.
A leader taking up the responsibility of being an example to others must view each failure as a learning experience and more important implement the learning in order to move forward.
The difference between a true servant leader and those who give up is a matter of principle, which is that a servant leader never gives up for in giving up it is a disservice not only to the leader but to her team members as well. How can you serve when you have given up? Perseverance to the servant leader is therefore not a choice but a matter of principle.
Related: Paddy Upton: People Centred Coaching
As a general example, when someone in a position of authority simply barks orders and dangles rewards in front of people whilst the treat of punishment is always hanging as a dark cloud over them when they do not perform that person is not serving anyone but herself in the long run.
Servant Leaders’ always aim to create a climate of inspiration by firstly showing others through their actions that the grand vision that they collectively entertain is a possibility. Servant leaders care about people and love what they do. They are always improving themselves and take daily steps towards an inspiring vision that is greater than themselves despite several challenges that will occur.
The wise and renowned consultant and expert on Culture, Dr. Edgar Schein believes that culture and leadership are two sides of the same coin and indispensable to one another. It is extremely hard to not only create a high-performance business team or sports team culture but sustain it when there is not a collective yearning amongst the team members to serve a purpose and/ a vision higher than themselves.
The collective and humble efforts of servant leaders whom aspire to something greater than themselves can be a very powerful multiplication factor to performance.
According to the book “Legacy” one of the most successful sports teams of all times, the All Black rugby team has a collective “mantra” that lifts the veil on their culture of excellence to a degree. It goes “Better people make better All Blacks”.
Sounds so simple, yet only a heightened level of self-awareness combined with the humility to admit to your personal challenges and to sincerely ask for mentorship can strengthen your will to become a better person. Better persons make better team members. Sustainable and consistent action that bring servant leadership principles to life can be the compound interest that forms a legendary business or sports team.
When we introspectively consider our personal success as servant leaders the reality is that we are only as successful to the degree that our team members are successful.
Now, the inevitable question to the reader – Will you serve?