Servant Leaders & Healing

Of the eleven attributes of servant-leadership that I listed, I picked healing first because it resonates so powerfully with my own journey.

Before commenting further let me quote Greenleaf so that from the outset of this discussion we have a shared and agreed view of what he means and what I mean by healing in this context.

There is something subtle communicated to one being servant-led, if implicit in the compact between servant-leader and led is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something they share.

In essence what this means to me is that as a servant-leader I have not arrived, I am still on a journey and I do not have to pretend that I have arrived or have all the answers in order to qualify for leadership.

This need to create and maintain the image of having arrived fuels anxiety in the leader and an integrity and an authenticity gap that those who are being led find it difficult to bridge. It results in a lack of emotional connection between leader and led and creates a culture of pretence where it’s not ok to say you’re not ok.

So where is the tension of truth here?

Leaders by definition have followers so in some sense they are ahead, perhaps in insight, and maybe in experience but this in no way means they have arrived. In my mind servant-leaders are fellow travellers with those they lead. Servant-leaders leading with this mindset lead with vulnerability and authenticity that creates space around them for those they lead to occupy. This encourages emotional connection, honesty and transparency because servant-leaders model that there is no need to pretend. I am being real which means you can be real which means that together we can have an authentic relationship.

The vulnerability and authenticity of servant-leaders means that when life gets difficult people seek them out, finding it easy to be honest about how they feel, not having to pretend that everything is ok when patently it’s not. In response servant-leaders draw on their personal experience of struggle and journey and not just the text book. This creates empathy, the power of which is hard to overstate in the context of people helping people.

Servant-leaders understand that whilst the ultimate destination is perfection today’s goal is progress. They model and encourage vulnerability and authenticity as they journey towards wholeness as opposed to pretence and performance in striving for perfection.

Hopefully I’ve explained why Greenleaf’s vision of servant-leadership and healing means so much to me on my journey. My experience is that leading with vulnerability and authenticity has increased my ability to serve others on their journey and this in turn has made my journey all the more worthwhile.

Mark Lawrence is a leadership and culture consultant