Life is a wonderful enigma and it’s by chance humans experience magic touches of leadership, which turns as their guiding lights for the rest of their lives. I happen to be one of such fortunate persons who will always carry the aura of a wonderful leadership example all along his life, while deriving immense joy in sharing that experience with anyone and in any form. Accordingly, this essay tries to place that exemplary leadership under a framework after dissecting certain acts of that great leader.
The Chance Meeting
The summer 1990 approached me with hot and humid weather of Atlanta Georgia, and its occasional clouds resembled my own dilemma about whether to carry on with my army officer’s job or to get back to civilian life. The more I deliberated with this issue, the more I became restless from within.
Amid such a situation, I was having lunch with my friends at a restaurant, and was engulfed with my web of thought, caring little about the proceedings around. But as luck would have it, he was there, my would be mentor and it all started like a standard conversation, which eventually proved to be the beginning of my understanding about effective leadership elements.
He was a Warden in a federal prison, a rank equivalent to CEO of an organization, while I was then a junior 1 LT. Yet he never made me felt about his rank and position and was easily able to make me opening up my heart. He listened attentively while I narrated my ongoing dilemma; after which he chuckled and directly offered me to join his upcoming detection center at San Juan, Puerto Rico at the beginning of the next year. His manner of approach looked like stemming out as an automatic solution to my problem.
I had reasons to believe that way, because the things about him that touched me even in that brief conversation were his intense involvement in the conversation, besides his thoughtful and clear answers to the questions that popped up in between. He looked totally grounded on reality and used his life-lessons to explain why I should join a civilian job now, after listening to every detail of my aims and aspirations. At the end of that chance meeting I felt light, really light while on my way back to the dormitory, as I was feeling a new surge of self-confidence in me after chasing away my clouds of dilemma with the advice and job offer of this man. Now I think it was from the day one he led me towards success, from which he had nothing to gain personally.
My Mentor’s Leadership Qualities
24/7 Involvements with Workers
So I started my second phase of working life under him, and within days I joined the band of his ardent followers, totally impressed in his working style, where he knew every worker as close as the person him/herself, if not more. I never saw someone belonging to his rank so wholeheartedly involved with the workers, and still today it serves an example before me when I learn from leadership literature that “it’s a 24×7 involvement of the leaders with their subject makes a servant leader, where the leader should be servant first” (Greenleaf, 1977).
Organized and Fair Judgment
He was quick in decision making and not even in a single decision he failed to be fair, which could have taken place easily, as jobs in detention center involves complex situations. But it was his knowledge base on employees and the jobs in hand was so sound that at times he would decide in a split second on an issue which could have been a subject of long deliberation for other officers in his rank and file.
Guidance through Service
He would always take a leaf from real-life experiences to make things look simpler. As for example, he cited me how he was benefited from early saving practices, before advising me to follow that example and showing the way to do it. This issue had no bearing in his life, and yet he took aside his valuable time and created a flow chart for me, projecting my financial standing if I followed his advice. No need to mention, I followed that model and eventually became more benefited than what I estimated, but as I lament, he is now not around even to receive my gratitude for his guidance! Yet I truly understand today that such kind of innate desire to serve the followers is the hallmark of Servant Leadership, where the leader gets as close as s/he can to the followers and gathers maximum input that helps him/her to serve better. Here the focus of the leader remains fixed and untainted with its primary aim to serve others (Greenleaf, 1977). One great example of such leadership remains in the life and work of Holy Jesus Christ (Matthew 20:25-28) as Christ ushered total change from the core of their followers through serving wholeheartedly to them. No wonder then, why modern management is increasingly bending on servant leadership as a proven solution for all situations.
Considering Workers as a Product of their Personal Conditions
He would always give family a top priority – and he would cite various models of family to explain his philosophy:
Family 1: One’s own home and members there
Family 2: Working unit and team members
Family 3: All workplace divisions under one title
Family 4: Social surroundings
Family5: People of the region
Family 6: People all around globe.
It was because of such a declared life-view, we never felt uneasy to tell him about our personal problems, and each time he would come up with the best possible solution. This truly made the workplace experience a source of joy, though money-wise it was not much to boast about. Even we didn’t care about that, as all of us took pride in taking this organization as our prized possession.
Discussion on My Mentor’s Qualities from the Perspective of Leadership Models
It is a fact that one cannot make leadership an exact science by creating a universally applicable formula, as the dynamism of social situation and human behavior would perhaps never let that happen, and perhaps that is why this enigmatic subject would remain forever interesting. However, it is understood that leadership is about creating the best possible result out of a situation, and right here my leader scores heavily, as most of the workers there now placed in high ranks and guiding large workforces under them, much like what he dreamt about us in those days. In fact it makes me terribly proud of mentioning all this here, all the while feeling the nudges of emotion by realizing what a leadership can do in a follower’s life.
