Servant Leadership as a Way of Life
TWU Core Values Statement Series No. 3 (February 5, 2000)
WHAT IS SERVANT-LEADERSHIP?
- At the heart of Trinity Western University's mission is developing godly Christian leaders. TWU strives to teach and to embody the pattern of servant-leadership exemplified by Jesus Christ. Jesus explained to his followers that their practice of leadership was to be distinctly different than the self-seeking, self-serving, and domineering style of leadership often found in the world: "Whoever would be first among you must be servant of all" (Mk 10:42-44; Mt 20: 25-28).
- Good leadership motivates and mobilizes others to accomplish a task or to think with creativity, vision, integrity and skill for the benefit of all concerned. Servant-leadership serves others by investing in their development and well being for the benefit of the common good. Thus good Christian servant-leaders serve God through investing in others so that together they may accomplish a task for God's glory
SERVANT-LEADERSHIP IN PRACTICE
- With a servant-leadership framework, everyone is part of a team working to the same end. People play different roles at different times, according to their expertise and assignment, rather than being positioned by their rank or title. Enabling each member to play a meaningful leadership role generates a receptive climate and an infectious energy that helps the organization to fulfill its shared mission. Leaders recognize that it is better for them to be wounded than for their followers to suffer.
- All organizations require accountable authorities with the power to make the organization operational. At TWU, the president and his Cabinet as well as various Councils, deans, faculty, and managers are responsible for TWU's vision, mission, direction, goals, and values. As servant-leaders, they seek input or consultation from others but they bear responsibility for the results to others in the TWU community and ultimately to the Board of Governors, to the Evangelical Free Church and other constituencies, and, most importantly, to God.
- Servant-leadership does not negate accountability or responsibility. The servant-leaders role may at times require recommending correction or appropriate discipline, always taking into account the interests and heart of the offender and others and the good of all members. Servant-leaders must maintain the integrity of the community to its statement of faith, community standards, core values, and accepted strategic goals.
LEADING THROUGH SERVING
Servant-leadership is most fully realized when everyone in the organization is committed to the concept and understands the serving role of all responsible leaders, whatever their title may be. Everyone comes to share in the struggles, the decisions, and the excitement of seeing the mission unfold and advance through all aspects of the University.
The obligation to lead through serving extends to every member of the TWU community, including the president, vice-presidents, deans, faculty, managers, student life staff, support staff, and students. Within a servant-leadership community each person has an important role that includes responsibility to establish standards, to embody them personally, and to support and encourage others in their tasks. Serving and leading merge and complement one another to the benefit of all and the glory of God.
"Not to be served but to serve"
At the heart of Trinity Western University's mission is the development of godly Christian leaders. Therefore, as a university we strive to teach and embody the model of servant-leadership. Such leadership includes every member of the TWU community, not just an elite group from which may emerge a dean, manager, Student Council president, or newspaper editor. Not everyone at TWU will have the responsibilities of a leader all of the time. All of us, however, are called by God and others to give leadership at some level and at some time in our activities at TWU as well as in our families and communities.
A BIBLICAL BASE FOR UNDERSTANDING LEADERSHIP
There are clearly defined attributes for the leaders of God's people. Leaders of God's people were most often described as servants of God anointed to do various tasks. Moses was the first to practice servant-leadership (Ex. 32:11-14, 30-35). Servant leaders strengthen the weak and empower those entrusted to their care, and also show compassion towards the disadvantaged and the lost (Eze. 34:2-10).
The Hebrew word for leader is "nagiyd." It pictures a person under authority who fulfills the wishes of that authority. God wants leaders who will listen to His will and execute it faithfully with divinely appointed authority. The related Greek word for leadership is "diakonia." This literally means serving at tables.
Leaders in the Bible were not always devoted to such leadership. Aaron was untrustworthy. Saul was spineless and disobedient. Solomon was wisest of all and yet fell into the traps of sensuality and idolatry. On the other hand, obedient and courageous Joshua had a powerful impact on Israel. And David, while sinful, was a leader after God's own heart; his deep spirituality led to great accomplishments.
