Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Servant Leadership Exemplified

When considering contemporary religious organizations, perhaps no other well know individual exemplified the concepts of servant leadership more so than Mother Teresa of the Missionaries of Charity.  As a respected leader in the organization for more than 40 years, Mother Teresa led thousands of fellow ministry staff while also giving guidance to innumerable numbers of faithful around the world, (Clucas, 1988). Widely recognized for her humility, charity, courage, and compassion for the poor and powerless, Mother Teresa’s influence continues to inspire commitment to serving the less fortunate today.
Mother Teresa’s calling to a religious vocation developed at a young age.  While she was growing up in Macedonia, she began reading the stories of missionaries who traveled to other countries to care for the needy.  At the age of 12, she decided to devote her life to the service of others, the first of many decisions which highlight Mother Teresa’s lifelong tendency to care for other people more than she cared for herself, (a key, recurring theme within servant leadership). Her altruism and leading-by-doing approach to humanitarian causes worked to generate momentum towards the shared vision of her followers.
As discussed by Smith, Montagno, & Kusmenko (2004), a servant leadership approach can be particularly effective within organizations with a charitable focus.  When examining the relationship between context and the efficacy of different leadership approaches, the authors explain that, “…not-for profit, volunteer, and religious organizations often operate in a more static environment and attract employees who seek opportunities for personal growth, nurturing, and healing.”  In working to expand the ministry to reach more than 100 countries, Mother Teresa’s followers achieved personal growth as they saw their shared vision realized through their efforts on an individual level.  I believe that her cause and her followers benefitted enormously from Mother Teresa’s servant leadership approach and her continual reassurance that challenges, no matter how insurmountable, could not hold back the ministry’s work.  As of 2007, Mother Teresa’s followers in the Missionaries of Charity numbered more than 5000, operating more than 600 missions, schools, clinics, and shelters, all around the world, (Vatican News, 2007).
It seems useful to also consider Mother Teresa’s leadership style as aligning with what Choi would describe as being charismatic.  Choi (2006) explains that, “Charismatic leaders empower their followers by enhancing their perceptions of self-efficacy and their confidence in their ability to overcome obstacles …by functioning as a role model.”  While serving as a role model to her fellow missionaries, the examples of self-sacrifice demonstrated by Mother Teresa were numerous and well documented.  Whether giving away her own sandals to a homeless woman, or fasting for several days to raise awareness of the living conditions in Indian slums, her focus remained on her work, not her own advancement, (Clucas, 1988).  Furthermore, most have described her as being incredibly genuine and able to move people to act with only a few words, another attribute which Choi associates with charisma.  He states that, “…most charismatic leaders…often rely on various rhetorical techniques such as metaphors, analogy, and stories to inculcate ideas into the followers’ minds, so that their message would have a profound impact...” One example that comes to mind of Mother Teresa’s ability to move the public to action with the simplest of words, is her assertion that “peace beings with a smile,” – a simple, yet powerful idea with universal relevance.
It’s clear that Mother Teresa recognized that many looked up to her as a source of inspiration during her life time.  With this admiration came unwanted attention, which she preferred to direct outward into her work.  Instead of accepting credit for the accomplishments of her mission, it seems that her primary objective as a leader was to serve those in need, regardless of her position. Sendjaya & Sarros (2002) describe the servant leader as, “…not the person who promotes himself or herself, but the promoter of others.”  In her role with the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa was able to effectively function as both servant and leader, a skill which likely resulted from her infectious optimism and ability to connect with people from all walks of life.

Additional Works Cited:
Burns, J. (1997, March 9). Followers Struggle to Fill Mother Teresa’s Sandals. The New York Times
    Retrieved Online: teresa-s-sandals.html?ref=teresa_mother

Clucas, J., World Leaders Past and Present. (1988, May). Soulful Tributes Retrieved Online:

Mother Teresa of Calcutta. (2002, December). The Vatican News Retrieved Online:

Questions to consider:
1)      Do you see Mother Teresa’s approach to leadership as being situational?  Why or why not?
2)      How can leaders in for-profit organizations apply self-sacrificing concepts demonstrated by charitable
         and religious organization leaders?
3)      Is it always possible to be both a servant and a leader? 

A New HBO Leader to Debate

I would like to thank HBO for finally filling the ‘Sopranos’ void with its new show created by Sopranos alum Terence Winter and award-winning director Martin Scorsese: ‘Boardwalk Empire’. This show gives us a new “leader” to replace Tony Soprano as the subject of deep arguments and debates for hours on end. The show revolves around Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, who is the multifaceted treasurer of Atlantic City during the 1920’s. Nucky is basically in charge of every business that turns a profit in America’s Playground and will always get paid, no matter what.

Nucky displays many leadership styles (for better and worse) we have studied in this class, but for the sake of the blog, I will only focus on a few. Nucky’s leadership is confronted with a major change in society with the dawn of Prohibition. After our federal government put the ban on the sale of alcohol, bootlegging became an instant money-making profession. As treasurer of Atlantic City (which lies directly on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean), Nucky felt the need to take the opportunity to make some extra money for himself and his city and get involved with bootleggers and gangsters. This brings to mind Selznick’s idea of meeting the needs of a social situation (22). He says that in order to understand the nature of the work done by a leader, you have to know something about the social situation they are called upon to handle. In Nucky’s case, the social situation is that crime and illegal activity were going to start dominating a big portion of the economy, and in order to fulfill his duties as treasurer, he felt that he needed to get his hands dirty in this new venture. Nucky’s new identity, although not known by most of his constituents, is a representation of the impact Prohibition had on many of our country’s various leaders during these times. Organized crime rose drastically in America, and the moral values of leadership became insignificant.

The money Nucky began making from bootlegging clearly was illegal and therefore morally corrupt as determined by law. Cadbury discusses business as a part of the social system in his article and how one cannot isolate the economic elements of major decisions from their social consequences (70). Unfortunately, this is exactly what Nucky does. Blinded by financial gain, Nucky fails to address what major social consequences could arise for him and his city if caught bootlegging. Federal agents begin taking a large interest in Nucky and his business affairs, but Nucky refuses to stop. I guess we will have to continue watching the show to see if Nucky’s illegal affairs end up getting the best of him.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the show is Nucky’s noticeable commitment to his constituents of Atlantic City. As a viewer, we can clearly see that Nucky is not as honorable as he seems, but his followers don’t get to see his morally corrupt side. As Heifitz says, “a leader earns influence by adjusting to the expectations of followers” (17). Nucky makes sure that he is continuously satisfying his followers through gifts or promises and alludes to this year being an “election year” all of the time. Getting votes to remain treasurer is always in the front of his mind, so he is always doing things to better the lives of his people, earning influence day by day. But as Geneen says in his essay, “ultimately, a good leader should do the decent thing…he should know what the decent thing is, everyone else does” (12). It is hard to say that Nucky is not decent, because you can tell he cares about his followers greatly, but you cannot ignore the fact that he is getting involved with very indecent practices. It would be interesting to see Nucky’s followers get a glimpse of the real leader he is becoming, and whether or not they would remain loyal to him. There is clearly a prominent divide in Nucky’s morality at this point in the show and only time will tell if it all comes up and backfires on him. I suggest you tune in to HBO and watch ‘Boardwalk Empire’ as Steve Buscemi beautifully portrays a leader with many skills and deficits that mirror the theories we are learning about in class.

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.

Works Cited:

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.