Labutta, Myanmar

Young Entrepreneur in Labutta, Ayeyarwaddy Region, Myanmar | Photo © Jan-Christoph Daniel

Servant Leadership – Searching for the Ideal


The basic principle of Servant Leadership is simple. Leading is serving others. It requires a high level of sensitivity for the needs of other people.

The principle goes back to the big questions people ask across cultures.

  • In what kind of world do we want to live?
  • How can we be happy?
  • What purpose do we see in what we do?

Robert Greenleaf saw leadership as a service to others. He coined the term Servant Leadership and is considered to be its founder.

He was strongly influenced by German author Hermann Hesse.

The Journey to the East

Hesse’s books are known throughout the world. Some admirer say that his body of work contributes to global understanding and continues to promote intercultural dialogue to this day.

Robert Greenleaf was particularly inspired by the novel The Journey to the East (The original title is »Morgenlandfahrt«). This novel contributed much to the development of his ideas of Servant Leadership.

The Metaphor of the Journey

The story features a group of people who simply call themselves the League. The group is accompanied by a happy and modest servant named Leo. When Leo disappears the journey loses its direction and the League falls apart.

In the end it becomes clear that the servant Leo was the one who kept the Journey together. Throughout he was the Servant Leader who inspired the group.

The Eternal Seeker

The novel The Journey to the East is full of symbols and metaphors. A leitmotif is the search for the ideal as well as the pursuit of mental maturity, development and life-long learning. The narrator is the eternal seeker.

»He who travels far will often see things far removed from what he believed was Truth.«

The motif of the Journey stands for the cycle of life. A never-ending process which involves adversity, self-doubt and many obstacles.

The Law of Service

In the end there is an important finding that is reflected in the Law of Service. In the novel Leo says…

»He who wishes to live long must serve, but he who wishes to rule does not live long.«

This realization is what makes Servant Leadership possible. It inspired Robert Greenleaf to further develop his ideas.

If you are curious to learn more – I’ve created a comprehensive video training on the topic of Servant Leadership (in German). It will be available in August 2018 on the video2brain platform and on LinkedIn Learning.

What do you think – in our day-to-day (professional) practice is an uncompromising focus on the interests of others possible?

I am looking forward to your comments and ideas.

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