The concept of servant leadership, having proponents in antiquity, found renewed organizational interest encouraged by the likes of Robert Greenleaf and Ken Blanchard. Their writing, dating to the 1970s, has spawned significant discussion, some scholarly and some that hits on the anecdotal. In the School of Business Administration at Williamson College we recognize that servant leadership is a subject about which it is easy to talk or write – but quite another to put into practice.
Henri Nouwen (1989, pp. 45-46) comes close to describing the elements necessary in being a genuine servant leader when he contends,
Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice, and guidance. Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen again and again to the voice of love and to find there the wisdom and courage to address whatever issue presents itself to them. Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject. But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative (emphasis mine).
Nouwen, H. (1989). In the Name of Jesus: Reflections On Christian Leadership. New York, The Crossroad Publishing Company.
Ed Smith, Ph.D., is President of Williamson College, a liberal arts Christian college located in Williamson County, Franklin, Tennessee.