LEADERSHIP AS A CULTURAL UNIVERSAL
This summer I was fortunate to take part in Servant Leadership Academy held from July 7 – 25, 2014, in the States of Oregon and Washington, U.S.A. Co-serve International, the organization that was in charge of the whole program provided us with a set of experiences that introduced me and other students to some businesses. These companies and organizations that we were able to see, I would consider as real-life examples of Servant Leadership. Through such companies as First Fruits of Washington, Intel Corporation, Medical Terms International and many others we could see with our own eyes the servant leadership principles that they applied. The leaders of these companies were servants in the best sense of this word. They were people-centric, valued service to others and believed they had a duty of stewardship. Nearly all of them were humble and passionate about what they do and were deeply involved in the details of their own business. Some of them have been working in their companies since the very young age and were pretty much dedicated. They had not forgotten what it was like to be a line employee. They believed that every employee should be treated with respect and have the opportunity to do meaningful work. They led by example and understood that good intentions are not enough - behaviors count. These leaders truly serve the organization. That’s why they can be called servant leaders.
The Academy also included a variety of group activities that were about defining our own values, the importance of serving and working in community, building trustful and welcoming atmosphere around you. I remember one activity that we did that I liked most of all. The name of it was “Awareness walk”. The point was that we were given list of phrases, such as “what inspires me”, “symbol of beauty”, etc. The task was to find all these subjects by walking on the street on your own. It had to be something that you associated with given phrases. At the end, when we were done, I was surprised by the fact that some of the words we referred to as “something beautiful” were the same with most of us. I think the main purpose of this task was to find something that can simply inspire in things of our daily life. Sometimes we are so busy that we do not notice what surrounds us in our daily life. I do this “awareness walk” even now. Thanks to servant leadership academy, it has become one of my good habits.
Also, this Servant Leadership Academy was very special in terms of its internationality. This year Academy included students not only from Kazakhstan and Ukraine, but from Afghanistan and Thailand. For me, it was the first experience of encountering people from these countries. When I learned about it, I was looking forward to meet these students. Finally we met and I remember our very first meeting together with foreign students when out of the blue I realized how much we had in common, though living so far away from each other. However, there was a one thing that did unite us - our passion to serve people.
During the Leadership Academy I was constantly wondering about Leadership and what actually brought us all together. Through numerous discussions with these people, I understood that Servant Leadership is universal. In fact, it really is. But theoretically, what does Servant Leadership really means and why is it considered to be universal. The key answer here can be that Servant Leadership is based on characteristics that are known worldwide. Some of them are listening, healing, empathy, awareness, building communities etc. Servant Leadership is not about creating something brand-new, because all these written characteristics have been in existence across time, space and cultures. Does it mean that Servant Leadership is truly a universal calling? Let’s get down to the history.
Servant Leadership is considered to be an ancient philosophy. It existed long before Robert Greenleaf, who was the pioneer of creating Servant Leadership in modern times. In ancient China, for instance, the philosophy of Lao-tzu was pretty much about Servant Leadership principles. He said: "The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy. ...When you are lacking in faith, others will be unfaithful to you. ...The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!" Indian Professor Chanakya wrote, in the 4th century BC, in his book Arthashastra wrote: "the king [leader] shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects [followers]" "the king [leader] is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people." Stephen Covey, in his Foreword to the Silver Anniversary edition of Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness wrote: “The deepest part of human nature is that which urges people - each one of us - to rise above our present circumstances and to transcend our nature. If you can appeal to it, you tap into a whole new source of human motivation.” These writers were from different continents and religious traditions. They wrote over a period spanning thousands of years. However, they talked about the same thing, that leader is the one who believes himself “first among equals”. There is no ownership of servant leadership, no more or less authentic or original claim to the tradition or concept. This great movement of Servant Leadership is taking place throughout the world today. Its roots, I believe, are to be found in two powerful forces. The first one is the dramatic globalization of world markets, whereas this tidal wave of change is making the impact of the second force: timeless, universal principles that have existed, and will always exist, all enduring success, especially those principles that give ‘air’ and ‘life’ and creative power to the people that produces value in markets, organizations, families, and, most significantly, individual’s lives.
Having being lucky to get acquainted with all these wonderful people I understood one simple thing. Building relationships is the most precious thing when it comes to creating a safe and welcoming community. During these 3 weeks we, people from different backgrounds, ideas and thoughts could build a trustful community. Why? Because we have built relationships, that were like the glue that hold us together as we worked for the same goal- to learn more about Servant Leadership. I would say that with these people I created long – term relationships and friendship. We experienced so much together through these 3 weeks. It seems not so much time, indeed. However, it never really felt like that. I believe that friendship is powerful. It is our connection to each other that gives meaning to our lives. Our caring for each other is often what motivates us to make a change. Hence the reason why establishing connections with people from diverse backgrounds can be key in making significant changes in our communities.
People in the world get used to divide and label each other. But deep down, despite differences in culture and nation, gender and wealth, we each long to contribute, to share, to serve, to love our families, to be true to ourselves and other people. We do that in a billion different ways with varying degrees of success, with different motivations. That's where we differ. Servant Leadership is not something that needs to be taught. It has existed within us and around us for centuries. Servant Leadership needs only to be nurtured, rewarded, and cultivated. People young and old the world over are called to serve, and to lead, in their own unique ways. We are the same, and united, in more ways than we can imagine. Our job is simply to keep developing this fervor of Servant Leadership and to heed the universal call to serve.