Read (and look) past the exceptionally nice things said about yours truly in a post at Calacirian and you’ll find some good further thining on leadership… particularly “servant leadership.” The post considers the meaning of the two terms separately and then asks how they are made compatible. Good question, given the phrase is used a lot, and it’s certainly one I’ve used as well.

This summer I read Jim Collins’ Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. I read it not to revolutionize my youth ministry (the book is finding a following in church leadership circles), but because I was interested in it from a business perspective. I was not disappointed. Collins describes characteristics of the ideal CEO, and — now, hold on a second. Don’t anyone think I would compare church leadership with the role of a CEO… that’s not the point at all. Although, it is noteworthy that he comes up with something very different from what you’d expect… he illustrates an inverse relationship between company performance and the larger-than-life style of some more flamboyant CEOs. In any event, Collins describes five levels of leadership, escalating in their effectiveness.

He outlines what he refers to as “Level Five Leadership” with a number of distinctives, including that level five leaders:

  • embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will; ambitious, but first and foremost for the company and not for themselves
  • set up their successors for even greater success in the next generation
  • display a compelling modesty, are self-effacing and understated
  • are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce sustained results; resolved to do whatever it takes to make the company great, no matter how big or hard the decisions
  • display a workmanlike diligence—more plow horse than show horse
  • look out the window to attribute success to factors other than themselves; look in the mirror to blame themselves when things go poorly
  • attribute much of their success to good luck rather than personal greatness

Collins says much more about level five leadership, how the characteristics were identified, and what damaging effects the corollaries can have. When reading it though, I kept thinking of the term “servant leadership.” I think that what Collins describes is the business-world equivalent of what we would call servant leadership in the church.

In thinking about servant leadership during private conversations a year ago, I surmised that this form of leadership would be characterized in part by the continual checking with other leaders “below” the servant leader to make sure that they have everything available to them to best fulfil their role, and filling any gaps that were found.

Similarly, some concepts from The Tao of Leadership suggest themselves.

Leaders should not seek power or status;
people will not then crave power or status.
If scarce goods are not valued highly,
people will have no need to steal them.
If there is nothing available to arouse passion,
people will remain content and satisfied.

The truly wise do lead
by instilling humility and open-mindedness,
by providing for fair livelihoods,
by discouraging personal ambition,
by strengthening the bone-structure of the people.

The wise avoid evil and radical reform;
thus the foolish do not obstruct them.
They work serenely, with inner quiet.

And perhaps most commonly-quoted:

The best leaders, the people do not notice.
The next best, the people honor and praise.
The next, the people fear;
and the next, the people hate.

If you have no faith, people will have no faith
in you, and you must resort to oaths.

When the best leader’s work is done
the people say: “We did it ourselves!”

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