Jesus: The Ultimate Servant-Leader

5691334315_f0b2a1b30f_oLast month, I finished a class on servant-leadership, a concept formalized in 1970 by Robert Greenleaf. What have I learned after a semester of studying the topic? Mainly that servant-leadership really is a simple, yet elegant, concept. While many essays and books can be (and have been) written about this subject, it always comes back to Greenleaf’s best test:

“The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

This will come as no shock to you, but Jesus is one of the examples Greenleaf uses of a servant-leader. Let’s see how he does (this should be easy). First of all, who are those served? Reading further in Greenleaf’s work, it would seem the answer is, “nearly everybody.” This was later codified (by Wolfe, Sheth, and Sisodia) into the acronymn SPICE (society, partners, investors, customers, employees). Jesus benefitted society by challenging unjust laws and raising up the least privileged in society. In terms of his partners, the woman at the well became his partner in spreading the good news, and she certainly became freer and more likely to serve. Investors? As Catholics, we believe that an investment in the kindom of God pays the ultimate dividend of eternal life. Customers? Those who needed to be healed (such as the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, the blind man, etc.) were healed. Those that needed to be challenged were challenged (such as the rich man who thought he was all set to enter the kindom of God). Employees? With one notable exception, the apostiles did pretty well. They are remembered by us for their transformed lives and their good work to build the kindom.

So why bring this up? I must confess that at the start of the semester, Jesus did not come to mind as we were brainstorming the concepts of leadership. Clearly, he should have. I thought I hadn’t read any books on leadership. Clearly, having read the Bible, I have. In light of this, “What would Jesus do?” seems like a very legitimate question to ask an executive. So what would Jesus do? It’s not about being soft: Jesus was full of challenging demands of those he served; one set is so difficult to take that we literally refer to them as the hard sayings (plucking out your eye, cutting off your hand, etc.). But it is about putting people first: “The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27, MSG). And it’s definitely about compassion. Once again we find the we can’t separate our faith from our work!

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