Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. As our nation pauses to celebrate our 241st birthday, I reflect on how well servant leadership melds to our historic values of freedom, first celebrated on Philadelphia’s town hall steps or colonial street corners. One of the most recognized sentences in American history says it all: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It is a powerful statement because as Americans we enshrine these individual rights and protect them by our laws, customs and traditions. It is also a moral standard we hold up as an ideal. Significantly, it underpins the concept of servant leadership. Traditionally, servant leadership has always been best described by Robert Greenleaf’s iconic description: “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” Leadership and followership are most often thought of in superior-subordinate terms, so why would a superior want to serve a subordinate? Why would a leader have a natural feeling to serve? It does seem like a non sequitur except for the fact that the American DNA encapsulates that all are created equal. While we have leaders and followers, our culture promotes a baseline of equality of opportunity.
Servant leadership is a global phenomenon but has strong roots on American soil. Our history has supported its flourishing. Our greatest American leaders were servant leaders: Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Dr. King. Each of them were excellent practitioners of 10 ten popular servant leadership characteristics, namely listening, persuasion, awareness, empathy, and central to their achievements was their commitment to the growth of people. Look globally at the many different governments and it becomes clear that the concept of servant leadership would be foreign in autocratic and dictatorship regimes. These governments focus on “I” rather than “we.” Our Declaration of Independence – and later our Constitution – was born of a simple reality — call it a natural feeling — “We the People.”
As an example, PBS contributor Bill Moyers wrote a February 2015 essay on Lincoln’s deep empathy. Lincoln believed in preserving American freedom at all costs and signed the historic Emancipation Proclamation to make all Americans free. Lincoln became one of our greatest leaders by caring most for the common man. Moyers writes: “The working man. The soldier in battle. His widow and orphans. These ordinary, struggling Americans mattered to Abraham Lincoln.”
Our country matters and it matters based on its foundation of celebrating individual liberty. This rich tradition fosters the growth of leadership for others which is truly the strongest form of leadership. So this Independence Day, let us celebrate an idea of freedom that our colonists penned on paper and later made a reality six years later on the outskirts of Yorktown. Our Declaration of self-worth has led to so many other benefits of creativity, productivity and vision that keep us flourishing 241 years later. As leaders, let us embrace how the American ideal has been woven into the fabric of our lives, which ultimately promulgates servant leadership and empowers all to lend a hand to your neighbor. Great servant leadership companies like Starbucks have flourished in an environment of freedom, realizing the imperative of doing a little bit more than serving a cup of coffee. In short, Independence Day is a day to celebrate freedom but it is also a day to celebrate servant leadership. Our freedom does inspire a “natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” Servant leaders live free.
Those who won our independence... valued liberty as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. ~ Louis D. Brandeis