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So You Think You Are A Servant Leader? Think Again...



Photo by Carl Schroff

As I took the stairs up to the fourth floor (for our Floors Challenge activity at work) and began my work day, made it to my sit/ stand desk, logged in, took a sip of my homemade Nescafe, and started catching up on my e-mails, fourth unread e-mail, there it was again, the term I often see, hear and almost always try not to say unless I absolutely mean it - "Servant Leader".


Should I dare open it? Is it yet again another lousy attempt of someone trying to define themselves as a "Servant Leader"?


Or just another forwarded article that cried for help?


It was almost tearing up at me with the abuse it had been through over the years. That term pierced through my laptop screen directly hit a nerve in my heart and my mind responded instantly, all I could do was to laugh out loud making my colleagues wonder what was wrong with me? Nothing much, Corporate world had done it again.


I first came to truly learn and understand about Servant Leadership via MultiCultural Leadership Program. I was still in my "Survival Mode" back in 2013. I was fascinated by the term at the time. I wanted to learn more about it. The more I learned, I always secretly knew what it meant because it felt familiar, but I couldn't describe it in one or two words. I will get to addressing - why - it felt familiar just a bit later in this article.


Definition of a Servant Leader


Servant Leader is best and simply described by Dr. Greenleaf as,

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” -Robert K. Greenleaf

So simple, yet one of the most commonly confused, misunderstood and abused term, Servant Leader. Multicultural Leadership Program has taught me many things, however it never came up that from my graduation date in April 2014 and onwards, I should always introduce myself as a Servant Leader, never.


If you are a Servant Leader by the very definition, you wouldn't be going around introducing yourself as one. At least you shouldn't be.

I don't believe Mother Teresa ever introduced herself as a Servant Leader, I wondered as I took another sip of my coffee, neither did Gandhi nor did Dr. Martin Luther King ever said, "I am a Servant Leader, hold me accountable to be a Servant Leader and that will help me manage you better."


As the years have passed since my learning of the term, Servant Leader, I have heard so many "managers" say that they are a Servant Leader, and I have wondered - Why? What makes them a Servant Leader? What qualities do they posses of being one?


Yes, I intentionally used the term, managers and not Leaders.


Are they around you?


Going through MultiCultural Leadership Program, had made me ask myself - Sure, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Dr King, and Jesus these are some well known Servant Leaders who truly embodied what a Servant Leader would look and act like; but do I know anyone who is alive and around me?


Am I taking advantage of being in the presence of one? Or am I surrounded by "The Ass In the Lion's Skin"? Almost Everywhere.


My Servant Leader


It took me awhile but the Servant Leader that I was seeking, had always been there, hiding in the plain sight. The reason why it felt familiar was because I had always seen this Servant Leader disappear in the act of kindness, serving everyone around her whether it be her students, her family, a random homeless, blind orphans at the near by orphanage, the list continues.


This person has never introduced herself as a Servant Leader. She has always known how to serve, she has always known how to lead with love, kindness and compassion. You know the kind that we want in our Mentors, in our Coaches, in our Managers and in our Leaders. She has always taught others how to serve, for the longest period of time, I just didn't see it until later part of my life. My Mother.


Now that I see it, I can't unsee it. I told you it felt familiar.




No, this article isn't really dedicated to my mother, but it is dedicated to a Servant Leader who is a living example of one.

No, I don't know the definition of who is a real Servant Leader nor am I qualified to teach one - but what I do know is when I see one.

Believing in Servant Leadership is kind of like Faith, you don't see it, you Feel it deep down in your heart and in your acts of kindness in serving others, you know it's there.

(Photo: From my trip to India last summer, my mum and I enjoying our favorite street corn.)

It is that feeling you get when you look deep into your own eyes in the mirror and the truth emerges in tears of joy or tears of confession. Or see it as a feeling of Gratitude in the eyes of the person you are serving - whether it be the person who is directly reporting to you, your mentee, your friend, your colleagues, or at a local not-for-profit organization as you serve in different capacity not sitting in a fancy boardroom chair but out in the field actually serving, you get the idea.


Parenting and Servant Leadership


Yes, Parenting is a first and foremost a Leadership role, and Leadership sometimes is like Parenting. You are leading by an example 24x7, being a parent. Being a full-time single parent has taught me to always watch myself and my actions because they are constantly being watched and followed. Leadership isn't much different.

Growing up around my Servant Leader and under her leadership has taught my sister and I how to get lost in the service of others. It always started with small acts of kindness. A help that our neighbor needed, or while shopping for our clothes around Diwali she would ask us to pick out clothes that will be donated to children our age at the close by orphanage in India, or during Uttarayan, my personal favorite holiday when I get to fly kites - she'd always ask to buy a few extra for kids who couldn't afford it. I may say that Servant Leadership resonates with me, but I will let my actions decide if I am a Servant Leader.


Speak less, Do more - is what she would always say to us.

I still don't know all of the answers, but the hunger to serve others runs deep in the Jani family. I am doing the best I can to pass it on to my twelve year old son, either by trying to follow her footsteps or by making sure he gets to spend time with the one true Servant Leader I have known all my life. Pick up on the wisdom she shares not through her words, but in her acts of kindness, love and compassion for others. It isn't a triumph but a Lifestyle for her. I am thankful to have such a kind friend, a mentor, a coach, and a true Servant Leader in my... our lives.



So, Who is a Servant Leader?


What I do know - a common theme runs among these folks who never put down in their e-mail signatures "Servant Leader" in different colors as it would stand out, they never introduce themselves as one for sure, they won't even send e-mails claiming to be one, or even update their LinkedIn profile saying so, they won't say it in their interviews or their one-on-one meetings at work, because they are constantly and silently - being One! Catching you as you fall, giving you their hand to lift you off the ground, and simply walking next to you until they see you succeed.


They are invested in Your Growth.


What I do know - is that they Serve! They Serve First! They Serve without any agenda. They Serve with passion and compassion. They Serve because they know that they were sent to this world to Serve others, to show others how to love, and how to give! They won't just touch one life or two or may be ten. They will Serve and touch many lives in their lifespan and then some.


These men and women in many forms are all around you. The true Lions and Lionesses, silently disappearing in the service of others.


Look around you, do you see a Servant Leader? If so, who is it?


They are hiding in the plain sight. They are there if you paid attention, you would see them.


Look for the ones who are silently Serving. Doing more. Saying less.


So the next time you feel the need to say, Servant Leader, do yourself a favor and ask


Yourself - Are you a worthy Servant Leader?



Tejas Jani

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