TWU is committed to practising and teaching the servant-leadership model of Jesus who, in obedience to God, came to earth to serve and not to be served. As Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Php 2:3-4)
THE LEADERSHIP STYLE OF JESUS
Jesus explained his style of servant-leadership in relation to the self-seeking and domineering method of leadership that his followers were used to. James and John asked Jesus if he would grant to them the privilege of sitting on his right and left in positions of leadership in his kingdom. But Jesus explained to them that their philosophy of leadership was not to be modeled after that of the "Gentiles" and "great men" of the world:
Whoever would be first among you must be servant of all.
(Mk 10:42-44; Mt 20: 25-28)
The one who rules, Jesus taught, should be like the one who serves (Lk 22:26). Greatness in God's sight is not found in how many people serve the leader but rather in how faithfully the leaders serves others.
In a relationship of mutual stimulation and investment followers are converted into leaders and leaders never cease knowing what it means to follow.
Jesus washing the feet of the disciples is the classic Christian model of how a leader must be a servant (Jn 13):
- Jesus' life of service originated from his loving relationship to God. Having the right attitude is the fundamental key to servant-leadership. No one is fit to lead as a servant until that person has given himself or herself to leadership that is greater than his or her own. That is why Jesus carried out the will of the One who had sent Him.
- Jesus was prepared to serve everyone, even the one who would ultimately betray him, by giving of himself sacrificially and with love. In washing his disciples feet he did not diminish but rather enhanced his position and influence as their teacher.
- Servant leadership is a way of life rooted in ones character that translates values and dispositions into behaviour that serves without seeking after external rewards. It frequently requires giving up ones rights and desires in order to serve God and others before and over self.
- The heart of servant-leadership is genuine care for others and their well-being, not in using them for the leaders benefit or ignoring them because they do not fit naturally into the leaders plans or vision.
SERVANT-LEADERSHIP IS NOT WEAK LEADERSHIP
Servant-leadership is not simply doing menial tasks, nor does it serve as a strategy to satisfy the leaders own needs. Servant-leaders invest themselves in enabling others to do their best. They are willing to do humble tasks, but they always have in mind a larger vision. Servant-leaders must first of all please God; they are not moved solely by the need to please others:
Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Gal 1:10)
Servant-leadership is not a model for the weak or for losers. When the going gets tough or when difficult decisions have to be made, as is inevitable, the servant-leader needs to persist and be resilient. A serving attitude does not imply willingness to be abused by others or the toleration of exploitation by the institution.
Servant-leaders collectively fulfill an important mission. They invest in others. They graciously accept others who serve them as well as those who lead them. What distinguishes them is not necessarily the particular decision they make but their caring manner and their broad consultation in the process.
CHARACTERISTICS OF SERVANT-LEADERSHIP
Good leadership motivates and mobilizes others to accomplish a task or think with creativity, vision, integrity and skill for the benefit of all concerned. Servant-leadership serves others by investing in their development and well being for the benefit of the common good. Thus a good Christian servant-leader serves God through investing in others so that together they may accomplish a task for God's glory.
The extremes of self-serving, domineering leaders and true servant-leaders can be contrasted as follows:
The leaders objective is to be served.
The leaders objective is to serve.
Seeks first to be understood; then, to understand.
Seeks first to understand; then, to be understood.
Considers self-image, advancement, and entitlements of own position primary.
Values followers' potential and achievement; promotes them before self.
Sees and treats co-workers as inferiors who usually do not participate in decision-making, nor are offered important information.
Sees and treats co-workers with respect as a team that works together to accomplish a task and make decisions with shared information.
Creates an atmosphere of dependence using power of position to manipulate and direct.
Creates an atmosphere in which others are encouraged and power is used to serve others.
Rejects constructive criticism and takes the credit for results.
Encourages input and feedback and shares credit for the results.
Uses expediency as the main criteria; makes decisions in secret from ones own view of truth and wisdom.
Uses biblical and moral principles as the main criteria; makes decisions openly and in consultation.
Is accountable only to superiors and shuns personal evaluations as interference.
