There is no doubt that we all share one commitment. This is our commitment to serve. And this should come as no surprise. After all, our motto is “SERVICE ABOVE SELF”. And our Object of Rotary reminds us that it is the IDEAL OF SERVICE that Rotary encourages and fosters in all its activities everywhere.
It is the Ideal of Service that brings diverse individuals together into one organization – our Rotary clubs. It is the reason why we organize ourselves and adopt activities that nourish our togetherness. Over time, we become like family. A family united in the Ideal of Service.
It is also because of this Ideal of Service that we appreciate high ethical standards in the practice of our professions and businesses. Fired up by this Ideal, we show deep respect and recognize the value of all useful occupations of whatever kind – whether noble or menial, white collar or blue collar, it doesn’t matter. As long as it is useful and beneficial to our fellow human beings, we give it due respect and recognize its proper value. It is this same Ideal of Service that fuels our relationships at home, in our workplace, and in our community and neighborhood.
If we are parents, we express our love and our parenthood in the way we serve the needs of our children and our spouse. If we are the owner of a business, or a top executive in the company, we excel in serving our clients and our co-workers regardless of status or rank. If we reside in the community, it is natural for us to volunteer to serve in whatever capacity in order to make our community peaceful and orderly and friendly.
And, finally, it is this Ideal of Service that we share with our fellow professionals, fellow businessmen and women, and fellow community leaders in the other countries and territories of the world. It is this Ideal that unifies us with them. Because of it, we are able to understand each other and show goodwill to one another without too much difficulty. Because of it, we become natural promoters of peace and harmony between and among our nations.
Through this Ideal of Service, Rotarians are constantly encouraged to render service to our fellow human beings – at home, at work, in the community, in our club, in our professional and civic associations, in our towns and cities, in the world.
Rotarians are also supposed to be leaders. The more important question is what kind of leader?
Most of us are accustomed to the stereotype of a leader whose ability to lead is based on authority and power. We see this type of a leader in government, in the military, in the church, in corporations, and in many institutions that copy their structure and foundational principles. Thus, it has become the global culture to associate leadership with authority and power.
In these institutions, constitutions and bylaws are important and even vital. These documents spell out the scope and boundaries of authority and power. Matters like jurisdiction and rank and protocol are crucial. Leaders rise or fall on the basis of these parameters, if you will.
What about Rotary? On what is leadership in Rotary based?
Is it authority? Is it power? Is it the constitution and bylaws that provide the underpinnings of leadership? Is it jurisdiction or rank or protocol that enables you to single out a Rotary leader?
In the early part of this speech, I made reference to The Object of Rotary. In doing so, I took care to stress the singular importance of the Ideal of Service in everything that Rotary does. It is from this principle that I infer that Leadership in Rotary is unlike that in many institutions of our society. It is based not on authority or power or any of the elements associated with these two concepts.
Leadership in Rotary is based on the Ideal of Service and the fellowship or friendship that exists among those who embrace this ideal. The more serving you are and the deeper your friendship with your fellow members, the more likely that you will be asked to lead them. And the more likely that they will follow your lead.
Let us not forget – Rotary is an association of volunteers. No one is hired, nor can anyone be fired. Whoever occupies the position of leadership in a club cannot order people around on pain of their being expelled or terminated.
The ability to lead rests on one’s ability to arouse the desire and willingness of the volunteers to take part in projects and activities. It does not rest on one’s invocation of his or her authority and power written in the constitution and bylaws. It is not based on the leader’s position or title or rank.
The Servant-Leadership Movement
In the early 1990s, or a decade after joining Rotary, I became fascinated with a movement that I read about and the man who started it all. Robert Greenleaf was a retired AT&T senior executive who headed the company’s management research center for many years.
When several big corporations in America got embroiled in corrupt practices that seriously hurt their shareholders and clients, and elaborate and expensive efforts were taken to shield the corporate leaders from responsibility and hide the truth from both the general public and the shareholders, Greenleaf was convinced there was something fundamentally wrong with corporate leadership in America and the training culture that formed and sustained their type of leadership. Using his retirement funds, Greenleaf established his own center for applied ethics which eventually came to be known as the Center for Servant Leadership.
