Regardless of your view of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, all would agree that it is a huge success, reeling in 26.6 million dollars on the opening day. What motivated Gibson to risk everything to produce this movie? It is his passion born from his personal spiritual transformation. His vision was to retell the story of the crucifixion—Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for the world—in a way that was faithful to the gospel and realistic in all its horror and grace.

What is the Secret to Jesus’ Success?

The success of The Passion mirrors in a small way the enduring, global influence of Jesus’ leadership. He only had three brief years of public ministry, never held an office, and never published a book, and yet, more than 2,000 years after his death, he has more followers today than any other leader and continues to have an impact on countless lives. The secret is servant leadership!

Is it possible that Jesus’ radical ideas can serve as an effective model for corporations? Isn’t servant-leader an oxymoron? Who in their right mind would sacrifice their own reputation and future for a higher purpose instead of seeking their own interest?

In the midst of corporate scandals, perhaps it is time to seriously consider servant leadership as an antidote to self-seeking leadership. In the context of global competition, multi-national corporations, and knowledge economy, the spirit of servant leadership seems more flexible and adaptive than the hierarchical, authoritarian leadership style.

The Resurgence of Servant Leadership

When Greenleaf (1977) first published the model of servant leadership there was considerable skepticism regarding the relevance of Jesus’ teaching on leadership to the corporate world and government. The concept of servant leadership has gained increasing acceptance in the leadership and organizational literature (Collins, 2001; Covey, 1994; Russell & Stone, 2002; Senge, 1990, 1997; Spears, 1994; Wheatley, 1994).

Servant leadership is predicated on the belief that serving and developing workers is the best way to achieve organizational goals, because any company is only as good as its human resources. Servant leadership encompasses a number of important “soft” competencies, such as inspiring and motivating workers, managing change, and creating a positive work climate (Wong, 2002; Wong & Gupta, 2004).

Research Support for Servant Leadership

What kind of boss do you prefer: Self-seeking leader or servant leader? The choice is clear and consistent according to the literature. People generally do not like bosses who are authoritarian. Workers prefer bosses who value their opinions and are interested in developing their full potential.

Servant leadership may be considered as an outgrowth of participative leadership (McMahon, 1976), which advocates empowerment and involvement of many members of organizations. Servant leadership also shares some of the same characteristics as transformational leadership (Bass, 1998; Stone, Russell, & Patterson, 2003).

There is now a clear consensus among modern management theorists (Avolio, 1999; Bennis, 1990; Hammer & Champy, 1993; Rinzler & Ray, 1993; Senge, 1990) that autocratic leadership needs to be replaced by leadership that empowers workers. More recently, the advantages of servant leadership over autocratic leadership have been well documented in the literature (Farling, Stone, & Winston, 1999; Russell & Stone, 2002; Sendjaya & Sarros, 2002).

Profile of Servant Leadership

Page and Wong (2000) have proposed a conceptual model of servant leadership and developed a preliminary measuring instrument. More recently, Wong and Page (2003) have developed an opponent-process model of servant leadership and a measuring instrument entitled the Servant Leadership Profile.

The significance of the opponent-process model is that it recognizes power and pride as the dark side of leadership. These two “evils” are similar to the two demons of fear and pride, as highlighted by Blanchard and Hodges (2003), because obsessions with power and control are primarily motivated by fear of insecurity. These are the harmful acts based on fear and pride.

The Power and Pride subscale of our Servant Leadership Profile captures types of controlling and arrogant behaviors. According to the opponent-process model, servant leadership can be implemented only to the extent that leaders are able to confront and overcome their hunger for power and egotistic pride.

When the Power and Pride subscale is scored in the reverse, it actually measures vulnerability and humility. Therefore, a big part of being a servant leader is the willingness to be a vulnerable, humble servant, as modeled by Jesus.

