6 Core Concepts of Servant Leadership

I have been researching Servant Leadership lately. After awhile articles from different authors begin to sound very similar to each other. The concepts may be called different things or have a tad different definition, but at their core they are very similar.

In this research I have come across 6 concepts that seem to appear over and over. I will spend the next few weeks blogging about each one as we continue our initiative Equipping the Saints: Developing Women’s Leadership Capacity.

The 6 concepts are:

  • Vision
  • Values
  • Clarity
  • Honesty
  • Listening
  • Courage

I’m starting with “Vision” because the Scriptures tell us that without a vision the people perish (Proverbs 29:18). It’s that important!

Bonnie Hagemann, the CEO of Executive Development Associates, in Forbes June 13, 2017, says:
“For us, the definition of a vision is this: a clear picture of a positive future state. For organizations, a vision articulates this view of a realistic, desirable, and positive future state. It’s designed to provide people with the compelling reason to make progress toward that state and accomplish the organization’s goals. The vision answers, indirectly, the question of where the company is going.”

Jesus had the ultimate vision – that the Kingdom established by God in Creation come to be on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus also provided the behaviors that will create this coming Kingdom: to love God and love others as ourselves – the Great Commandment. He tried to shape the culture by living out that love, showing His followers what it meant to love others, even when that love brought Him to death on a cross.

As you will see in the components for creating a vision below, Jesus covered each one in His teaching and modeling. He was the embodiment of Servant Leadership. He imagined the invisible. He engaged the 12 disciples and others, including women, to develop and live out the vision. He continuously preached the Kingdom of God and He did so clearly. How much easier could it get than love God and love your neighbor the same way you want to be loved?

Hagemann tells us that there are 4 components for creating a vision:

  • Imagine the invisible. This is a seed of an idea. Imagining is a creative process and takes time to develop. Don’t be stingy with the time devoted to this. Jesus, since He was with God from the beginning, certainly embodied this patient waiting, until it was the acceptable time.
  • Engage others in developing the vision. Not just the executives, but a diverse group of people from different levels of the organization. Ah, you are thinking! Got you here. Jesus didn’t have any “others.” And yet the Christian tradition says that God is a community of persons, a Trinity. So Jesus did have “others.”
  • Paint the picture of the vision. Write it down but don’t file it away in some cabinet, never referred to. Jesus’ entire public ministry was about painting the picture of God’s kingdom, coming now and continuing to come until He comes again.
  • Articulate it clearly. Employees who understand the vision will course-correct their work to achieve the vision. Communication of the vision over and over is essential to engage the employees in the organizational goals. Buying into the vision creates an organizational commitment, lowers turnover because people feel like they are an important part of the story of the organization, and increases productivity. In Jesus’ relationship with His disciples we see this patient repetition, the careful redirection, and the admonitions all necessary to enable others to carry out this vision.

The vision of an organization, articulated easily by every employee, shapes the culture. Leadership should encourage behaviors that help to shape a positive future state and discourage those that are barriers.

How do leaders shape culture to reflect the vision?

  • Know what you want to achieve.
  • Commit to the process, i.e. invest time, talent, treasure and touch to it.
  • Structure the process so you have a plan.
  • Be systematic and patient – shaping culture takes time.
  • Ensure continuity of the culture through pay structure, performance strategy, succession planning, etc.

Jesus shaped the culture around Him just as Hagemann explains.

  • He knew what He wanted to achieve and articulated it.
  • He committed to the process, even to His own detriment.
  • He structured the process in His teaching, sending out, and correcting the disciples and starting over again.
  • He was very patient with His disciples.
  • And He developed a succession plan with His disciples and followers for completing the vision.

Vision is the core of what your parish or organization is about. It is the compass point toward which all of your activities are ordered. That’s why, if you have a vision statement, you must refer to it frequently. The vision must be easily repeatable and everyone in the parish/organization should know what it is. All activities are then tied to the vision. This is how we are contributing to that positive future state Jesus called “the Kingdom of God” or the “Reign of God.”

If your parish has not articulated their own piece of the Kingdom in a vision statement, write one in collaboration with your congregants and leadership.

It’s that important.
For without it, your people will perish.


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As I write this, it’s just under a month until the first phase of the Church’s Synod on the process of synodality is to begin.