Servant Leadership – New wine in Old Wine-skin – By Oscar E.V. Fernando

Servant Leadership – New wine in Old Wine-skin –
By Oscar E.V. Fernando


Oscar FernandoServant Leadership (SL) is a term, coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in his essay on SL first published in 1970, on propounding a corporate management technique: it says the leader should be affectionately considerate to his subordinate-who in turn will cause a ripple effect.

Much waters have flown under the bridge since the Dickensian cruelty to children in the then newly opened factories with the industrial revolution.

Following are highlights of the SL theory;

  • A leader should be a person that workers can relate to
  • priority is to serve rather than to command
    to ensure success and power to the employee.
  • to appreciate that a servant can become a leader only if the leader is first a servant to his subordinate.
  • Such behavior of a leader must result in workers becoming healthier and wiser with self-improvement and eventually possessing the traits of Servant Leaders themselves.

Several other authors have expanded on the theory and said the 10 characteristics of SL are;

  • Listening,
  • Empathy,
  • healing,
  • awareness,
  • persuasion,
  • conceptualization,
  • foresight, stewardship,
  • commitment to the growth of others, and building a community
  • Servant Leaders are individuals of character who put people first and are skilled communicators, compassionate collaborators, use foresight, be system thinkers and exercise moral authority.

Teachings on the concept of kindness and love towards one’s subordinates were prevalent in ancient society too, though sometimes accompanied in practice by evident severe cruelty to servants and slaves.

Ancient texts have passages akin to SL by philosophers like Lao Tzu and Confucius of early China.

In the Old Testament Bible, as old as the hills there are passages about the intrinsic love within human beings. It also foretells the coming of a Messiah to save mankind who though created in love had turned cruel over the years due to variously disputed reasons. 

Does it not reveal how long this very natural norm of love and affection had been lost sight of with the struggle for higher profit in business- thoughts that have been lying buried under the rubble of modernist thinking?

One such teaching that comes down the ages from the Old Testament in the Bible is the command to: Love God; Neighbor; Self.

The Messiah, foretold in the Old Testament, also preached the same love specifically by word of mouth and lived it practically in his life and death.

Here is a passages bearing on Servant Leadership in the New Testament Bible centuries before 1970:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them – not so with you – instead whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many-showing this servility by washing the feet of his disciples! 

This voice of nearly 2,000 years ago still vibrates from the present Leader of this group Pope Francis, who says: “Lead from the heart and then from the head. Lead to serve. Leaders’ power does not reside in being right but in being real. Bring hope, equality and opportunity to those who have little.”

People long for leaders who put the interests of others ahead of their own, who are willing to do what is right above what is easy or politically expedient, and who are not afraid to lay their reputation on the line for a cause and a vision that is vastly bigger than themselves.

Now after years of denial, a new theory has to be propounded and further research has to be done to revive it?

This commandment of love is what rings throughout in the New Testament Bible. Curiously; this is also what is highlighted by modern writers and singers such as Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Eckert Tolle, Greenleaf, Jim Reeves, the singer and many others who by eloquent and modern emphasis on love have written and sung for the immense benefit of our present day society!

Do we not see that the theory of Servant Leadership conforms to the earlier and the later independent teachings of religious leaders and the Ancient Church, and that it is new wine in an old wine skin – now commercially packaged appealingly for the benefit of society!?

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