Servant leadership is more than doing something nice for others. Yes, kind and generous actions are a key element. But the more you assess the situation and the better you understand those being served, the more that all involved will experience the full richness of servant leadership. Without it your actions could actually be a disservice to those you are attempting to serve.
Robert Greenleaf said the test of servant leadership is this,
“Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”
To deepen my understanding of servant leadership I periodically form and refine my own definition.
To serve is to live in such a way that others become more from what I do. Servant leadership is serving in a way that others become servants who lead.
Before you reach out, reflect within on a few questions.
- Does my service help them reach their goals? Or is my only objective to achieve my own goals?
- Does my service help them to become more skilled, more knowledgeable, more self-aware? If I do what they are able to do themselves, will I deny them an opportunity to learn and grow?
- Does my service help them to become more self-sufficient and self-confident? Or is there a risk they will become dependent on my assistance?
- How will their life be different as a result of my service? What change will this bring about?
- Are they prepared for this change? Will they be equipped for the new reality?
- Are they involved in the process enough to feel ownership of the results?
- Does my service allow me to be enriched by the experience? If service is harmful to the one who is serving, it is a disservice to all. We each have our own unique gifts to share. And if anyone, even the servant, becomes less we all become less. Give of yourself without giving up yourself.
A key is relationship. In relationship we gain the understanding necessary to serve effectively. In relationship an act of kindness becomes a message of love. In relationship we share responsibility for the outcome. In relationship we grow and become more from what we do. In relationship we lead.
Go the extra mile to do something special for others,
but also go deeper to be someone of significance to others.
Beautiful post! I was recently reminded by someone close that my service and helpfulness was a disservice and uninvited. My service to the was seen as a statement of my ‘not thinking they were capable of going it alone’, which could not have been further from the case. In your post you said “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?” In my case, this case, it clearly did none of those. As servant leaders we must know when to step in, and when to step back.
Ow, that hurts. When you’re trying to help someone, expecting gratitude in response, and everything goes in the opposite direction. I like the way you put it, it’s about knowing when to step in and when to step back. And then there are those times when people are just not appreciative and you end up stepped on.
Great points, Dan! Too often our desire to serve others is all about US and how WE will feel about our contribution. Instead, we need to make intentional choices of service that will genuinely help the other person move forward in life.
Intentional and genuine. Yes, those are great ways to distinguish service with impact. Thanks for the insights, LaRae!
Daniel – This is such a beautiful post! I deeply appreciate the thought you have put into this. Your questions are powerful and worth pondering frequently. Thank you!
Thank you, Chery!
[…] When Helping is a Disservice by Daniel Buhr Go the extra mile to do something special for others, but also go deeper to be someone of significance to others. […]