The Paradoxes of Servant Leadership

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The Paradoxes of Servant Leadership

In my work with leaders, we discuss the concept of servant leadership. This concept was first articulated by Robert K. Greenleaf 

“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.”

And who doesn’t want more of having a leader help us develop and perform at our best?

The following is by Brewer as cited by Tim Hansel in his book Holy Sweat. I give this piece of prose to my clients to help them understand the importance of this concept.

The Paradoxes of Servant Leadership

Strong enough to be weak

Successful enough to fail

Busy enough to make time

Wise enough to say “I don’t know”


Serious enough to laugh

Rich enough to be poor

Right enough to say “I’m wrong”

Compassionate enough to discipline

Mature enough to be childlike

Important enough to be last


Planned enough to be spontaneous

Controlled enough to be flexible

Free enough to endure captivity

Knowledgeable enough to ask questions

Loving enough to be angry

Great enough to be anonymous


Responsible enough to play

Assured enough to be rejected

Victorious enough to lose

Industrious enough to relax

Leading enough to serve

My vision for each of you is to practice servant leadership. It’s easy. Instead of asking yourself, “What can I get from this person/situation/vendor/ organization,” simply ask yourself, “How can I be of service to this person/situation/vendor/organization.”

Your answer will be clear.

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