New Corporate Strategy, Ancient Biblical ConceptBlog / Produced by The High Calling
A certain major airline employs it. So do the Container Store and people and companies ranging from an NBA coach to the Fortune 500. A handful of college campuses offer it as a degree plan. It’s getting difficult to find someone who hasn’t heard of the business concept called servant leadership.
Though the phrase is relatively new to the workplace, keep in mind that the principle dates back to Jesus of Nazareth, the embodiment of this "innovative" practice.
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
"Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:42-45
As a rule, leaders don’t serve and servants don’t lead. In fact, servant leadership is such a paradox that Jesus continually had to teach it to his disciples. Once as they entered the town of Capernaum, He asked them what they had been arguing about on the road going there. No one answered. No one wanted to admit they had been arguing about who was the greatest (Mark 9:33-34). Seeing a teachable moment and considering the lesson this important, he called the twelve to stop and sit with him. "If anyone wants to be first," He said to them, "he must be the very last, and the servant of all."
Jesus didn’t stop with spoken lessons, he lived them. Every action, every interaction validated his instructions to his beloved disciples. With wonder, dismay, and confusion, they watched him model a seemingly contradictory description of leadership. Pictures burned into their minds and hearts of one who came not to be served, but to serve. In one instance, he donned a slave’s towel, knelt before his disciples, and washed their feet (John 13:1-15). Then he called them to do the same. He challenged them to lead as he led, to serve as he served.
In the world of work, the "servant leadership" management style describes people who choose to first serve, then lead, as a way to expand their service to individuals and institutions. These leaders serve others by investing in them, both for the sake of the individual and so that together they may accomplish a greater goal. As we celebrate this more caring style of workplace leadership, may we also celebrate its designer: Jesus, the Christ. As Servant of all, He continues to invest in each of us because he loves each of us individually, and because together we may bring about the Kingdom of God.