We have discovered 7 factors in our 62- item Servant Leadership Profile for both self-assessment and 360-degree evaluation. These factors are:

  1. Empowering and developing others
  2. Power and pride
  3. Serving others
  4. Open, participatory leadership
  5. Inspiring leadership
  6. Visionary leadership
  7. Courageous leadership

Conclusions

There is sufficient evidence to suggest that servant leadership may be the leadership of choice for the 21st century, and that it is the best leadership style for all seasons for the following reasons:

  1. Being freed from egotistic concerns, such as insecurity and self-advancement, leaders are able to devote their full attention to developing workers and building the organization.
  2. Being concerned with individual needs and sensitive to individual differences in personality, leaders are able to bring out the best in their workers.
  3. Being situational leaders, they recognize situations in which absence of their power actually facilitates self-management and productivity.
  4. Being good stewards, they will do whatever necessary and appropriate to maximize leadership effectiveness in all kinds of situations.
  5. Being person-centered and growthoriented, they can turn ordinary workers into future leaders and adapt to change effectively.
  6. Servant leadership serves as an antidote to corruptions and abuses in high places.
  7. Servant leadership can help reduce burnout and build an emotionally healthy organization.
  8. Servant leadership seems most suitable for the next generation of workers, who are very cynical of authority and demand authenticity in their bosses.
  9. Servant leadership seems most suitable for knowledge workers, who value independence and creativity.
  10. Servant leadership recognizes that leadership is a group process, which should not be centralized in one or two individuals.
  11. Servant leadership is based on humanistic, spiritual, and ethical values.
  12. Servant leadership represents the most effective and comprehensive approach to human resources management and development.

Those interested in the Servant Leadership Profile may obtain a free copy from drpaulwong@gmail.com

References

  1. Avolio, B. J. (1999). Full leadership development: Building the vital forces in organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  2. Bass, B. (1998). Transformational leadership: Industrial, military, and educational impact. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  3. Bennis, W. (1990). Why leaders can’t lead. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  4. Blanchard, K., & Hodges, P. (2003). The servant leader: Transforming your heart, head, hands & habits. Nashville, TN: Countryman.
  5. Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap … and others don’t. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
  6. Covey, S. R. (1994). Serving the one. Executive Excellence, 11(9), 3-4.
  7. Farling, M. L., Stone, A. G., & Winston, B. E. (1999). Servant leadership: Setting the stage for empirical research. Journal of Leadership Studies, 6, 49-72.
  8. Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York, NY: Paulist Press.
  9. Hammer, M., & Champy, J. (1993). Reengineering the corporation. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
  10. McMahon, J. T. (1976). Participative and power equalized organizational systems. Human Relations, 29, 203-214.
  11. Page, D., & Wong, P. T. P. (2000). A conceptual framework for measuring servant leadership. In S. Adjibolooso (Ed.), The human factor in shaping the course of history and development. New York, NY: American University Press.
  12. Rinzler, A., & Ray, M. (Eds.) (1993). The new paradigm in business: Emerging strategies for leadership and organizational change. New York, NY: Tarcher.
  13. Rombig, D. A. (2001). Side by side leadership. Austin, TX: Bard Press.
  14. Russell, R. F., & Stone, A. G. (2002). A review of servant leadership attributes: Developing a practical model. Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 23, 145-157.
  15. Sendjaya, S., & Sarros, J. C. (2002). Servant leadership: Its origin, development, and application in organizations. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 9, 57-64.
  16. Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline. New York, NY: Doubleday.
  17. Senge, P. M. (1997). Creating learning communities. Executive Excellence, 14(3), 17-18.
  18. Spears, L. C. (1994). Servant leadership: Quest for caring leadership. Inner Quest, 2, 1-4.
  19. Stone, A. G., Russell, R. F., & Patterson, K. (2003, October 16). Transformational versus servant leadership—A difference in leader focus. Paper presented at the Servant Leadership Research Roundtable, School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA.
  20. Wheatley, M. J. (1994). Leadership and the new science: Learning about organizations from an orderly universe. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
  21. Wong, P. T. P. (2002). Creating a positive, meaningful work place: New challenges in management and leadership. In B. Pattanayak, & V. Gupta (Eds.), Creating performing organizations (pp. 74-129). New Delhi, India: Sage.
  22. Wong, P. T. P., & Gupta, V. (2004). The positive psychology of transformative organizations: A fresh perspective of evidence from the Anglo context. In V. Gupta (Ed.), Transformative organizations (pp. 341-360). New Delhi, India: Sage.
  23. Wong, P. T. P., & Page, D. (2003, October 16). Servant leadership: An Opponent-Process Model and the Revised Servant Leadership Profile. Address presented at the Servant Leadership Research Roundtable, School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA.
  24.  Yukl, G. (2002). Leadership in organizations (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Cite

Wong, P. T. P. (2004, Spring). The paradox of servant leadershipLeadership Link, 3-5. Ohio State University, Leadership Research Center.