Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership

BUSI 502


This paper contains a literary review, an interview with a corporate leader and a group discussion analysis. The literary review explores Robert Greenleaf’s concept of servant leadership without using Jesus as part of the appeal to become a servant leader versus the biblical definition of servant leader which uses a God centered approach. The leadership interview will be conducted with Carl Bumgarner, the owner and CEO of Fleetmaster Inc. and a veteran of the United States Army, and will concentrate on the qualities of a servant leader as compared to the qualities discovered in the literature review. Some of those qualities are empathy, listening, stewardship and foresight. The last section will compare and contrast the ideas found in the first two sections with our group paper and discussions on Biblical leadership and will conclude with my findings.

Part 1- Literature Review

Servant leadership is a term coined by Robert. K. Greenleaf in 1970 and has attracted attention from scholars over the years (Gordon-Brown, 2011). Although most people want to hold positions of leadership not all understand the essence of servant leadership. Ideally, over the recent decades there have been numerous cases of leaders engaging in unethical practices (Overall, 2015). An overwhelmingly large number of leaders are using their position and the power that comes with such a position to achieve their self-serving interest (Burkhart, 2015).

Fundamentally, Jesus Christ is credited for being one of the greatest servant leaders (Grahn, 2011). Carroll (2005) states that… “Jesus said that “anyone wanting to be a leader among you must be your servant”. Mertel and Brill (2015) add that for a leader to become a servant leader it is imperative for him/her to be willing and able to serve other people. According to Andersen (2009), willingness to serve others is one of the key premises that servant leadership is founded. Russell (2000) argues that Jesus came in order to serve mankind. Jesus exemplified servant leadership for instance by washing the feet of his followers, a task which in most instances relegated to a house servants (Grahn, 2011).

Washington, Sutton and Feild (2006) argue that servant leadership is value based. In their study, Senjaya and Pekerti (2010) found that trust is a mediating factor for servant leadership. Jesus through his humbleness and humility was able to build trust among his followers (Roach, n.d.). Joseph and Winston (2005) posit that trust in a leader is influenced by confidence in his/ her abilities and ability to predict behaviour. Russell (2000) cites empowerment as one of the key attributes of a servant leader. Jesus was referred to as teacher by his followers (Underwood, 1992); he empowered the people that he encountered with wisdom that would help them to live a righteous life. According to Greenleaf (1991), a servant leader actions are primarily directed towards the betterment of the lives of his/ her followers. Jesus for instance, gave his life in order to serve and glory his father. Jesus come to earth because he was sent by his father and he served him with humility according to his will so that God would be glorified (Grace Bible Church, 2013). Another value that exemplifies servant leadership is humbleness. Jesus was a humble servant; there are numerous examples of his humbleness throughout the bible. Gordon-Brown, (2011) describes Jesus as humble leader. According to Grace Bible Church (2013), although Jesus is the son of God he was born of man and lived a very humble life which exemplifies servant leadership. A servant leader must also be visionary. Jesus like most servant leaders had a vision which was primarily to serve and glory his father through service to mankind. In the article ‘Jesus the Humble Leader’ Gordon-Brown (2011, p.2) states that… “And when Jesus sets about recruiting his team, he said “Follow Me, and I will make you Fishers of Men” (Mat4:19)”. Jesus Christ did not only have a vision but he was willing to be born of man, suffer and ultimately die so as his vision could come to pass.

In conclusion, servant leadership is to a great extent based on Christian teachings. Basically, servant leaders such as Jesus take a leadership approach that is geared towards providing service to others. Servant leadership is premised on values such as trust, empowerment and humbleness.

Part 2- Leadership Interview

For this part of the assignment I chose to interview Carl Bumgarner, who is the owner and CEO of Fleetmaster Inc. of Roanoke, Va. Mr. Bumgarner has owned his company since 1987 and recently decided to move his company headquarters from Eden, NC. to Roanoke, Va. Carl is also a deacon in his local church and the head of the men’s worship group as well. I first asked Carl what qualities he felt we essential in being a good servant leader. He said that there are four qualities that he looks for in a servant leader which are respect, humility, leading by example and a willingness to serve for the benefit of others. The leader must have the trust and respect of those he or she is leading by showing them that he is willing to do anything and everything that is asked of others. The leader must also show a genuine concern for the welfare of those he leads by showing empathy, concern and the self awareness of feelings of others. An effective leader also makes sure that their vision, goals in life and their values match up with those they have at work. Offering encouragement so that others continue to learn, explore and grow as leaders and as individuals.