The idea of a servant leader came to Greenleaf out of the reading of a work of fiction, Herman Hesse’s Journey to the East, about a band of men on a mythical journey. The central figure is Leo, the servant who does menial chores, but sustains the group with his spirit and song, and his extraordinary presence.
All goes well until Leo disappears. The group falls into disarray and the journey is abandoned. They cannot make it without Leo. The narrator, a member of the party, after several years of wandering, finds Leo and is taken into the Order that had sponsored the journey. In the Order, he discovers that Leo, whom he had known first as a servant, was, in fact, the titular head of the Order, its guiding spirit and a noble leader.
Inspired by this role model, Greenleaf began to research and write on the idea of the servant as a leader. Greenleaf’s first servant writing was titled “The Servant as Leader,” not “The Leader as Servant.” Greenleaf explains the difference:
“The servant-leader is servant first . . . It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” It is only afterwards that the conscious choice of aspiring to lead comes up.
“That person is sharply different from one who is leader first”. This type needs first to be recognized and installed as leader, with the proper title and rewards package, before he will serve. “For such it will be a later choice to serve—after leadership is established.”
“The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shades and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature. . . The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.”
“But, even though motives are critical to one’s identity as a servant-leader, personal qualities are not enough. The “best test” of a servant-leader is one of sheer pragmatism, based on mostly-observable outcomes.”
The best test is what happens to those being served. Are they better off as human beings and as members of society because of the kind of service rendered to them? Are they inspired to likewise be servants to others?
Greenleaf knew that his model of leadership – servant-leadership – was in direct contrast to much of the generally and popularly-held concepts of leadership that were practiced in many institutions of society. But he was also convinced that no less than a transformation of our leaders is needed to effect a transformation of society into one that is truly caring, loving, serving, dignifying, and fair. It is no exaggeration to say that Greenleaf’s inspiration and crusade have proven to be truly serendipitous.
While many human institutions still equate success with power, influence, and temporal wealth, more and more of these institutions are discovering that their long-term effectiveness rests on genuine and authentic service that truly improves the lives of human beings who constitute their clientele. This is why even in the cold corridors of the most profit-oriented corporations or the most power-conscious government institutions, there are now more and more corporate and government leaders who have begun to call themselves servants or servant leaders. It may be largely lip service, but it is a good start.
Servant-Leadership in Rotary
For Rotary, our Ideal of Service and our Core Values provide a natural context for the discussion and practice of Servant Leadership. There is a perfect fit between the type of leaders envisioned in The Object of Rotary and Greenleaf’s idea of servant leaders.
I invite you, therefore, to take a closer look at how the concept of Servant Leadership is closely entwined with our own Ideal of Service and to anchor our concept of Rotary leadership on these interlocking paradigms.
Developing Servant Leaders
To develop servant leaders, John Maxwell, one of the leading exponents of servant leadership and a best-selling guru on leadership topics, offers some practical insights. “Servanthood,” he says, “is about attitude. You’ve got to love your people more than your position.” “The truth is,” he says, “that the best leaders desire to serve others, not themselves.” Then he enumerates a list of traits of the true servant-leader, namely:
- “Puts others ahead of his own agenda;
- Possesses the confidence to serve;
- Initiates service to others;
- Is not position-conscious; and
- Serves out of love.”
Finally, Maxwell advises: “If you really want to become the leader that people want to follow, you will have to settle the issue of servanthood. If your attitude is to be served rather than to serve, you may be headed for trouble.”
Another author on Leadership, Eugene Habecker, issues a gentle warning. “It is not easy to become a servant leader,” he says. One can sometimes be misunderstood. But such risks will not deter a true servant leader.
“The true leader serves. Serves people. Serves their best interest, and, in so doing, will not always be popular, may not always impress. “But because true leaders are motivated by loving concern rather than a desire for personal glory, they are willing to pay the price.”
Albert Schweitzer, the great physician-philosopher-missionary, a servant leader in many respects, gives assurance from his personal experience that it is all worth it. “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: The ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” Again from John Maxwell, there are no ifs or buts. He simply asserts thus: “If you want to lead on the highest level, be willing to serve on the lowest.”
Robert Greenleaf and many modern authors who espouse Servant Leadership draw heavily from the teachings of Jesus Christ. In Mark, 10:42-45, Jesus Christ re-defined the real purpose of authority and leadership, and the true meaning of greatness, when He told his disciples:
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
On the night of His Last Supper with His apostles before his condemnation to death the following day, Jesus Christ drove home this point dramatically, when He told them:
“Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master’, and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.
“I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (John, 13:12-17)
Thus, two thousand years ago, long before Rotary was ever conceived, Jesus Christ provided Rotarians of subsequent generations the best example of the correct application of Rotary’s motto of “Service Above Self”.
So, do you wish to become an effective Rotary leader? Do you wish your club to breed such leaders? Follow the Divine Teacher and Master. Emulate the kind of Servant Leader that He was, and you won’t go wrong.
May I offer some practical daily exercises that will gradually build the attitude of a servant leader in you? Every day, look for opportunities to do the following with your fellow Rotarians or even with non-Rotarians:
- To be humble and genuine in your dealings with others.
- To ask and plead, and swallow your pride, if necessary.
- To plan and consult with others and delegate.
- To say thank you and show appreciation for any little good thing someone else has said or done.
- To give as much credit to others as you can, without being patronizing.
- To undertake activities or projects that will genuinely uplift others rather than your ego.
- To serve for service’s sake, and not necessarily for awards or recognition.
- To be a true friend and peacemaker.
- To be generous with your time, talent, and treasure, particularly with those who are in need, even when they are not likeable.
- To ensure that the resources of the group or organization are used for the right purpose and in the right way, and are properly accounted for.
- To be willing to take full or shared responsibility for the outcome, in good times and in bad.
- To cheerfully help develop and prepare the next set of leaders.
This list of 12 behavioral tips may look deceptively easy to adopt. In actual practice, a few may be relatively easy, but others will require more effort and greater resolve.
DOING vs. BEING
At the end of the day, we are faced with an all-important choice: What we want TO DO may not be nearly as important as what we want TO BE.
DOING is about Activities, Accomplishments, Roles, Positions, Awards, & Decorations.
BEING, on the other hand, is much deeper. It relates to Character – who we are and how we live out our life. It has more to do with the intangibles, the kind of people we become deep down inside, much of which can’t be measured by objective yardsticks and impressive awards. It’s helpful to ask, “What do I want to do?” Setting goals and following timelines can keep us moving. Achieving targets is a great way to build confidence and enthusiasm. But while you’re at it, take a deeper look inside. Ask yourself the harder question, “What do I want to be?” The challenge of BEING will ultimately outdistance the preoccupation with DOING. It may take a whole lifetime to perfect, but, hands down, it is far more valuable, inspiring, and lasting.
DOING can be recorded in a yearbook or a year-end report but may easily be forgotten; but BEING requires a lifebook, which is on display forever. Your fellow Rotarians may be impressed with what you are able to do and accomplish and may talk about it for a while. But what you have been to them, who you have been in their eyes, will remain indelibly etched in their minds and hearts.
Take a cue from the Letters of St. Paul the Apostle: 1 Corinthians, 13:1-7, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but I do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Colossians 3:12-13a, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.”
The real challenge for us is to go beyond merely doing effective service projects or activities. The real challenge is to be the embodiment of the Ideal of Service, and, therefore, to be genuine role models of servant leadership everywhere we are – in our clubs, our communities, our homes, our places of work. As our RI Theme in 2018-2019 exhorts us: BE THE INSPIRATION!
Service Above Self is what a genuine servant leader does best. It is service that not only meets the needs but seeks the betterment of the persons being served. It is genuine servant leaders that are able to make a meaningful and lasting difference in the lives of others. It is they who truly transform communities and help make our world a better place.
For the servant leaders, the grand consolation and reward that awaits them is that, as they work to transform others through their service, it is they also who get transformed in the process.