Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The People's Princess

In an age where the royal family of Great Britain ruled their kingdom from the luxuries of their throne, a princess emerged that would change the face of the royal family. Princess Diana was one of the most famous people in the world, named one of Times Magazine 100 Most Important People of the 20th century. She was known as the “people’s princess,” until tragically, she was killed in a car accident in 1997 that would lead to questions of: What made Princess Diana such an influential person? Why did 2.5 billion people view her funeral? How did she change the way her country viewed social issues that for centuries were seen as undesirable?

Princess Diana is the epitome of a servant leader. A “great leader is seen as a servant first, and the simple fact is the key to her greatness. What she is deep down inside” (Greenleaf, 19). In her effort to serve others, Princess Diana brought awareness of AIDS research and hunger awareness in impoverished countries, showed empathy towards people with leprosy when it was still seen as an untouchable disease, and fought against the use of land mines. She exhibited the core traits of a servant leader, such as listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people and building community (Sendjaya, 57). Former President Bill Clinton recapitulated her servant leader traits in a 1987 quote:

"In 1987, when so many still believed that AIDS could be contracted through casual contact, Princess Diana sat on the sickbed of a man with AIDS and held his hand. She showed the world that people with AIDS deserve no isolation, but compassion and kindness. It helped change world opinion, and gave hope to people with AIDS with an outcome of saved lives of people at risk."

Princess Diana had one of the largest followings in the world. She was known as the “people’s princess,” and by helping others was able to bridge the gap between the royal family and its constituents. Her followers’ development in social issues was a result of “the strength of the servant leadership movement and its many links to encouraging follower learning, growth and autonomy” (Sendjaya, 57). During her reign, she was able to mobilize millions of people to change their views on AIDS and worked with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines that received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. Princess Diana believed “everyone needs to be valued. Everyone has the potential to give something back if only they had the chance” (www.biography-online.net). She spread knowledge about social issues that led to the growth and strength of people groups that were otherwise overlooked by society.

There is a strong biblical relationship between charisma and servant leadership. Princess Diana was able to “empower her followers by enhancing their perceptions of self-efficacy and their confidence in their ability to overcome obstacles, by using verbal persuasion and verbal recognition, and by functioning as a role model” (Choi, 28). The charismatic quality of Princess Diana’s “individual personality by virtue of which she is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at the least specifically exceptional qualities” (Sendjaya, 61). When Princess Diana visited the sick or oppressed, she was seen as extraordinary by her followers.

In defining Princess Diana as a servant leader, it is important to differentiate a servant leader from a transformational leader. Servant leadership exceeds transformational leadership (Bass) in two ways 1) “its recognition of the leaders social responsibilities to serve those people who are marginalized by a system 2) its dedication to followers needs and interests as opposed to those of their own or their organization” (Sendjaya, 62). Princess Diana advocated for people who otherwise would not have a voice because of the social system that existed in the United Kingdom and dedicated herself to the mission of her followers and the people she served as opposed to her position as Princess of Wales.

Theorists Choi and Mai-Dalton question the authenticity of servant leadership, saying “it could merely be nothing but a tactic to impress followers and manipulate their responses to reciprocate,” however, what would Princess Diana have to personally gain from serving others (Sendjaya, 60)? Princess Diana was first a servant, than a leader. Her works as a servant compelled her to lead. “The servant leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead” (Greenleaf, 22). Princess Diana’s legacy is left up to her followers to fulfill. As a servant leader, she provided the education and example to her followers, now it is up to them to live out her mission.

Do you think Kate Middleton exhibits the same servant-like characteristics of Princess Diana and will follow her example as princess? Did Princess Diana’s strong servant leadership style interfere with her ability to be an effective member of the royal family? Did Princess Diana emerge as a servant leader because of her position as princess, or did her position make her a servant leader?


  1. Great post, Holly.
    I like how you mention the biblical relationship between charisma and servant leadership. The Gospels, specifically Mark, make several references to Jesus as a servant. And Paul constantly preached the theme of servanthood in his Epistles, especially those to Corinth.
    See Mark 10:45 and 2 Corinthians 4:5

  2. Great blog and very timely considering the rush of press concerning Kate Middleton. She definitely has large shoes to fill. It will be interesting to watch her develop as princess. I would like to look further into the background of both Princess Diana and Kate Middleton. I am sure that she will go through a significant amount of social and political preparation to make sure she fits the desired public image of a princess. Only time will tell if she evolves from that as Princess Diana did.

  3. Wes-
    The scripture you cited in Mark 10:45 is almost a replica of Greenleaf's theory of servant leadership, "For even to the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many." Greenleaf believes the servant leader is a servant first, then becomes a leader. The Biblical representation of Jesus Christ as a servant leader, with millions of followers over time, validates the power of servant leadership.

  4. Melanie-
    It appears that Kate Middleton shares more than Princess Diana's engagement ring. According to a USA Today article, Kate is also socially conscious and is involved in several philanthropic organizations. However, this does not make her a servant leader. As she builds a follower base, her servant spirit could emerge into a servant leader, or the opposite could happen. I agree, only time will tell.


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