Servant Leadership and Stewardship as Demonstrated by Liu Xiaobo
When reading this weeks articles about servant leadership, one thing that stood out, was Greenleaf’s claim that “the servant-leader is servant first…the person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions” (Greenleaf). With this in mind, I began to think about a modern leader who embodied this concept of serving first and leading second. Knowing that the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday 8 October, I researched some of the favorites to win the award. Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo is someone who stood out to me as servant leader. Liu is a human rights activist, who since 1989 has been repeatedly arrested by the Chinese government for peaceful political activities. I think it is important to ask the question as to whether or not Xiaobo’s actions fall in line with the themes of servant leadership and stewardship. In order to completely answer this question however, I feel that it is necessary to provide a brief synopsis on Xiaobo’s actions.
On Christmas day in 2009, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison for what was ruled “inciting subversion of state power” (Radio Free Asia).Liu was deemed to be the author of a “pro-democracy manifesto” titled Chapter 08 that called for greater freedoms for Chinese people and proposed sweeping changes to the Chinese political structure. Liu’s manuscript, which was signed by 303 mainland intellectuals called for a move toward more democratic practices in the authoritarian country.
According to Cara Anna, “he is the best shot the country’s dissident movement has had in winning the prestigious award since it began pushing for democratic change after China’s authoritarian leaders launches economic, but not political reforms three decades ago” (Anna). It is worth noting however, that the Chinese government believes that if Xiaobo were to win the award, it would be a slap in the office to their government.
With this in mind, we can now examine, how Xiaobo actions line up with Peter Block’s definition of stewardship and also with Greenleaf’s definition of the servant leader. According to Block, “stewardship means taking a clear stance in support of partnership and empowerment” (Block, p. 71). It is worth note, that even though Xiaobo co-authored Chapter 08, he didn’t not himself as the author. I believe these actions fall in line with Block’s definition of stewardship because they place ownership in the hands of the other 300 intellectuals associated with the document. Furthermore, it is worth note that Block’s article asks the reader to “Think of yourself as a social architect in the redesign on a governance system…Stewardship has us become skillful in articulation its principles and then insisting that people construct the house in which they live” (Block, p. 64).
I believe that Chapter 08 implements Block’s ideals of stewardship by pointing to the problems of the Chinese political structure, and leaving it in the hands of the people to go about forcing political reforms. Xiaobo bullets certain areas that are worth reforming, yet he doesn’t go into specific details on how these reforms should go about. Therefore, the document leaves it up to the hands of the people to then decide what issues would be most pressing in a newly revised government. As a result, I believe Xiaobo’s actions fall perfectly in line with Block’s definition of stewardship.
Also worth examining is how Xiaobo’s actions fit with Greenleaf’s definition of a servant leader. Xiaobo knew from years of being an activist that the publication of Chapter 08 would put him at risk of being imprisoned, yet he believed that his message must be delivered in service to the people. Hence, once can view Xiaobo as a servant leader because he placed the needs of the group (the Chinese people) ahead of his own security. Greenleaf suggests that servant leaders are not initially motivated to be leaders. I believe that Xiaobo wasn’t trying to achieve a position of leadership in the movement to change the political structure of China. Instead, I think that Xiaobo inserted himself into a leadership role through repeatedly acting out against the government on behalf of the people. According to Smith, Montagno and Kuzmeko, “servant leadership promotes the valuing and development of people, the building of community, the practice of authenticity, the providing of leadership for the good of those led and the sharing of power and status for the common good of each individual…” (p. 82). Thus, I believe that that Xiaobo demonstrates servant leadership by putting the good of the Chinese people ahead of his own and trying to empower the people with the tools necessary to stand up to the government.
In conclusion, if Liu Xiaobo doesn’t receive the Nobel Peace Prize it isn’t for lack of being stewardship or acting as a servant leader. Xiaobo’s selfness in leading a movement to democratize China without needing to be seen as the leader of the movement demonstrates his skills to act as a servant leader.
Anna, Cara. "Contender for Nobel prize is in Chinese prison." Yahoo News. Associated Press, 02 Oct 2010. Web. 4 Oct 2010. .
Block, Peter. “Defining the Stewardship Contract,” in Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self. 1993.
Greenleaf, Robert K. “Servant Leadership,” adapted from “The Servant As Leader”(1977) in R. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power, Paulist Press, 1991.
"Support for Dissident Nomination." Radio Free Asia. RFA. 4 Oct 2010. .
Smith, Brien N.; Montagno, Ray V.; Kuzmenko, Tatiana N. Transformational and Servant Leadership: Content and Contextual Comparisons. JLOS 10:4, 2004, 80-90.