Herman Hesse and His Critical Contribution to Leadership
Robert Greenleaf (1904 – 1990) was the founder of the modern “servant leadership” movement. Most accomplished leaders are well versed in servant leadership, but up-and-coming leaders who’ve never heard of it should tap into this thread for powerful guidance. I have employed servant leadership principles to help boost a number of leaders to the next level of leadership.
According to his essay, Essentials of Servant Leadership, Greenleaf’s philosophy had its roots from reading a work of fiction in 1958: “The idea of the servant as leader came out of reading Herman Hesse’s Journey to the East. In this story, we see a band of men on a mythical journey… The central figure of the story is Leo, who accompanies the party as the servant who does their menial chores, but who also sustains them with his spirit and his song. He is a person of extraordinary presence. All goes well until Leo disappears. Then the group falls into disarray and the journey is abandoned. They cannot make it without the servant Leo. The narrator, one of the party, after some years of wandering, finds Leo and is taken into the Order that had sponsored the journey. There he discovers that Leo, whom he had known first as servant, was in fact the titular head of the Order, its guiding spirit, a great and noble leader.”
Of his philosophy, Greenleaf continued, “The servant-leader is servant first…Becoming a servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first…The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and the most difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”
According to Larry Spears, former CEO of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, the servant leader is highly developed in the following characteristics: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community.