Many Christians, this weekend celebrate the solemn triduum of Easter commencing with the commemoration of Jesus washing the feet of his apostles.
Regardless of one’s beliefs the growth of the Church is an amazing achievement for an organisation that began with just 13 men and at a time in history where there was little mass communication or technology – this is even more remarkable if one does not subscribe to the divinity of Jesus.
The ‘washing of the feet’ symbolises a style of Servant Leadership that has recently gained recognition as one of the most important traits of successful managers.
It flies in the face of the ego-centric, extrovert, the celebrity CEO that expends as much energy building their own brand as they do the organisation – often leaving it in a veritable heap on their exit.
After evaluating 1,435 Fortune–500 companies, management expert Jim Collins found only 11 that achieved sustained greatness and, most revealing – all of their leaders exhibited characteristics of Servant Leadership: deep personal humility, self-reflection, a devotion to finding the right people and empowering them, and a commitment to a clear vision.
Collins navigates through the various maturations of a leader and categorises them into levels, surmising the above key traits as the most successful or – Level 5 Leadership.
The dedication of the leader not just to getting the right people, but to care, serve and engage them, maximise their strengths and make their weaknesses irrelevant is a recurring theme that extends from the New Testament to the latest issue of HBR.
Despite the weakness of Simon who predictably denies three-times any knowledge of Jesus especially at the darkest hour, his strengths are the focus as he is instilled as the ‘Peter’ the rock and foundation of the future Church.
The successful leader is more of a coach and a mentor than an authority. S/he reflects credit for success to others, but takes responsibility for failures.
Discipline, Vision and Inspired Standards
“Quiet, calm and determined, the servant leader relies not on inspiring charisma but on inspired standards,” as Collins frames it. Whilst stoic in their resolve to achieve performance they are in vigorous pursuit of a clear, compelling vision, intolerant of mediocrity and lack of discipline, and dismissive of distractions.
This highlights the important leadership difference between servant and subservient. For the former serves to achieve organisational performance whilst encouraging growth, recognition, accomplishment and meaning for the people involved, the latter is rudderless and submissive, acquiescing to every whim.
Practicing servant Leadership requires courage, compassion, patience and discipline. It is often misconstrued as weakness when in-fact it is only the strong that can truly follow-through.
Described as the Stockdale Paradox, not unlike the Gethsemane prayer, Level 5 leaders, according to Collins have to hold two contrasting beliefs to successfully navigate through times of crisis: the fact that things couldn’t be any worse, and faith that the final outcome would be better than ever before.
This ability to balance fact and faith – to be honest about accepting the present reality yet to be optimistic of what can be achieved and what needs to be done to realise that vision.
The final test of servant leadership is the test of legacy. For only those that care more for the success of the entity than themselves, work to ensure their organisations are not just significantly transformed since their arrival but – have instilled in the DNA a culture of authentic purpose, engaged people and unqualified performance – that lasts long after their departure.