A Novice’s Journey: The Servant-Leader is Human

Of course! The servant-leader is most assuredly human. Why take the time to write about it?

When I ask groups to describe servant-leaders in their lives, they speak of leaders who could easily be mistaken for super heroes. The servant-leader’s super human power allows those he or she serves to reach great heights.   Occasionally, a member of a group will point out that their servant-leader is humble and vulnerable. This servant-leader is showing us a glimpse into their humanity.

We learn a great deal from the servant-leader’s empowering behaviors but we should also dig deeper and learn from their humility and vulnerability. The servant-leader’s humility allows her to share responsibility and defer to experts. The servant-leader’s vulnerability allows him to accept responsibility for mistakes, make amends and learn from setbacks. That humanity allows the servant-leader to build trusting relationships.

If the servant-leader is human, humble and vulnerable, it stands to reason that the servant-leader makes mistakes. As Jack Lowe, Jr., former CEO of TD Industries, Inc., says: “We have been practicing servant leadership for over 40 years and we haven’t produced a perfect servant-leader yet.”

Despite best intentions, the servant-leader may react poorly in a stressful situation or make a decision that have a negative impact on other people.   These actions might give others reason to doubt their servant-leader’s commitment to the philosophy. It is specifically in these situations, we must remember that the servant-leader is human. Humans make mistake.   The difference comes in how the servant-leader behaves when mistakes are made. He owns it. He doesn’t minimize it, deflect it or blame others. She seeks to learn from it. She doesn’t dismiss it as unimportant.   They ask for forgiveness and work had not to make the same mistake again.

Perfection is not something that we humans can claim. Let’s not expect servant-leaders to measure up to an unrealistic level of perfection before we follow them.


In the spirit,


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