Is accountable to God and others and welcomes personal evaluations as a means to improve performance.
Clings to power and position.
Is willing to step aside for someone more qualified.
In short, servant-leaders aspire to be great only in their service to others. They are committed to serving others with integrity; humility; sincere concern; a generous, forgiving and giving heart; and self-discipline. They relate to others by investing, empowering, caring for, and consulting others. They are willing to sacrifice personally for the well being of others.
Servant-leadership is effective in that it involves direction and not aimless wandering. It allows elements of vision and process to work hand in hand so that great tasks are accomplished with the support and involvement of followers. Servant-leadership cultivates:
- visionary, positive thinking and conceptualizing to see the bigger picture;
- responsibility for commitments and a hunger for improvement;
- development of moral, value-based leadership methods;
- physical and intellectual vitality and fitness;
- capacity to achieve significant results;
- service without expectation of any reward from those being served;
- appreciation and recognition for the strengths and work of others; and
- ability to lead a balanced life with enjoyment.
The servant-leadership process is accomplished through "walking the talk":
- seeking the common good as a prime motivation;
- seeing work as a partnership of service in community;
- building a team spirit through shared and open decision-making;
- developing a resilient and growing mind-set;
- being a steward of people and resources;
- having tolerance for peoples mistakes as a redemptive learning process;
- providing for life long learning; and
- holding themselves and others accountable.
Not all of these qualities will be found to the same degree in every servant-leader. True servant-leaders know their strengths and weaknesses and surround themselves with those who have complementary abilities.
SERVANT-LEADERSHIP REQUIRES TEAMWORK
Today's society regards openly dictatorial and self-serving leadership from the top down as socially unacceptable and ineffective. However, self-serving leadership still exists, even though it may be more subtly camouflaged. Some organizations, including well-intentioned Christian ones, use a top-down, hierarchical leadership style. They hold that the leader rather than the people being served knows what is in their and the organizations best interests. They neglect enabling, consulting, and investing in others when the organization falters or is slow in producing the desired results.
Practicing servant-leadership from the heart is the best antidote to such abuse of power. It is better that leaders be wounded than that their followers suffer. With a servant-leadership framework everyone is part of a team working to the same end. People play different roles at different times, according to their expertise and assignment, rather than being positioned by their rank or title. Enabling each member to play a meaningful leadership role yields a receptive climate. The resulting infectious energy helps the organization to attain its identity and purpose.
No one person in an organization is designated as "the" leader at all times or for all functions. Roles shift according to the activities and stages where teams find themselves. Titles are less important than functions. Everyone strives for a team where all stakeholders work in harmony.
SERVANT-LEADERSHIP AND ORGANIZATIONAL FORMS AND PROCESSES
Servant-leadership can flourish in many organizational forms. Too often, deficiencies in modern organizations may seem to be task-oriented or even structural problems when, in fact, they are process problems that can be eased by servant-leadership attitudes and behaviours.
SERVANT-LEADERSHIP AND AUTHORITY
All organizations require accountable authorities with the power to make the organization operational. At TWU the president and his Cabinet, as well as various Councils, deans and managers, are responsible for TWUs vision, mission, direction, goals, and values. As servant-leaders, they seek input or consultation from others but they bear responsibility for the results to others in the TWU community and, ultimately, to the Board of Governors, to the Evangelical Free Church and other constituencies, and, most importantly, to God. Servant-leaders do not resist appropriate and godly authority. Rather, they submit to it humbly, with a heart of service as unto the Lord.
SERVANT-LEADERSHIP AND NORMAL DECISION-MAKING PATTERNS
Servant-leadership does not view decision making as the sole property of one person or even of a single team of administrators. Instead, it adopts a consultative and relational approach in which leadership occurs among and through many people who think and act together throughout the entire process. Most policy decisions will be made by those most affected by the decision or, at least, with their input.
