One key characteristic of “servant leaders” is that they feel a deep personal obligation and commitment to the people they lead. For a servant leader, it’s not about how others can serve their interests, but how the leader can serve others. It is about getting big things done, yes, but not at the expense of individuals on the team. People should be enriched by working with the leader, not drained.
But how can a group get anything done if the leader is more focused on team than task? My close friend Dennis is a living example of the answer to that question.
Dennis leads many positive initiatives in our neighbourhood. He is president of our local community club, he runs a Jackrabbits cross-country skiing program, and he founded (and is the director) of a running race that raises money for programs at the community club. He championed the creation of a community kitchen in our neighbourhood and from that kitchen he encourages people to have community events and meals. He often leads those events and meals, too. These occasions bring all kinds of people together to enjoy each other’s company.
Many of the things Dennis takes on require leadership and teamwork. Running a community club, a ski program, or a running race are not solitary endeavours. You might think that Dennis is a gregarious leader type based on all the stuff he gets done. He is not. His leadership is quieter, and by example. He is the first to show up, the last to leave, and the first to thank anyone for even the smallest contribution to the cause. His requests for help are gentle, almost apologetic. There is no “Rah, rah, rah! Let’s do this!”. Instead there is “I will be there this Sunday and if you can help out it would be great.”
Slowly, as Dennis has taken on a greater leadership role in our local community, we have become more vibrant and alive. People have come to understand that when Dennis proposes something it will be good for everyone. Gradually, momentum has built. Dennis has brought together all kinds of people to get all kinds of things done. Each contributes what they can in the areas that interest them most. Some ideas have died because not enough people were interested, but he persists and tries other things. He creates opportunities for people to volunteer for things in our community using their strengths, and he does not expect too much from people. In return, people often go the extra mile. When they don’t go the extra mile—or when they don’t show up altogether—he jumps in and gets it done himself and is remarkably forgiving.
In this way, Dennis gets all kinds of things done—all with volunteers! Workplace leaders could take some lessons from Dennis. We have the advantage of authority over the people who report to us, yet we often struggle to get even the simplest things done. We can pay for people’s labour, but we can’t buy their hearts and souls. Dennis never forces his agenda on people. He wins over hearts and souls by creating for people the opportunity to make good things happen by doing things they enjoy. In the end, the community as a whole and each individual volunteer benefits, and things with lasting value are created.
Thank you, Dennis, for what you do in our community and for providing all of us with a great example of servant leadership.