Archive for August 2014

What Do You Think . . . is the result of “people-neglect?”

I grew up with an example in my father of someone who genuinely cares about people, and I was able to observe the effect of his influence as a result.  However, I don’t think I consciously connected with the importance of that idea until some years later, when I heard a pastor preach a sermon in which he kept repeating, “People matter to God.” Over time, I have learned and put into practice a leadership style that values people over tasks.  But often, leadership seems to be exercised at the expense of people, rather than for the benefit of people.  In your own experience, how have you seen this issue occur, and what have you seen to be the result of this “people-neglect?”  Please share in the comment box below.


What is Servant Leadership?

Robert Greenleaf, who also founded the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, first detailed the modern concept of Servant Leadership.  The primary and foundational principle of the concept is, very simply, putting others first.  In his research, Greenleaf determined that people “will freely respond only to individuals who are chosen as leaders because they are proved and trusted as servants” (2002, p. 24).  He went on to describe a servant-leader as someone who is a servant first, who intentionally works to “make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served” (2002, p. 27).

Servant leadership is defined as a leadership approach in which leaders “place the good of followers over their own self-interests and emphasize follower development” (Northouse, 2012, p. 220).  Further research by others has identified ten characteristics that generally typify a servant-leader:  listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community (Spears, 2002).  In essence, the servant-leader “puts followers first, empowers them, and helps them develop their full personal capacities” (Northouse, 2012, p. 219).

The Servant Leadership model has three components:

  1. Antecedent conditions – these are the existing conditions that affect or influence the process of leadership and its effectiveness, and include context and culture, existing leader attributes and disposition, and follower receptivity to a servant-leader style.
  2. Servant leader behaviors – these are the core behaviors of the servant-leader in the leadership process, and include conceptualizing, emotional healing, putting others first, helping followers to grow and succeed, behaving ethically, empowering, and creating value for the community.  Of these, “putting others first” is the defining characteristic.
  3. Outcomes – these are the potential outcomes or results of effective servant leadership, and include enhanced follower performance, development, and growth, enhanced organizational performance, growth, and citizenship, and positive societal impact.

(Northouse, 2012, pp. 225-232)

Servant Leadership is really all about care for others and taking care of people.  It is people-focused, unselfish, and invests in the lives of others.  Like Authentic Leadership, this is the kind of leadership that builds trust and loyalty, while helping others to maximize their own personal growth and development.  It reinforces the idea of the importance of relationship and care.  As a follower of Jesus, I believe it reflects a biblical model of loving your neighbor as yourself, so it makes sense that I believe an effective leader should be a servant leader.


Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Greenleaf, R. K. (Larry C. Spears, Ed.)(2002). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness (25th Anniversary Edition). Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Spears, L. C. (2002). Focus on leadership: Servant-leadership for the 21st century. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.


Quotable (Leman & Pentak, The Way of the Shepherd)

“You have to really care about people. You can go through all the right mechanics, but if you don’t genuinely care about the people who report to you, you’ll never be the kind of leader they’ll drop everything to follow.”     The Way of the Shepherd (2004)


Leman, K., and Pentak, W (2004). The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI.

Take Care of People

When I first entered the world of education as a teacher, I was blessed to have both a headmaster and a principal who invested in me and cared about me.  And it wasn’t just me; they cared about all of the faculty and staff.  I received wonderful support, constructive criticism, and guidance that helped me to develop and flourish.  Then there came a time when I experienced some particularly difficult personal circumstances, when the trials of life were overwhelming and I was struggling to manage.  During this time, these two individuals – my leaders – lifted me up and walked along side me.  Out of these circumstances, and from these leaders, I learned the value and importance of taking care of people.

When I eventually had the opportunity to become an administrator of a school, I carried that experience with me.  It became one of my core values, as a headmaster, to take care of the people who worked with and for me.  I did it because it had been done for me and had meant so much to me as a teacher, but I soon learned the value of this practice from the leader’s perspective.  I learned that when I genuinely cared for and took care of the people who worked for me, the security and significance that resulted for them produced two beneficial responses:  1) they could focus their energy and effort on doing their jobs well, because they were not carrying fear or anxiety from job insecurity, and 2) because they knew I cared, and had tangible evidence to support that belief, they then cared about me and were willing to follow me with enthusiasm.

Kevin Leman and William Pentak communicated this same idea in The Way of the Shepherd, stating clearly, “You have to really care about people.  You can go through all the right mechanics, but if you don’t genuinely care about the people who report to you, you’ll never be the kind of leader they’ll drop everything to follow” (2004, p. 27).  The point is, people need to know that they matter, and they need to know that you care.  And although leadership is about both tasks and people, the mistake that we can easily make is to let tasks and agendas prevent us from caring about people (I spoke about this in a previous post, on the importance of being relational).  When we are focusing on ourselves rather than on others, it becomes too easy to think that we must know enough and do enough to lead people effectively, but in reality – as I have frequently heard stated – people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Robert Greenleaf, who first developed the modern leadership theory of servant leadership, shared that people “will freely respond only to individuals who are chosen as leaders because they are proven and trusted as servants”  (1977, p. 24).  He went on to say that a servant-leader is servant first, which “manifests itself in the care taken . . . to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served” (1977, p. 27).  Essentially, “servant leadership emphasizes that leaders be attentive to the concerns of their followers, empathize with them, and nurture them” (Northouse, 2013, p. 219).  This is the leader who shows his people that he cares about them, and it’s a genuine care (because they can tell if it is not).  And this is the type of leadership that I first experienced as a follower, and learned to appreciate so much that it became a primary characteristic of my own leadership.

So I would say to you:  People matter; take care of them.  When their needs are not being met, they become insecure because they are now concerned about their own needs.  When they are insecure in their jobs, they won’t (and can’t) give you their best efforts, because they can’t give you all of their attention – they are now focused on protecting their own needs.  When you haven’t shown them that you care about them, you prevent a mutual relationship and response of trust and support, and they are unwilling to follow you wholeheartedly. It may cost you some sacrifice to genuinely care and to take care of them, but the reward in their response will far exceed the sacrifice you make.  So, take care of them.  And do it because they matter.

Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness (25th Anniversary Edition). Paulist Press: Mahwah, NJ.

Leman, K., and Pentak, W. (2004). The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice (6th Edition). Sage Publications: Los Angeles, CA.

What Do You Think . . . has been an intersection of passion and ability for you?

Like I describe in my just-published book, passion and ability are two important factors in determining your purpose. In your personal life and leadership, can you think of a time when you experienced the intersection of passion and ability in a way that brought you great fulfillment? Please share in the comment box below.