SERVANT-LEADERSHIP AND DIFFICULT DECISIONS
Within the context of maintaining the integrity of the community's core values and beliefs, good servant leaders need a flexible style for handling different situations. In some cases confidentiality is legitimate and necessary for legal reasons or for the protection of others. Some consultative processes may have to be modified or suspended during crisis situations. Because servant-leaders often have the obligation to ensure that faculty and staff fulfill their responsibilities, they may have to recommend correction or even impose appropriate discipline, taking fully into account the interests and heart of the offender or others affected. Decisions may be required to protect employees from being exploited by others.
Servant-leaders at TWU make all decisions for the common good of the whole community. They may be required to act to maintain the integrity of the community to its statement of faith, community standards, core values, and accepted strategic goals. To fail to act in such circumstances would negate the servant-leaders responsibility.
SERVANT-LEADERSHIP AND INVESTING IN OTHERS
Leaders facilitate and support. They make the organization's objectives happen through the efforts of others. They invest in their followers so that the latter reach their fullest potential in accomplishing TWU's accepted mission. This approach leads to greater understanding of and support for the eventual course of action. It also facilitates discovering and developing prospective leaders.
As TWU expands, so must the number of leaders who organize teams or networks to work on many issues or components of its mission. We build teams by encouraging mutual service, involvement, and empowerment in order to attain our mission. Much more than enforced regulations, a commitment to common values and attitudes will propel the university forward.
SERVANT-LEADERSHIP AND THE FLOW OF PROCESS
Leaders serve and are accountable to those above them while at the same time investing in those who serve below or with them. Process flows up and down and across the organization in a way that captures the enthusiasm and loyalty of everyone. Through common expression throughout the community of the heart and mind of servant-leadership, people rise to levels that they could never reach on their own, all to God's glory.
For all these reasons, servant-leadership works best when everyone in the organization is committed to the concept and understands the serving role of all responsible leaders, whatever their title may be. Creating TWU's institutional mission, vision, and core values, for example, has been the result of a shared exercise under God's direction. Everyone comes to share in the struggles, the decisions, and the excitement of seeing the mission unfold and advance through all aspects of the university.
APPLYING SERVANT-LEADERSHIP AT TWU
Some sample applications of the concept of servant-leadership for TWU include:
- The President serves the broader constituency, the Board of Governors, staff and faculty, and students by helping to forge a consensus about TWU's vision and priorities, and by promoting structures and processes that allow all persons to fulfill God's calling for their particular role at TWU.
- Vice-presidents, deans and managers develop consultative structures and relationships that allow for meaningful input before decisions are made while modeling and clarifying how their areas can contribute to the university's mission.
- TWU is a learning institution. Therefore faculty members are the first among equals as teachers, mentors, and relationship builders with students. Faculty inculcate an ethic of collective study within a collaborative learning culture, enabling students to take on leadership roles with respect to their learning. For the sake of their students, they also ensure that proper academic standards are met in ethical and biblical ways.
- Student Life staff emphasize total student development in educational activities outside the regular classroom. They help students take on responsibilities with increasing insight, maturity, independence and leadership skills.
- Support staff ensure that their responsibilities contribute to the overall functioning of the university. They also model a Christian lifestyle and vision to co-workers and students. In this way, each one is a servant-leader.
- Students learn to work as partners in circles of common inquiry and activity. They have a responsibility before God for all their educational efforts in order to be able to serve God and people in the various marketplaces of life. They develop as servant-leaders through a thorough understanding of their field(s) of study, through experiencing leadership opportunities both inside and outside the classroom, and through deepened commitment and vision for their calling as God's ambassadors in a secular culture.
Servant-leadership as a way of life at TWU means that administrators serve staff and faculty by investing in their potential and capabilities to serve students. Students, in turn, learn how to serve each other. The ultimate aim of servant-leadership at TWU is that students may go forth as godly Christian leaders to influence the world for God's glory. By God's grace we strive to see serving others become a way of life for the whole community. Thus we advance the mission of the university and God's purposes in the world.
As a community of God's servants with different gifts and responsibilities we work together for the well being of the whole. Each member of the TWU community is given certain responsibilities and gifts. Each is accountable to God and to the whole community for their conduct as servant-leaders. What counts is what you do for God and the people He has created and loves.