Leaders are servants first. In the work "Servant Leadership" by Robert Greenleaf, the author relates a story from Herman Hesse’s “Journey to the East.” A group of men employ a servant named Leo to guide them on an exploration of the jungle wilderness. Leo “sustains them with his spirit and his song” (2002:21). Leo disappears, most likely due to the way he has been treated by the group, and without his presence and strength, the group becomes lost and disorganized. Much later, one of the remaining explorers stumbles upon a group of thriving natives and he learns that “Leo whom he had known first as servant, was in fact the titular head of the Order, its guiding spirit, a great and noble leader” (2002: 21). The fact is that if you wanted to find a true leader, you would look for the servant. Leadership is about working to build up the lives and fortunes of those around you. This does not mean that you resign yourself to the life of a pauper. Wealth and/or power surely may and most likely will come to the servant leader, but these things are bi-products of leadership, not the aim. We leaders, like Leo, need to sustain and build those around us with our “spirit” and our “song.” I liken the spirit to the power of example, and I equate Leo’s song to the motivating influence of empowerment. Both having spirit and a song are integral qualities of effective leaders.
We to must lead by example so others may want to follow. We can sustain others in our organization with our spirit of example. Managers who dream of being leaders, often erroneously believe that commanding and being demanding will get results. But commanding at what cost? Leadership gets the same results while at the same time builds relationships of trust and respect. It is about how we treat people and how we can help them find the best in themselves. We maintain standards and expectations, but in meeting those standards and expectations, we lift and unite, we do not tear down and demand.
History is replete with great men and women who did difficult things and suffered for them. In business and in life, people who avoid the difficult things rarely make anything of themselves and never make anything of anybody else. If we, like Leo in Hesse’s tale, have a “spirit” and a “song,” we can be leaders as we serve others, share our example, and empower those for whom we have responsibility. Then and only then we will be worthy to be called Leader.