Through servant leadership, L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) strives to empower young Black men living in the inner city of Atlanta to graduate from high school and college, maintain a career, live a sustainable life, and lead Atlanta. Robert Greenleaf coined the phrase servant leadership in an essay he first published in 1970, The Servant as Leader.*
We have come to know that servant leaders seek first to serve then lead. They strive to understand the needs of those they serve with an end goal for those served of improved circumstances such as increased autonomy, improved health (spiritual, mental, emotional and physical), and increased wisdom and freedom. Indeed, one measure of servant leadership is found in Robert Greenleaf’s best test: “Do [those served], while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?” *
|C.J. Stewart giving the benediction at the Georgia Highlands College Presidential Inauguration of Donald Green.
Greenleaf offers that the test is “difficult to administer.”* I have to agree with Greenleaf that the question he poses is difficult to direct or manage. In fact, we may only know where servant leadership was attained in hindsight, but I maintain that we need to apply the test as an ongoing assessment of any program or plan that purports to serve and lead others.
Kelli and I use this test as a guide when vetting other organizations to partner with in fulfilling L.E.A.D.’s mission. In our experience of working with other organizations, we have learned to differentiate between those that are run by servant leaders and those that are led traditionally. Here’s how we apply the servant leadership test, and the three things we look for in an organization’s leadership to determine if an organization is a good fit:
Does the organization’s leadership work with those they are serving to establish a timeline within which goals will be achieved? We know that change takes time but we don’t want to hear that as part of the conversation unless such a viable timeline is discussed for implementation.
Do they understand our needs and the needs of those we serve, in order to create a plan with us and those we serve to achieve set goals? We understand that a plan will take time and effort to execute. We can be patient while working toward goals, but don’t want to be asked for patience unless an actionable plan is in place.
Is the organization willing to define success and discuss how it will be measured? We are big on accountability. Everyone, including the servant leader, is held accountable for their own success under the plan, but it can only happen with a definition of success in place, and how it will be measured.
We consider these elements necessary to the success of our mission and are more likely to work with an organization that incorporates them as well. As we ask of others, we ask of ourselves. We have found it helpful to keep these questions top of mind and continuously evaluate them to maintain our own priority of service over leadership.