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Servant Leadership and Toastmasters

Servant LeadershipWe have a big problem in the world today!  Bad leaders are ruining good organizations everywhere.  Every day the lives, careers, and relationships of people like you and me are ruined by bad leadership!  You only have to turn on the news to see the effects of bad leadership… cattle sent to slaughter that can barely walk, pets poisoned for profit, performance enhancing drugs in sports, corrupt governments, companies dumping and burning chemicals… it goes on and on!  We despise the “my way or the high way”, “do as I say, not as I do”, “win at any cost”, “because I said so” types of leadership!  There is an alternative that works known as Servant Leadership.

The idea of Servant Leadership is almost as old as written history.  Chinese sage Lao Tzu wrote about Servant Leadership in the “Tao Te Ching” in 600 B.C.  In the 4th Century B.C. India’s ancient famous thinker Chanakya wrote about servant leadership in his book “Arthashastra”.  Jesus taught principles of Servant Leadership in the book of Mark 10 in the bible.  In more recent times Robert Greenleaf in 1970 in his essay, “The Servant as a leader” introduced the modern concept of Servant Leadership which emphasizes the leader’s role as steward of the resources provided by the organization.  It encourages leaders to serve others while staying focused on achieving results in line with the organization’s values and integrity. 

What is Servant Leadership?  It is an approach to leadership development that emphasizes the leader’s role as steward of the resources provided in an organization.  It encourages leaders to serve others while staying focused on achieving results that represent the values and integrity of the organization.  While it was started by Greenleaf other great authors such as Steven Covey and Ken Blanchard have embraced and extended the ideas in their own ways.  Servant leaders inspire others to work for the common good!  Larry Spears, CEO of the Greenleaf Center has identified 10 characteristics of Servant leadership:  Listening, Empathy, Healing, Awareness, Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the Growth of People, And Building Community.  These principles are outlined in more detail below (click read more).

To truly learn Servant Leadership you must practice servant leadership in a real and meaningful way.  Being an officer in Toastmasters at the club, Area, or at the District level is a great way to learn this valuable skill!  It will give you hands on experience in servant leadership and teach you something new about yourself and your abilities.  By the time you’ve served as Vice President Education and President you’ll have learned most of these concepts without ever knowing anything about Servant leadership!  Serving a year as an Area Governor teaches you even more.  Why?  There just isn’t room in an all volunteer organization for negative types of leadership!  It’s hard to intimidate volunteers to do what you want especially since you’re not paying them and you can’t punish them! 

Servant Leadership is what makes Toastmasters work at all levels.  In exchange for your time and effort in service of your club, Area, or Division you receive valuable experience that translates into to real world!   Think of it this way… if you can motivate people to achieve goals without punishing them or paying them imagine what you’ll be able to do when you can!    

The following page summarized 10 principles of Servant Leadership and should help you better understand the concept and how it differs from the traditional authoritarian leadership styles.


10 Principles of Servant-Leadership

After carefully considering Robert Greenleaf's original writings, Larry Spears, CEO of the GreenleafCenter has identified a set of 10 characteristics that he views as being critical to the development of servant-leaders. These 10 are by no means exhaustive. However, they serve to communicate the power and promise that this concept offers:

1. Listening
Traditionally, leaders have been valued for their communication and decision making skills. Servant-leaders must reinforce these important skills by making a deep commitment to listening intently to others. Servant-leaders seek to identify and clarify the will of a group. They seek to listen receptively to what is being and said (and not said). Listening also encompasses getting in touch with one's inner voice, and seeking to understand what one's body, spirit, and mind are communicating.

2. Empathy
Servant-leaders strive to understand and empathize with others. People need to be accepted and recognized for their special and unique spirit. One must assume the good intentions of coworkers and not reject them as people, even when forced to reject their behavior or performance.

3. Healing
Learning to heal is a powerful force for transformation and integration. One of the great strengths of servant-leadership is the potential for healing one's self and others. In "The Servant as Leader", Greenleaf writes, "There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led if, implicit in the compact between the servant-leader and led is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something that they have."

4. Awareness
General awareness, and especially self-awareness, strengthens the servant-leader. Making a commitment to foster awareness can be scary--one never knows that one may discover! As Greenleaf observed, "Awareness is not a giver of solace - it's just the opposite. It disturbed. They are not seekers of solace. They have their own inner security."

5. Persuasion
Servant-leaders rely on persuasion, rather than positional authority in making decisions. Servant-leaders seek to convince others, rather than coerce compliance. This particular element offers one of the clearest distinctions between the traditional authoritarian model and that of servant-leadership. The servant-leader is effective at building consensus within groups.

6. Conceptualization
Servant-leaders seek to nurture their abilities to "dream great dreams." The ability to look at a problem (or an organization) from a conceptualizing perspective means that one must think beyond day-to-day realities. Servant-leaders must seek a delicate balance between conceptualization and day-to-day focus.

7. Foresight
Foresight is a characteristic that enables servant-leaders to understand lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision in the future. It is deeply rooted in the intuitive mind.

8. Stewardship
Robert Greenleaf's view of all institutions was one in which CEO's, staff, directors, and trustees all play significance roles in holding their institutions in trust for the great good of society.

9. Commitment to the Growth of People
Servant-leaders believe that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers. As such, Servant-leaders are deeply committed to a personal, professional, and spiritual growth of each and every individual within the organization.

10. Building Community
Servant-leaders are aware that the shift from local communities to large institutions as the primary shaper of human lives has changed our perceptions and caused a sense of loss. Servant-leaders seek to identify a means for building community among those who work within a given institution.

For more information read Robert Greenleaf’s book “The Servant as a Leader”, visit , or learn by doing as a club or District officer in Toastmasters!

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