My senior year of high school, I was lucky enough to be able to take the great class that was "leadership." Although painting posters and helping create spirit weeks, fundraisers, assemblies (both spirited and inspirational) and much more was certainly memorable, what really changed my life was a concept that I was lucky enough to learn about called "servant leadership."
To me, servant leadership is much more than just learning to lead effectively. Servant leadership is a lifestyle, one where instead of seeking power you seek authority. Instead of trying to only meet the wants of others, you learn to focus on meeting what others need, first. You focus on changing your habits to have more effective character, which in turn builds better relationships with those around you, making you a better leader.
Practicing a lifestyle of servant leadership is not about being better than anyone else and it isn't about being on top—it's about being better than who you were before. The real "power" of servant leadership is gaining influence through your character to help others be the best versions of themselves. It's about actively practicing traits such as patience, kindness, humility, respectfulness, selflessness, forgiveness, honesty and commitment to better yourself so that you can give back to others what they need to succeed.
Here is a simple chart that breaks down the aforementioned traits:
Leadership is not all about you, it's about serving others. In fact, James C. Hunter (author of The Servantand The World's Most Powerful Leadership Principle—two books that I highly recommend if you're interested in learning more about servant leadership) defines leadership as, "the skill of influencing people to enthusiastically work toward goals identified as being for the common good."
By Hunter's definition of leadership, you can see that it is not meant as controlling others, but as I mentioned before, influencing others.
I do not currently hold any formal leadership positions, but the concept of servant leadership is still so relevant. Below are my top five favorite quotes from James C. Hunter's book The World's Most Powerful Leadership Principle (the book that started my love for servant leadership) that exemplify just how relevant servant leadership can be to anyone:
1. "Be the first to speak when you walk by someone in the hallway, and find something positive and encouraging to say to people. Practice these behaviors until they become habit. Observe these disciplines until you do not have to try to be a good leader- you have become a good leader." (p. 202)
2. "Our past choices define the leader we are today and may define the leader we will be tomorrow- but not necessarily. We can choose to develop the skill of leadership. We can choose to be someone different in the future than we are today." (p. 44)
3. "Life is not so much what happens to us as it is how we respond to what happens to us. This world between stimulus and response is the world of character. Character is our moral maturity and commitment to doing the right thing regardless of personal costs. Character involves the will to respond to stimuli according to values and principles rather than to appetites, urges, whims, or impulses." (p. 49)
4. "Leadership is influencing people for mutual benefit. Leadership is the willingness to extend one-self and meet the needs of another human being. The choice to seek the greatest good of those one leads is a choice that is freely made and freely given. Leadership is the choice one makes because it is the right thing to do, regardless of the return." (p. 68)
5. "We may have to sacrifice our need to be liked, our bad habit of avoiding conflict, our desire to have all the answers, to look good, to always be right. When we serve others, we will have to forgive, apologize, and give others credit even when we do not feel like it." (p. 78)
While we may not always be in formal positions of leadership, we can always practice servant leadership. Learning about servant leadership changed my life by encouraging me to be the best version of myself. It encouraged me to develop positive habits by practicing humility, kindness, patience, respectfulness, selflessness, forgiveness, honesty and commitment more actively.
Although I am not perfect, I do know that practicing servant leadership is changing my life for the better and I'm so thankful that I was lucky enough to take Leadership in high school to get the opportunity to learn about how I could serve others more effectively.
Hopefully this has inspired others to learn more about servant leadership. Perhaps your life, too, will be changed.