Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Sunday 1 September 2013

Servant Leadership

Every so often the principle of "servant leadership" is mentioned in discussions about management. Sometimes it's portrayed as something new and radical. It's definitely radical, but not at all new. It goes back as least as far as the New Testament, in which Jesus spells out the necessity of servant leadership among his followers. For example:

Matthew 20:

"Jesus called them together and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'"

Luke 22:

"A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.'"

John 13:

"When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. 'Do you understand what I have done for you?' he asked them. 'You call me "Teacher" and "Lord," and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.'" (This is of course the origin of the tradition of the Pope washing people's feet.)

It's not surprising people forget this, since these instructions have been followed poorly over the centuries. In general it seems very difficult to sustain servant leadership as organizations (of all kinds) grow vertically; unity across ranks diminishes, and greed, vanity and ambition take over. It's less of a problem when leaders are driven by shared belief in a mission more than desire for personal status and gain --- as tends to be the case at Mozilla, and the churches I've known. It has also helped that the churches I've attended have all been fairly small, with loose ties (if any) to higher levels of hierarchy.


"When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place." I like this phrase.