Are You 21st Century Servant Leadership Literate? Part One

Jesus washing feet of modern man wearing jeans© 2014 Used with purchased copyright permission from BIGSTOCK PHOTO

Whether you are a leader in a large or small company, local or global, marketplace or faith based; consider the following observation by Bruce Nixon over a decade ago. In a 2004 article entitled, Creating a Cultural Revolution in Your Workplace to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century, Nixon defined the situation we find ourselves in today as leaders in a new century by saying:

We are in the midst of transformation than can only compare with the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. We call it globalization. If affects every aspect of our lives – social, political, cultural, spiritual, and ecological. It is transforming institutions of every kind including community, family, and our individual lifestyles. It is the century we are going to need “servant leaders,” more than ever before (p.1).

Ronald Claiborne in a 2010 article, “Benefits of practicing servant leadership” quotes Karakas (2007) as saying.

Leadership in the 21st Century must deal with problems of global uncertainty, chaos, innovation, change, dynamism, flux, speed, interconnectedness, and complexity therefore, the benefits of practicing servant leadership becomes a critical factor in any business… All leaders in the 21st Century need to be social artists, spiritual visionaries, and cultural innovators (p.1).

While we are in the midst a leadership transformation, and should be visionaries and innovators, is there something that all of these may be predicated on? The answer in the opinion of this author is yes. Jeff Iorg, in his book, The Character of Leadership, states that “Servant leadership is, in its essence, an attitude. Servant leadership is defined more by who you are than by what you do” (p.117). In the book, Faith in Leadership: How Leaders Live out Their Faith in Their Work and Why It Matters, Isobel O. Lopez, in Chapter Six has this to say on the subject of servant leaders. She states that as leaders we must:

Love first, then serve. It is possible to serve first and then love, but a different dynamic is then created. When we serve first, we may be motivated consciously or unconsciously, by approval, guilt, social ambition, or recognition. We serve for a reward of some kind. But when we love first, serving others simply means serving others, nothing more, nothing less. Yet there is a reward. It is the reward of the Spirit: “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be measure you get back” (Luke 6:38), (2007, p.87).

When we are attempting to usher in change as a servant leader within our company, church, community, nation, or world we should recognize we are involved in a process that will last a lifetime. We indeed become a work in progress as we continue to read, study, slowly implement change into our own lives first, developing our servant leadership perspective. Alvin Toffler, in his book The Third Wave, makes this thought provoking statement: “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn” (Starke, 2005, Christ-Based Leadership, p.1).

For some becoming a servant leader will involve relearning, retooling, attitude adjustments and course corrections in our leadership style, yet the end result may prove astronomically beneficial to ourselves, others, and our organization. Dr. Bruce E. Winston, professor at Regent University has noted in his book, Be A Leader for God’s Sake, the following observations relative to servant leadership:

Employees and followers want leaders who are honest, open, and who keep the organization moving in a positive direction during both calm and stormy seas. Employees and followers want leaders who are “other-centered.” Employees and followers want leaders who can bring out the best qualities in them. Beyond this, leaders must also love all the organization’s stakeholders from customers, vendors, regulators, shareholders, members, as well as contributors (p.9).

Kouzes and Posner (The Truth About Leadership, 2010), in their chapter Leadership is an Affair of the Heart, state; “Exemplary leaders interact in ways that make others feel more confident and capable, elevating people to a higher plane,” which is what servant leadership is all about. They quote Gary Strack, former CEO of a regional health care system in Florida, who states that the purpose of leadership is to create a legacy and not a legend, going to say:

I constantly remind myself that my name is not on the organization. I think all leaders, including myself, need to be reminded of that and that we are just in our positions as stewards of our people and organizations which have been entrusted to us (p. 139).


So how can we evaluate our leadership style and determine if we are servant leaders putting others needs ahead of ours, being good stewards of our followers and resources. Calvin Miller (The Empowered Leader: 10 Keys to Servant Leadership, 1995) provides these Five Evidences of Power Abuse:

  1. Giving up those disciplines, we still demand of underlings
  2. Believing that others owe us whatever use we can make of them
  3. Trying to fix things up rather than make things right
  4. Closing our minds to every suggestion that we ourselves could be out of line
  5. Believing that people in our way are expendable

Perhaps as we close Part One on this topic we would be wise to remember this quote cited by Spears from Robert Greenleaf found in The International Journal of Servant-Leadership:

The true test of a servant leader is this: Do those around the servant-leader become wiser, freer, more autonomous, healthier, and better able themselves to become servants? Will the least privileged of society be benefited or at least not further deprived? (2007, opening page in book).


Claiborne, R. (2010). Benefits of practicing servant leadership. Retrieved January 17, 2015 from

Iorg, J. (2007). The Character of Leadership: Nine Qualities that Define Leaders. Nashville, TN: B&H.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2010). The Truth About Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lopez, O. L. (2003). Finding Wisdom and Purpose in Chaotic Times. Banks, R., & Powell, K., (Ed’s.). Faith in Leadership: How Leaders Live Out Their Faith In Their Work And Why It Matters. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Miller, C. (1995). The Empowered Leader: 10 Keys to Servant Leadership. Nashville, TN: B&H.

Nixon, B. (2004). Creating a Cultural Revolution in Your Workplace to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century. Retrieved January 17, 2015 from p.1.

Spears, L. (Ed.). (2007). The International Journal of Servant-Leadership. Vol. 3. Gonzaga University.

Stark, D. (2005). Christ-Based Leadership. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House.

Winston, B. (2005). Be A Leader for God’s Sake. Virginia Beach, VA: School of Leadership Studies. Regent University.

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