Campaign slogans are made to sound catchy and profound, but words have meaning. Driving to work recently, I saw a billboard for a politician running for office. The candidate’s name and picture were prominent in the ad, and he used the slogan “Service through Leadership.”
A religious teacher was asked by some of his learners who was the greatest among them. His response didn’t quite answer their question the way they intended. He told them that the greatest among them was actually the least among them. He demonstrated this by removing his clothes and wrapping a towel around his waist in the traditional form of a house servant. He then proceeded to wash the feet of his followers. When one objected that the teacher should not wash his feet but the other way around, the teacher rebuked him and said that if he didn’t grant him the opportunity to serve him in this way, then the follower had no place with him.
The story is familiar if you’ve read the New Testament of the Bible. Jesus demonstrated his leadership by being a servant to those who followed him. He even said that was his purpose. Jesus said that he didn’t come to be served by mankind (his creation); rather, he came to serve them.
Servant leadership embraces the idea that a leader is a leader for the sake of the followers. A servant leader will use their position and the power, privilege, and resources of their position to serve the people who follow them. Servant leaders can embrace a position of leadership knowing that they have an opportunity to serve a larger population, but they don’t have to.
“Leadership through Service” is the slogan of a servant leader.
The other way around says that the leader is providing a service by giving direction to his followers. It says, “I’m best able to serve you by having authority over you and you going where I want you to go.” That’s not servant leadership; that’s called dictatorship. I’m not saying that the politician running locally is a dictator, but I would caution him to consider the implications of his ad campaign.
George Orwell famously pointed out that dictators control information. A servant leader isn’t trying to control anyone. They are serving the good of those they follow. Servant leaders view their work as a calling to do something greater than themselves. Thinking that you are serving others by being their leader is self-centered.
Another political figure recently told a group of people that they are lucky he gave them the privilege to vote for him.
Servant leaders don’t look for opportunities to put themselves out there for others to feel lucky to have them or privileged by their leadership. Servant leaders are fortunate to have and lead through humility and self-sacrificing service.