By Katherine Nabuzale
2013 was a year of its kind with outstanding events to count. So many great and miserable things happened but what stood out most was the passing on of an African giant, indeed “a giant of history”.
Not exclusively was Nelson Mandela revered in Africa but all over the world. He was a true world hero who not only fought for change in South Africa but caused a deviation in the writing of its history.
This great man will be immensely missed but mostly, if we refuse to learn anything from him. Nelson Mandela gave up his own life and decided to serve his people in the very best way he could. A true servant leader, so selfless with immeasurable love for South African people that he was even willing to die for them. He took on the full mantra of servant leadership in all its sense.
What is servant leadership and who is a servant leader?
While servant leadership is a timeless concept, today when we talk about leadership one can't avoid but notice all the bad surrounding it. From rampant corruption scandals to ever increasing nepotism and favoritism, from power hungry leaders to egotism and inept bureaucrat. It is arguably difficult to understand if there are any servant leaders amidst us let alone servant leadership being existent.
However, there are some traces of people who are in leadership for the right reasons. People who use leadership as a tool or means to reach out to others and their most pressing needs, not for self-aggrandizement.
Such people come to leadership because of their strong desire to better serve others. This group of people realise that to do the noble good is by accepting the full responsibilities and possibilities of leadership.
According to Robert K. Greanleaf, who coined the term servant leadership in The Servant as Leader:
“The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.
The difference manifests itself in the resolve by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test and difficult to administer is: Do those served grow as persons?
Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?
Hence, servant leadership is a leadership theory that focuses more on the followers rather than the leader him/herself. This is because a servant-leader is most interested in focusing primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.
The main principle of servant leadership is that leaders are attentive to the concerns of their followers and empathise with them, including those with little power in the system. Servant leaders make others better by their presence.
The concept of leaders serving their followers goes back many years. In the Gospels, Jesus said the following:
But he that is greatest among you, shall be your servant.
The philosopher Lao Tzu also said the following:
A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
There are a number of qualities that serve to define a servant leader:
The servant leader believes himself "first among equals." This idea is at the very core of servant leadership. A servant leader does not consider himself above those he leads. Rather, he is primus inter pares from Latin, meaning "first among equals."
That is, he sees those he leads as peers to teach and to learn from. He is willing to lead others in order to reach an agreed upon goal, but he doesn't believe that being the leader makes him better than others.
The servant leader uses power honestly. A servant leader uses leadership and power legitimately, for the good of the people he or she serves. He/she sees leadership as a means to obtain the general good, not as a desired personal end. A servant-leader cares alot about his intergrity.
The servant leader listens to and cares for his or her constituents. Servant leaders are willing to take the time to listen to what others have to say. In fact, they actively seek out the opinions and ideas of their followers. This is of top importance to the servant leader as it naturally fosters a relationship of mutual respect. Listening is innate to the servant leader - caring about others is a part of who they are. They can use that skill and learn from their followers; they aren't only teachers.
The servant leader stretches his or her constituents, helping others to realise their potential, opportunities and possibilities. In other words, a servant leader helps people to do things they hadn't imagined. He/she sits down with his constituents to set goals that are both feasible and challenging.
The servant leader inspires others to service. Finally, a servant leader knows that he/she can't do it all alone, and frankly, he/she wouldn't do so even if he/she could. A servant leader wants to work with and for others. To acheive this, the leader must be able to inspire those he/she serves to serve others.
The above qualities truely describe the true nature and character that Nelson Mandela was. We see leadership that’s measured by how much one has done for others not by how much one has achieved for himself. With him, we have the extraordinary lesson on servant leadership. A humble but heroic servant of his people.
The best way to keep his memory alive is to try and emulate him. Lets go back to the true and right leadership mode of servant leadership.