Sunday, November 11, 2012

Servant Leadership

Taken from:

April 30, 2008 – I remember that date very well, and I often list it as one of the best days of my life.  On that night, I was selected to be the director of an organization.  The accomplishment itself is not the reason why I still remember it, although I had worked incredibly hard for the position.  I remember that night because the current director showed up at my doorstep to tell me the bad news that I had not been picked for the director position.  We sat on my couch as I cried and he listed all of the reasons why he thought I would have been an excellent choice.  After about ten minutes of this torture, he revealed that I had actually been chosen and laughed as I was too shocked to speak.  He had let me believe that I wasn't chosen, because he wanted me to experience what it felt like for all the dozens of other candidates that had not been chosen.  He explained that now I could truly empathize with them.  Then, from his backpack, he pulled a bowl and a washcloth and he knelt down in front of me and began washing my feet.  He said a bunch of things as he did it, and I’m sure they were insightful and inspiring words but I didn’t hear any of it, because I was still and shock and because I was slightly weirded out that he was washing my feet.  He was a senior; he had been my director and mentor for over two years, and the first thing he did to transition me and welcome me to the role was washing my feet!

Thinking back to Jesus washing the feet of his disciples in the Bible, has been represented by that act for over 2000 years.  Even his disciples were stunned that their leader, someone who had performed miracles, a man that they believed to be God was doing the dirty work of a servant.  That night as my director was washing my feet, I didn’t get why he would want to do that; in 2008, wasn’t “feet-washing” archaic?  Looking back to that night, he was trying to share what he believed to be the most important lesson for the director position: servant leadership.  

Me with the previous director
That year as director was the hardest year of my life.  I was responsible for leading, mentoring, and teaching almost 80 people, creating a meaningful experience for them throughout the year.  Often that meant being on-call on the weekends, stacking chairs, hosting study sessions, late night trips to the hospital, late nights planning programs, late night phone conversations – giving, giving, and more giving.  Northouse presents Spears' model of servant leadership, which includes listening, empathy, stewardship, commitment to growth, and building community.  These five characteristics defined my experience as director and help tie what I believe to be good leadership traits to the model of servant leadership.  I know what I did as director, but it’s also important to be able to articulate the philosophy behind my actions and leadership style.  

My director taught me so much about what it means to be a servant leader that night.  A year later, as I passed on my directorship to the next person, I was able to explain how I put others first and why I believed that was vital to my success as a leader.  Through all those late nights, menial tasks, and thankless dedication to the organization, I remembered Aaron bending down and washing my feet.  After learning more about servant leadership models, and reflecting on my past leadership experiences, I believe that servant leadership is a style with which I truly resonate and plan to incorporate into my personal leadership philosophy.


Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

No comments:

Post a Comment