My next question for Carl was to define servant leadership. He stated that being a servant leader is never requiring someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. The standards need to be set and exceeded by the leader. Trust is essential between the servant leader and those who follow. A good servant leader will make sure that they communicate to others and always put their needs ahead of their own, always. When the leader shows his or her followers that he or she has their best interest at heart, the trust is built. Also, a good leader finds ways to motivate and inspire people to achieve the task at hand and when conflicts do arise resolving them quickly and fairly. I asked Carl if servant leadership starts in the trenches with the hourly employees and stops with immediate supervisors or does it travel all the way to the top of the corporate ladder? Carl stated that he could only speak for his company but that servant leadership is taught in and expected throughout his company, from the bottom all the way to the top. He said that the higher one goes in rank the less interaction that person has with the folks on the front lines of the business. The job becomes more about responsibility and policy than it does with actual work. He said you can be a great manager but if your people are not happy then something is not right. If those problems are not fixed and it gets to me then I have failed as a leader. I like to look at myself as the father of this company and my managers are my kids, so there shortcomings as leaders are my failures as a father.

I asked Carl if he had served in our military and told me he had, as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army. He served for 4 years and attained the rank of sergeant, which is the entry rank for a non commissioned officer (NCO) I asked him if if is hard to adopt a servant leadership mentality in the military? He stated that servant leadership is really established when you become part of a unit. Generally you are assigned a mission and given what the Army likes to call a “battle buddy” or mentor to ensure that you become proficient and successful in that unit. As soldiers become more proficient and move up in rank they are given more responsibility and eventually become leaders who train the next generation of leaders.

Part 4- Comparison to Literature

With time served in our military in a leadership position and over 30 years of building and leading a successful company, Carl Bumgarner has had a long history of being a servant leader and feels it is very important. He has shown this not only by his definition of a servant leader but also by his actions which support the research. He has lived by a set of core values he learned very young and lives the definition of what a leader is, which is trustworthy, empathetic, encouraging, visionary and self sacrificing. Carl ended our time together by reminding me that a true servant leader is successful when the people they lead are successful. That is what being a leader is all about. This statement coincides with Blanchard and Hodges statement of the four leadership styles, which include directing, supporting, coaching and delegating. (Blanchard and Hodges, 2008)

Part 5- Comparison to the Group Discussion

Our group effort analyzed Greenleaf’s idea of servant leadership compared to the Biblical definition of servant leadership. As a group we determined that Greenleaf’s definition was more centered on the development of people but was not God centered. When people focus on the works of man instead of the works of God it becomes much easier for them to become self serving. We also agreed that the true definition of a servant leader is based on the words that Jesus himself spoke when he stated that one need to serve others to become great and that one need to be a slave for them to lead. Greenleaf’s belief of what a servant leader should be is men centered and while it does have its place in the business world it falls short in what God wants us to dedicate ourselves to, which is His work. The most important thing we found when comparing Greenleaf and the Biblical definitions was that Greenleaf’s approach is credited with with serving those leaders who work him but it fails to place the importance of serving God before mankind. We concluded that a true servant leader is one who is God centered and places God before man.

Part 6- Conclusion

Servant leadership to some people is a concept while for others it is a way of life. In either case, servant leadership has a major impact on the business world. Greenleaf’s version provides the needed ingredients to be successful in business such as empathy, caring, vision, will, humility and many others. He states that leaders will want to hear feedback about their role and how they can improve their leadership (Blanchard and Hodges, 2003). But Greenleaf puts man’s needs ahead of God’s and this is where his definition and the Biblical definition of servant leadership really become noticeable. Where Greenleaf’s version is centered on man the Biblical version is centered on God. The Biblical definition is more concerned with pleasing God and doing His work than it is with being successful in business. God wants us to be successful and work hard at our jobs, but not at the expense of forgetting Him. Both versions do seem to agree there is no place for ego and that the needs of others need to be put before the needs of the leader. Greenleaf definitely misses the mark because his theory excludes God and serving God first. But as a business tool his theory is almost spot on. His theory uses many Christian values in it except the most important one, which is serving god first. As a Christian I would side with the Biblical version of a servant leader because God does come first in my life regardless of my job, my commitments and my personal goals. Both versions have their good points but for me I would prefer to use a God centered way of leading people because by serving God and putting Him first I am leading by example, and what better way to show people you care about them than to lead them to God.


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