Monday, October 31, 2016

The Servant, by James C. Hunter

James Hunter has made a name for himself promoting the idea of servant leadership.  His book The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership has sold millions.  Probably most of them were bought by companies to pass out to their managers or employees--like me!  I have read this twice, once when my manager had me read it, and more recently as part of a leadership training program.

First of all, Hunter wants to clarify the distinction between management and leadership. "You manage things, you lead people."  A leader meets the needs of those under his or her leadership so that they can effectively serve the customer.  A servant leader does so while treating others the way he or she wants to be treated.

Hunter makes some great points.  He flips the typical company hierarchy on its head.  The traditional top-down model, with the president or CEO at the top and the customer at the bottom, has everyone looking up, to serve the person or persons above them.  In a servant-leader model, everyone is serving those below, with the ultimate emphasis being on the customer.

Hunter exorts the reader to think of love as a verb.  Taking the biblical passage 1 Corinthians 13 as the model, he shows how each quality of love--patience, kindness, humility, respectfulness, etc.--is an action and a choice.  "Love is not how you feel toward others but how you behave toward others."  Ultimately, servant-leadership (love) is a skill that can be learned and practiced.

All of this is developed in the context of a fictional monastic retreat, led by a monk who is a former high-level executive.  The "story" part isn't particularly great, but it adds a level of interest and context to the meat of the book.  As Hunter notes in the introduction to the 2012 edition, servant leadership is growing as a leadership philosophy.  Of course, followers of the greatest servant leader have been familiar with his model for two millennia.  Now to put it into practice.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book you have read before

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