Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Servant Leadership

Image courtesy of the Catholic Herald

I was asked to write something for a free leadership ebook in May last year. This was apparently too long so never got included. I thought it was particularly appropriate in the run up to Easter. This was my tip:

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty; never ask others to do what you wouldn't.

“He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.” John 13:5

Some would say an MA in Catholic School Leadership is incredibly specialised and only appropriate for a very small number of teachers and leaders. However after studying closely the leadership model demonstrated by the historical Jesus, I was given a fascinating insight into what Robert K. Greenleaf coined as “servant leadership”, in an essay first published in 1970. Reflecting on Jesus as leader has continually inspired me in all that I do at school.

The defining notion of servant leadership is that the primary purpose as leader is to serve. When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he gave an example of how to show great love while doing the lowliest of jobs. It was clear that he was servant first, not leader first. By being a servant, you allow those in your care to grow, and hopefully become servants too.

In this passage, Jesus’ basic motivation was love. He was fully aware of his position as leader; his disciples called him Master and had already shown he was a strong and extremely powerful leader. Jesus voluntarily becomes servant; he wasn't primarily a foot washer, but was ready to do it if required. Finally, he made it clear that it was an example to be followed.

The servant leader is not at the top of the pyramid of power, looking down on all he or she has amassed. The servant leader is at the bottom of the inverted pyramid, sharing power, putting the needs of others first and helping people develop and perform as best they can. Caring can be institutional as well as individual; however big or small our team is, whatever the remit or ‘job to get done’, but can do it with care. If a better team is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, more creative then the capacity to serve must be increased. 

Being a servant leader
  • It’s voluntary – it is beyond your personal interests or interests of others, often for the ‘greater good’
  • It’s using entrusted power to serve others – not mange or simply lead them
  • It’s putting others needs before your own – often through love
  • It’s in word and deed – it is teaching your team to become servant leaders themselves
Questions to consider?
  • Will you, without hesitation, do the jobs you ask others to do? (Cover lessons, supervise detentions, lunch duty)
  • Do you lead in word and action? (Keeping deadlines, marking work, responding to emails)
  • How will you keep touch with everyone that you work with? (Their stresses, workload, pressures...)
  • Who is your servant leader model? Who allowed you to grow into a creative, caring, supportive leader?


  1. Andy, any contemporary research in this area? Leadership can be about the influence we have on others and key to this is our purpose, the 'why' behind our motivation. Leadership models often ask the 'how?' question, whilst important, this flyies in the face of a self promoting culture and focussess on using the students be a part of your leadership style.

    1. I'm not sure Chris. I would imagine there may well be... There is the Greenleaf Center: https://greenleaf.org

      This was last published in 2008: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bibliography-Selected-Monographic-Resources-Leadership/dp/0982201206

      These are also both interesting: