Servant Leadership

‘We are all teachers’, an op-ed on Servant Leadership


Growing up, I always looked forward to teacher’s day. In my high school, Dubai Scholars, it was celebrated in the grandest way possible. Assembly would have performances for teachers, at least three subjects were taught by our seniors, and we had a few hours to make posters, cards, and paintings that we later put up on the display boards. It was a day when we really had a chance to spoil our mentors. I didn’t know back then, that it was there in school that I would learn the foundations of Servant Leadership.

Giving back, and giving in

As we grew through the grades, we got a chance to give back in a more responsible way. All those competitions and contests, those assembly performances; we got a chance to organise them. But what I loved most of all, was the opportunity a select few of us got, to teach our juniors – and that made the biggest impact on me because it was then that I realised the fulfilment and joy that came from teaching.

I came to India with the intention of doing a master’s degree, and later a degree in teaching. I wanted to study the nuances of instruction and become a teacher. But that dream got diluted by my introduction to mass media. Since it was a new subject, it was a terrific opportunity to invest in my talents, however, I never let go of my intentions to teach. After passing out of college and joining the radio industry, I still went back to the classrooms of St Xavier’s College in Mapusa, to share my experiences in the field – a practice I continue till today. Goa at the time gave me great opportunities, and after having learned so much, I figured it was time to start giving back, which is why I moved to Bangalore to become a corporate trainer, and there, things got really interesting.

Lessons in Corporate Leadership

Working in a multi-national company, you often learn more than you are able to teach back. In my experience with a particular BPO handling MNCs, I learned a very important lesson, a lesson that I realise now the people of India have no handle on whatsoever – the concept of Servant Leadership. Servant Leadership taught me that everyone is a teacher and that no matter who you are in a corporate structure, we all have something to teach.

In many organisations regardless of the size, the people on top almost never take the time to walk down the ladder to find out what is happening, and if at all, be of any help. In servant leadership, however, the concept of the ladder does not exist. Even if it does, it lays horizontal, acting as a bridge between employees to connect without the fear of looking too far up. With everyone on the same level, the concept of ‘boss’ no longer exists; instead, leaders are born because rather than trying to reach upward, you reach outward, constantly going the distance in search of betterment for yourself, and the people behind. It also makes coming back to help easier because it doesn’t entail walking down. It just means having the ability to turn around and say, “you look like you could use some help, here, take my hand.”

The Servant as a Leader

At the very heart of it, Servant Leadership, as defined by Robert K. Greenleaf in his essay ‘The Servant as Leader’, is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world. He says, “The servant-leader is a servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” He further says, “a servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid’, servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

Having learned, practised, and taught the concepts of Servant Leadership, I realised that all of us have something to teach. We don’t need degrees to call ourselves teachers, nor do we need classrooms to stand in. All we need is the openness and the humility to share what we have learned in everything that we do, because at the end of the day, we are here because of what we have achieved, and what we have achieved is a result of what we have learned. It’s time we start leading with one foot in front, and one hand behind. Happy teacher’s day.