I first wrote this abstract/review of the book The Servant for my Construction Practice class this semester. As a future engineer and a leader in the mission of the Gospel I learned a lot from Hunter's message. Our class defined leadership as "the art of influencing human behavior" which is more a learned skill than it is a gift you are born with. Leaders' lives are highly relational and I feel if you can be a servant in all your relationships then you will be very successful guiding people toward a common goal.
In The Servant, James C. Hunter recalls a turning point in his life where he discovered a new way of leading his employees while a manager at a glass making plant. He argues the essence of leadership is found in relationships, both how they are built and how they are maintained. Respect is a powerful commodity and is only given by others not taken by force. It is only by investing in those being led that rewards can really be reaped in a company or organization.
Hunter defines leadership as “the skill of influencing people to work enthusiastically toward goals identified as being for the common good” (Hunter, 28). A leader may accomplish tasks by making others conform to their will just because of their position of power. However, to gain the enthusiasm of those being led, a person's leadership must come from authority rather than their seat of importance. The necessary authority isn't easy to gain. In order to build it, a leader must earn the respect and trust of those they lead. It is important to note that the author's definition refers to the common good. When someone influences another to get what they want it is called manipulation. Everyone in an organization is there because they believe in the same purpose: pleasing the client by providing a service or product. Yet the the attitudes of the leadership in an organization can hinder that purpose.
The leadership model developed in the book demands a paradigm shift: the old attitude of running a business acts like a “top-down” approach with the clients or customers at the bottom. Hunter claims this attitude won't work since the employees are constantly looking upward out of fear from those in supervisory positions, taking their attention away from those with whom the company wishes to do business. When this is turned upside-down, the attention of the supervisors and CEOs becomes focused upon serving the employees they supervise; everyone is looking “upward” and working toward the1 common goal of providing a high quality product or service.
The new paradigm emphasizes the need for leaders to serve those they lead, providing for their needs as best they can. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs emphasizes that fact that human behavior is driven by need, whether it's for food and shelter, companionship, or self-esteem. Relationally, a leader can serve their employees by developing “relational bank accounts” that are never overdrawn. The author borrows this metaphor from the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People where deposits are made during positive interactions such as being trustworthy or a good listener but withdrawals are made during negative interactions like breaking promises or acting arrogantly. If a leader shows they can be level headed, respect their employees, and not hold onto lingering resentment it creates the proper environment for success. Everything boils down to the relationships one has with their coworkers or those they lead.
Hunter spends quite a bit of time defining the word love and how it fits into leadership. It is described as a word of action and behavior rather than feelings and emotion. Love means putting others' needs before your own. Some concrete examples of how to show love are being “fully present” when listening to someone (Hunter, 105), not being late or otherwise disrespecting others' time, and “treating people like they are important...because they are important” (114). This must be done even when a leader doesn't feel like it or doesn't even care for the individual person. Serving and loving others while in a leadership position is important enough to allow leaders to behave positively toward their staff until that behavior changes the way they feel about them, a process referred to as praxis (149).
Hunter recognizes that being this type of leader will demand a lot of time and effort. However, the rewards far outweigh any potential difficulties. By leading as a servant, meeting the needs of others, and making regular deposits in relational bank accounts, a leader can build influence with those who are being led, resulting in further progress toward a united goal. Having a mission or purpose like that is a reward in and of itself; a vision can begin to define who we are and give excitement to life. Finally, when someone is able to give up being self-centered the author claims they are able to find true joy: “inner satisfaction and the conviction of knowing that you are truly aligned with the deep and unchanging principles of life” (Hunter, 178-79).
Leading as a servant can be very hard work: it takes a lot of effort to be purposeful about the relationships we have with those we are leading, putting their needs above our own, and investing our time and effort into ensuring they have the best work environment possible. Yet everyone has a choice of how they will live their life and how they will lead others. I would recommend to any aspiring leader that they should follow James Hunter's advice and lead as a servant. After all, some of the oldest and greatest advice ever given was to love your neighbor as yourself, sage advice for anyone, leaders and followers alike.