The servant leader

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2020 - 12:00am

People have been debating on the meaning of leadership since  the beginning of civilization. There are those who advocate “strong leadership” or effective leadership. Warnings about the evil consequences of wrong leadership are as old as the Bible. In Matthew 15:14 the Good Book warns: “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”

In these troubled times around the world, there is one type  of leadership which people desperately need. It may be called different names – moral leadership or servant leadership or steward leadership. 

This month we celebrate two leaders who exemplify the essence of servant leadership. Martin Luther King Jr. was born Jan. 15, 1929. He was an American Christian minister and was the spokesperson and leader of the American Civil Rights Movement. Corazon “Cory” Aquino was born Jan. 25, 1933. She was known for her deep faith and simple lifestyle. However, after her husband – Ninoy Aquino – was assassinated, she became the symbol and then the leader of the opposition to the Marcos martial law regime. She won the presidency despite the cheating and hooliganism of the Marcos forces.

Robert Greenleaf in his book Servant Leadership explains: “The servant leader is servant first...It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, serve first. This conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is one who is leader first because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.” 

Dr. King believed that there were fundamental principles that harked back to natural law tradition which means that there are moral standards for judging the legitimacy of the law. He believed that laws are not simply because government officials say these are.

He explained: “A man-made code that squares with the moral law or law of God is a moral law. But a man-made code that is inharmonious with the moral law is an unjust law...Let us not forget in the memories of the six million who died, that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was legal and that everything the Freedom Fighters did in Hungary were illegal.” 

With courage and goodwill, Martin Luther King Jr. reaffirmed the vision of a “higher law,” the idea that government laws must be judged by moral standards, a bedrock for liberty going back to ancient Greece more than 2,000 years ago. 

The German sociologist Max Webber wrote that leaders can exercise power in three ways.

• Under legal authority based on accepted and established laws and procedures such as a democratically elected president.

• Under traditional authority based on the established belief in the sanctity of immemorial traditions such as Pope and monarchs.

• Under charismatic authority which is the most important. 

• Revolutions whether peaceful or violent have normally been led by leaders using charismatic authority. Examples of “charismatic” leaders in history are Gandhi (India), Lenin (Russia), Washington (USA), Sun Yat Sen (China), Bolivar (Latin America), Voltaire (France) and Mandela (South Africa). In the Philippines, there is Corazon Aquino who led a non-violent movement which was able to remove the Marcos martial law regime from power. 

There are several ways the servant leader is different from the traditional leader. Greenleaf cites a few key ways in his book:

•  The traditional leader believes the ultimate test is the bottom line, financial results (or acquisition of more power). The servant leader believes the ultimate test of leadership is asking the question: Do those served grow as persons? Do  they, while being served become healthier, wiser, freer, more likely themselves to become servants? And what is the effect on the less privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least will not be further deprived? 

• The traditional leader asks his or her subordinates about results, processes, method, behavior- questions like “Did you do this? Did you do that? What is the status of...?” The servant leader asks questions that help uncover what he or she can do to help – What can I do to help? What is it you need from me? What resource do I have that would be of use to you?

• The traditional leader is seen as a stern taskmaster, often with questionable and self-serving ethics. The servant leader emphasizes ethical behavior and living a holistic life. People describe the servant leader as a person who is trusting, accepting, open to new ideas, resilient, wise, insightful, imaginative, positive and who possesses a sense of humor and ability to laugh. 

• Traditional leaders view the organization as a pyramid and themselves as chief architect and master builder. Servant leaders view the organization as a garden and themselves as gardeners.

When Cory Aquino transformed her mission from that of avenging her husband’s assassination to a restoration of democracy and human rights for the Filipino, people she became a servant leader for the Filipino people, and the embodiment of their vision of a nation for their children. 

Her defining moment came when she decided not to run for election in 1992 when there was overwhelming evidence that she would have won.

One of the greatest gifts that Corazon Aquino left her people was the legacy of a servant leadership  that symbolized what was truly the best in the Filipino.

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on Jan. 25 (1:30 pm-3pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC.   For details and registration,  email writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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