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This is a CFO Business Partner review of the book Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness by Robert K. Greenleaf

This book was written out of a concern for students that seemingly had no hope of change in the institutional leadership. Secondly, the author had a desire to influence both leaders and followers to serve willingly with skill, understanding and spirit. This was brought out by an overarching concern for the total process of education of leaders. Mr. Greenleaf was observing an indifference to what makes up a leader beyond the mere intellectual preparation.

The author goes on to define a servant leader as one who has a natural desire to serve first. With this desire to serve as foremost the leader then takes the initiative to move forward with the ideas and structure down a path for the good of those he is leading and the organization he is a part of. The servant leader is a good listener and has a desire to understand the issues and concerns of his followers. He accepts the individual and empathizes with his position, even though the performance itself may be subject to correction. The servant leader operates with foresight, awareness and perception in leading an organization forward.

While most of the discussion on leadership and servant leadership centers on individuals, Mr. Greenleaf contends that institutions often are the medium that servant hood is carried out. “If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.” (62) His focus is on three primary types of institutions: churches, universities, and businesses. His main focus is on the structure of leadership. He proposes that both the trustees as well as top leadership in organizations should be structured as a team of peers. They would be led by a primary leader, but this leader would have no more authority then anyone else on the team. He also believes that the Trustees of an organization must take a much more active role in servant leading.

As with any theory or philosophy, challenges always arise when theory meets practice. In an ideal world everyone would be eager to serve one another. Those leading would always have the best interests of others in mind and those being led would willingly submit to any servant leader that steps forward. Institutions would rise with the ethos of servant hood and Trustees would spend time serving in their capacity because they love the organization and the people they serve. The reality is we live in a world that is often rife with greed, jealousy and self-centeredness. Many leaders are corrupted at least partially by power, and will often times have a self-advancing agenda as a motive to lead as a servant. Yet, I believe that many of the principles put forward are valid and should be the expectation we have of our business leaders.