To Serve is to Lead in Business and at Work

My son Noah had two encounters with strong examples of Servant Leadership this weekend.

The first encounter was how his former 6th grade teacher, Mr. Pletman, recruited Noah by example to raise money and get his head shaved in support of the St. Baldrick’s event this past Saturday at Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady. As we waited for Noah’s turn to get his head shaved (scheduling facilitated by Mr. Pletman), I asked Noah how Mr. Pletman recruited him to volunteer to raise money and shave his head for St. Baldrick’s. “Mr. Pletman didn’t recruit me,” Noah explained.  “He just showed up with his head shaved a year ago on a Monday morning.  When I asked him why his head was shaved, Mr. Pletman told me about St. Baldrick’s, and how they raise money to fight childhood cancer.  After he told me his story, I wanted to make a contribution like Mr. Pletman.”  Mr. Pletman congratulated Noah after his head-shaving was complete, and thanked him.

Mr. Pletman (left) and Noah, both clean-shaven.

Mr. Pletman (left) and Noah, both clean-shaven.

The second encounter was last night and today, at Noah’s Capital District Youth Chorale concert.  CDYC performed at a joint concert with the Sage Singers, a chorus comprised of Russell Sage students, faculty, staff and other Sage community members, including Sage President Dr. Susan Scrimshaw  and her husband Allan Stern.  Except for welcoming the audience and introducing the concert, Dr. Scrimshaw was just another member of the Sage Singers on stage.  I asked Noah what it was like to rehearse with Dr. Scrimshaw.  “She just blended in, like the rest of us singers,” Noah replied.  “If she hadn’t introduced the concert, you would never have known she was the president of the college.”

Noah, left (4th from lower left, newly-shaven) and Dr. Scrimshaw, at right, in the lower left of her picture - both blending in.

Noah, left (4th from lower left, newly-shaven) and Dr. Scrimshaw, at right, in the lower left of her picture – both blending in.

In a nutshell, here’s a classic definition of Servant Leadership:

While the idea of servant leadership goes back at least two thousand years, the modern servant leadership movement was launched by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970 with the publication of his classic essay, The Servant as Leader. It was in that essay that he coined the words “servant-leader” and “servant leadership.” Greenleaf defined the servant-leader as follows:

“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. That 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…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.” (Emphasis mine.)

“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

How will you serve to lead this week, in business and at work?


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