Leadership Through Advocacy: A Form of Servant Leadership?Seeing as October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I thought it fitting to blog about Nancy G. Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Brinker started the organization in 1982 after her sister, Susan G. Komen, passed away from breast cancer. What began as Brinker’s vision and promise to her sister to help educate others about breast cancer has now evolved into the “world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all, and energize science to find the cures” (http://ww5.komen.org/default.aspx) (Sashkin, 1989)(Sendjaya, 2002).
As I was researching Brinker, I began to think about her in the context of a servant leader. I believe that Brinker’s emergence as a servant leader resonates with Selznick’s idea that servant leadership is a choice because her desire to serve the community through breast cancer awareness arose as a result of her sister’s death (Selznick, 1975). She was a servant first, founding the organization as a service to her sister, and a leader second as her cause began to grow in popularity (Greenleaf, 1991). Through innovation and creativity (Race for the Cure, Pink Ribbon Store, Partnerships, etc.), Brinker advocates for the cause by envisioning a cure for breast cancer, empowering others to join the movement towards educating people about breast cancer and finding a cure, and empathizing with those who have encountered the illness in some way or another (Sendjaya, 2002)(Choi, 2006). She exemplifies courage by sharing her sister’s story in hopes to inspire others and authenticity of leadership by approaching her cause from the socialized perspective (Sashkin, 1989)(Burns, 1978).
Brinker is a transformational leader who works to develop her followers and help them grow more autonomous in order to increase the likelihood that they will ultimately become servant leaders themselves (Greenleaf, 1991). Brinker’s charismatic style of leadership also enables her to motivate others to support the cause through donations and/or volunteering their time (Choi, 2006). Brinker’s initial vision has ultimately become a successful, consistent reality, and she is a quintessential fulfillment of Greenleaf’s statement, “I am a leader. Therefore I serve” (Sashkin, 1989)(Greenleaf, 1991).
However, as I began to look more closely at Brinker as a servant leader and how much Susan G. Komen for the Cure has grown as an organization, I started to wonder what exactly measures a servant leader’s success? Sure the organization has been active in educating women about breast cancer awareness and raising money for breast cancer research for some 25+ years, but there is still no cure for breast cancer. Is success measured in terms of the amount of money generated for research or by the number of activists who have joined the cause? Can you actually set criteria to measure the success of servant leadership? Or, is that, in fact, the rub—that servant leadership does not necessarily lead to a particular means end as long as the leader is working to develop his or her followers to likely become servants themselves?