Bourbons of Bourbons, they called him. He had danced with Victoria at her coronation. And yet now, years later, he had come to this: leading a band of armed men on nocturnal chases through the alleys of Philadelphia. A later photograph shows eyes wide with sorrow. They are tired eyes. Richard Vaux saw a lot during his stint as mayor of the newly-consolidated Philadelphia.
Vaux did more to end gang violence in the city than anyone else during the 19th century. During his youth, he had been known as rather too much of a dandy (his mother, when she heard about Victoria’s coronation ball, highly disapproved of her son dancing, even if it was with Queen Victoria). Now, he dared more dangerously-shocking paths, even taking to the streets with the newly-formed police force in their nightly fight against gang warfare.
Vaux was a brilliant strategist. He was working in a new position with little power under low expectations. Although the mayor was only to preserve the peace and serve justice, the previous mayor, Conrad, had failed even in these tasks. Upon election, Vaux fired all of the policemen. He then rehired new police from the ranks of the various street gangs.
Then, he struck.
Mayor Vaux, to dispel distrust of his elite, upper-crust upbringing, was out on the streets each night, fighting against the gangs and breaking up other riots. The people of Philadelphia were amazed. After all, Vaux was an upper-class Quaker! They were astonished that he would even associate with the police, let alone fight alongside them in the gritty streets of Philadelphia’s immigrant areas.
Mayor Vaux makes a good case study for evaluating quality leadership, but he is not an example of servant leadership. He does, however, illustrate one key part of servant leadership and provide a useful benchmark for identifying certain ersatz corollaries to servant leadership.
Vaux’s brilliance, aside from the wisdom of choosing police from within the gangs, lay in his willingness to get his hands dirty. This did two things for him. First, he was aware of the state of his men. Second, the morale of his men was boosted by his “condescension .”
General George Patton was well-known for eating and sleeping only as much as his men on the field. He made sure he pushed his body just as hard as he pushed his followers. Thus, he was able to demand much more of them than he could have from on high. No one working for Patton could ever complain of overwork, for Patton pushed himself farther than them all. It was this absolute dedication to the task and his men that gave Patton the edge in Africa, Italy, and the Bulge.
Patton was not well-liked. Vaux was well-liked. This is because Vaux was much better at handling morale. He came from a Quaker family, and they knew what to expect from Quakers: uppity philanthropic elitism. Vaux personability and willingness to get his hands dirty went a long way toward enhancing his charisma among his men his followers.
Enough with fighting. Now, let’s examine two more examples that fail to demonstrate servant leadership but which touch on other peripheral issues within true servant leadership.
The views of Left America (if such a thing exists) in the 2004 election notwithstanding, E.F. Schumaker suggests in Buddhist Economics that there is no need for economic progress to be incompatible with spiritual progress. The key issue, of course, is what is defined as the object of progress. Schumaker argues that capitalism tends to lead people to flawed conclusions that maximum production and maximum gain are the best goals. In setting such external goals, we hollow out the heart of our organization. Schumaker suggests that we reorient our efforts from money and products to people, needs, and relationships.
This is good stuff. Schumaker’s article contains very little Buddhism; most of his comments relate very well to other religions as well. Take Christianity, for example. The book of Ephesians explains:
Here, we see that the primary Christian purpose for monetary gain beyond personal sustenance is twofold: first, it gives us something productive to do with our time. Second, work brings us resources we can give to others. Thus, one cannot deny that the focus of fiscal responsibility for the Christian is not personal advancement but corporate care and kindness. Many Christians in the United States fail to notice this.
To lead a group of people with their personal needs in mind is not the primary essence of being a servant leader. For example, Burns also thinks this is necessary, but he wouldn't suggest servant leadership. However, awareness of others' needs is a good thing and should be part of good servant leadership.
Buddhist economics and philanthropic/utopian corporations don’t seem to survive well in the American capitalist system. This is because we use flawed criteria to measure success. Under these criteria, Fortune 500 companies are most likely to be the worst at considering the wholeness and needs of their employees and the world at large. They must be so to compete.
Why compete? Bhutan measures a Gross National Happiness Index. Why don’t we? We measure some of these things in the U.S., but the philosophy of the measurements are all wrong. Some successful companies do have high employee morale, like Google. Employees are given one day out of five to pursue personal projects of any type from the office. And yet this is not an attempt to make employees whole and happy. Rather, it is an attempt to entice them to make the company their whole happiness. These approaches are subtle. A true happiness index would not measure how satisfied employees are with their job, but rather measure how satisfied employees are with their whole life. In this situation, the corporation and the leaders in the organizations must acknowledge that they are only one part of that person’s life. Usually, attempts to unify a wholeness of happiness in an employee’s life lay in controlling the person’s entire life through a utopian society or completely-enveloping corporation (a la Pixar). But more control is not in order. Less control and fewer requirements (and less materialism — see Schumaker on complexity and pride) would give the potential for individually-pursued whole satisfaction. But people don’t like to give up control. Both capitalist systems and socialist systems accomplish their ends through extreme control. Even the anarchists and libertarians are rather frightening in their quests for power.
So far, we have considered an inversion of the task, where the leader participates with the followers. We have talked about an inversion of the goals, where the goals change from the outward, production-based accruing of wealth to the inward, people-based contribution to a whole satisfaction in life. But servant leadership, while it might include these ideas, lays not in an inversion of the task or an inversion of the goals. Rather, it is found in the inversion of structure. Servant leadership is impossible, which is why it is necessary.