It’s only but natural for emotion will intervene if one tries to interpret one’s finest emotional experience. Therefore I would leave it for Robert Greenleaf, one of the great proponents of servant leadership model for a quick clinical assessment of my leader’s qualities.
My Leader from the Perspective of Robert Greenleaf
The most prominent advocator of servant leadership, Robert Greenleaf, succeeds in making it more tangible by underpinning its 11 characteristics (Greenleaf, 1977), where some of them may be inherent and some of them me be acquired. The list goes like below:
1. Calling: This refers to the inner call of the leaders to serve, which gets reflected in their actions and thereby convincing the followers about the basic intention of the leader, which is of course, to serve. This has to be a natural quality in servant leaders. It was from the first day of meeting my leader reflected this ability.
2. Listening: These leaders are receptive and truly interested in the views or ideas expressed by their followers. However, barring the intention part, listening is a skill that can be acquired. I have already mentioned about his ability in this regard.
3. Empathy: This refers to the ability of the servant leaders to earn the followers confidence by empathizing with their problems. This too is a skill, though its intensity depends on one’s mental make up. He was an epitome of this quality, and today I understand how much it worked on my own psyche and influenced me to follow his footsteps.
4. Healing: This refers to the leaders’ ability to provide space for the followers to unwind, to give vent to their pent-ups or collecting valuable guidance under distress. This is a unique support system on which the followers can always bank on. Unquestionably he was our life-boat all along, where we felt safe in our journey.
5. Awareness: Leaders should be in tune with the proceedings around, and cannot be taken for a ride by anyone by virtue of their ability to keep every detail at their fingertips. It was from his life-lessons and ample examples he imbibed certain values in us, which I for one would never be able to set aside under any provocative situation.
6. Persuasion: This refers to the leaders’ ability to convince others to do things by the power of persuasion instead of getting things done by order. It didn’t matter to him whether it was a workplace or a personal solution, such was his focus on which he lay his eyes on; and that generated an automatic power in his words that in most of the cases they would bring the desired outcome.
7. Conceptualization: It should be their ability to gauge what is there inside the box and what can be there outside the box. Leaders should be able to exercise their creativity to create and maintain an encouraging working atmosphere. As I mentioned earlier, he made things look simple by one or the other way, and we never fell short of understanding any idea mooted by him.
8. Foresight: They should be able to anticipate the future by reading the present happenings and deriving clues from them and to utilize them in their future decisions. It was his foresight that enriched me about job skills, leadership skills and my future. What else could substantiate his foresight more than that?
9. Stewardship: Leaders should be able to inspire, guide and foster their followers to rise to their ranks. This is an exclusive quality of servant leadership. His advice on savings could be one of the numerous examples of his stewardship.
10. Growth: Servant leaders are expected to have a strong commitment to the growth of people with the belief that everyone has some special elements in him/her and it is their responsibility to see such elements manifest to their limit. Our societal positions and the state of the organization he founded speak volumes about that, where most of his followers in our time are enjoying high social positions and the newer ones are working in tandem to make that detention center more bigger and effective.
11. Building Community: These leaders see the organization as a family and instill the same feelings among followers. It is this fostered kinship that motivates the followers act a total unit in both the sphere of work or in the need of any individual. His penchant for various models of families certainly reflects this quality in him – where he never missed a single opportunity to be a part of each of such families!
Placing him within this framework of Greenleaf’ is a wonderful experience, as now I can see his stature as a leader more vividly, it inspires me to create two diagrams to describe my leader, as they are placed below.
Figure – 1: The qualities I found in my leader
Today I find that it was his foundation of Moral Love and Integrity had paved the way for a unique self-awareness, from which stemmed out the qualities like Humility, Authenticity and Altruism. These three qualities bolstered him to trust and empower others and its an intrinsic chemistry of all of the above components culminated what we perceive as his service.
Figure – 2: Perceived mechanism of my leader
The organization of his qualitative elements can be converted into an imaginary diagram on his way of operations like above, where I find he kept trust at his basement, relied on effective communication, preparation and own experience to influence others. Armed with that package, he then used his integrity, intelligence, passion and charisma to become more organized and analytical to create and apply his vision with courage, which automatically spoke about his personal qualities and values and thus established his authenticity beyond anyone’s doubt.
Much as I say, most of my leader’s contribution in my life would remain unsaid, as today I perceive that his was a kind of leadership that can be felt more than to explain – at best I can describe it as an infinite source of joy whenever revisited it by any form. This places him in the category of servant leaders, who prove it being a servant first. That’s all about my hero, my mentor and my real guide, Mr. Cox, who taught me how to know what’s there inside the box and what to put in there from outside!
Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Ramsay, NJ: Paulist Press.