“We Need A Servant Leader” for President, wrote Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz in his New York Times op-ed piece prior to the first Republican candidate’s debate. To correct reports of his intentions he announced that he is not running for the Democratic nomination.
Schultz doubts that any of the candidates has the courage to ‘rise above petty politics.’ They all, in his estimation, represent the ‘antithesis’ of the example Pope Francis set when washing the feet of prisoners in Rome.
Given the urgency of the times, he believes the country is in desperate need for a President willing to break with the prevailing mold of ego-centered, self-serving leadership in politics and the rest of society. ‘Too many of our political leaders,’ he writes, ‘are putting power before principle, party before country and cynicism before civility.’
For Schultz a ‘servant leader President’ would,
‘kneel and embrace those who are not like them’
‘unite all of us’
‘select a member of the other party as a running mate’
be ‘humble enough to see leadership not as an entitlement but as a privilege’
He believes that the nation needs, in fact deserves servant leaders everywhere – ‘putting others first and leading from the heart – from every corner of American life, including the business community.’
I agree but wonder, will it happen, can it happen? Will servants run for President and will they emerge in the nonprofit sector, in religious communities, the military as well as in business?
Servanthood is more than a leadership style or role for particular situations. It can’t be turned on or off to make an impression. It’s more than washing the feet of prisoners, as indelible as that image is. It can be seen in a wide variety of individual leaders in everyday settings. Servanthood is the life or character that individuals bring to leadership.
Some of the signs of servant leaders – they:
- Treat their followers and/or subordinates as partners engaged in a common mission or purpose
- Collaborate rather than dictate to reach decisions for the common good
- Are vulnerable enough to welcome and learn from feedback including criticism
- Humbly acknowledge and own their own mistakes, flaws and sins
- Respect and promote diversity, eliminating bias, often hidden, that disadvantages women and minorities
In the mid-‘70’s Robert K. Greenleaf, a former AT&T executive, initiated the servant leadership movement. He urged that when choosing leaders we select from those among us who have served well. Thus the title of his original monograph – The Servant as Leader.
But can leaders learn to be servants? I hope so. A lot depends on it.