And thus we enter the realm of the literary and theological. But first, a hobbyhorse:
Servant leadership is simple: it is based on an inversion, leveling, restructuring, or destruction of the topology of leadership (these are different cases, but this isn’t a doctoral thesis, so I’ll lump them together).
For servant-leadership to exist, one needs a leader who need not be in power. One needs a leader for whom power or the direct personal benefits of power are not high priorities. One may even have a leader who views power negatively, as a necessary evil for the task at hand.
The chair of a deliberative assembly is one of the closest common positions that could be defined as that of a servant leader. The chair is not to have an expressed opinion, but is rather to be an avatar of the will of the assembly, performing a service to the assembly rather than telling the assembly what to do or imposing will upon the organization. The chair is to be completely impartial, dedicated to the mechanisms that allow the assembly to make its own decisions and carry them out.
This rarely happens. People are rather greedy for power, and the deliberative process is very susceptible to abuse. The only check of the backhand power given to the coordinator of the system is parliamentary and national law. The problems of an organization must become very grave indeed to get so far.
Other flavors of servant leadership exist, but none are too far away from a democratic deliberative process. This, in fact, was the model of the early church, as encouraged by Christ in the book of John and perpetuated by the Apostle Paul.
Here’s how it works…
In John 13, we see the much-evoked story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. However, most fail to notice that the organizational lesson was only a corollary to Jesus’s main point: that only those with proper motives can benefit from the spiritual washing He brings to people. Why is this important? Because true (platonic?) servant leadership is only possible with the washing that Jesus brings. Humans are naturally corrupt and corruptible; the best leadership is only possible with Divine aid. (This is the other inversion of Christianity; that self-confidence is an obstacle to outcome-confidence)
Another misconception is that Christ equates himself with the disciples during this scene. Such is not the case. He says:
Here, Jesus asserts his superiority over his subordinates in position, power, and wisdom. He is the only one for whom elitism is justified. Yet the example here is twofold. First, no matter his true position, He does not disdain anyone or any work. They should follow that example (see Paul and the concept of the church, the Body of Christ) by treating everyone equally. Secondly, no matter his position, they are all equally below him and thus, no one has any claim to special power over the others. If the leader of Christianity is willing to sacrifice Himself for the good of the people (and, of course, we must remember, His ultimate reign and glorification; these are not mutually exclusive), then the followers of Christ should be willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the people (and of course, the ultimate reign and glorification of Christ). Because, in the Church, relationships are neither a zero sum game nor a gift economy (See Eric Raymond’s Homesteading the Noosphere for a good description of a real life gift economy). We serve others because we are ultimately serving Christ, and He has an infinite set of resources to give us according to our needs (in this life and in the next).
(Note: thus, for the Christian, neither gain nor need, neither relationship nor greed is the point. Our currency, which is not finite nor human, is spiritual currency, which behaves in a completely different economy. It is not an inverted economy, like the economy of debasement in A Strange Manuscript found in a Copper Cylinder by James de Mille. Rather, it operates on a completely different plane, a completely different dimension. The physical, 4d world is just an extrusion of some bits of it, a la Flatland, by Edwin Abbot. Thus do we only see bits that don’t seem to fit together within traditional human/Baconian-scientific models)
We see the Apostles’ application of this deliberative servant-leadership in the book of Acts, when the church selects deacons (Acts 6) and later on defines the first equivalent of an official church edict (Acts 15).
In both cases, the Apostles involved the membership of the Jerusalem church and delegates from other churches to take active parts in the proposal, discussion, and final decision. The deacons were nominated by the membership and voted on by the membership. When the church needed to discuss the grave matter of reconciling the Jewish customs with the new way of Christ, Paul and Barnabas reported, the people discussed among themselves (one person speaking at a time, as in Robert’s Rules), the Apostles gave their opinions, and the people used a voice vote (though it was probably not formalized, they verbally affirmed one of the proposals). Then, the people of the church selected two men to send out the edict.
Churches often demonstrate the worst examples of a deliberative assembly gone awry. This is because nothing is worse than Christians out of touch with God (or people who think they are Christians).
Servant leadership goes well with the idea of the Body of Christ.
Exegesis of I Corinthians 12 and 13 would be very useful here, but it would be incredibly long because the passage is incredibly good. The general gist is this: Christians have all be given a measure of Divine empowerment for our unique role in the organization of the Church. Basically, it goes like this:
We are endowed with the Holy Spirit for the task of serving Christ (notice this — serving each other is a result of something greater). Because there are varied needs, we are given varied skills, roles, and tasks. No role is more essential, although some roles carry more responsibility. Since all are loved in the sight of God, and since each has a personal task for which he/she is responsible to God, we have no reason to despise other Christians. Since we all have a different role, we need to work together to accomplish the whole task before us. Furthermore, each of us does have a specific goal (a la Ephesians) to work to build, maintain, and encourage the Church’s success. Thus, both spiritual and physical service to each other (and spiritual service to the world at large) are a part of our direct service to God. The Church is the universe’s largest and most efficient symbiot (although it can’t be seen, and appearances can be distracting). Service to others doesn’t reduce me; the very act of service enhances my own life (not to mention all the enhancements I get from others who serve me).
God holds all this together, because it can’t happen without Him
A few comments:
Because we all have different roles, follower studies is as important within the Church as Leadership studies. Leadership is not the chief end. Power is not the chief end. Righteousness, fellowship with God/man, and glorification of God are among the chief ends.
Maintaining a Godly power economy within a church is hard enough with God’s help. Secularizing it for capitalistic use is merely a gimmick, “having the form of Godliness, but denying the power.”