Servant Leadership and Empowering Others

I gave a parish staff retreat earlier this week on the theme of Servant Leadership as a Model for Parish Ministry. During the first session, I spoke about several qualities of servant leadership. One of the qualities that I think extremely important for all of us involved in various ministries to keep in mind is that servant leadership involves working to empower others rather than creating situations where others are dependent on us.

We have all heard the maxim, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Empowering others means treating them with respect and dignity and encouraging their growth. The goal ultimately is to create people who don’t need us, not to encourage dependency. Our goal is effectively to work ourselves out of job.

This is something that often can be challenging. My natural tendency is toward an “I’ll do it myself” attitude. It is often more efficient to do things on my own and many times I’m convinced I’ll do a better job than someone else will. (Underneath that is, I suspect, also an element of knowing if I do it, it will get done my way and not someone else’s.) The truth, though, is that even if both of those are true, that does not necessarily mean it is always good to do the job myself.

Thus, one aspect of being a good servant leader is finding ways to involve others even where it seems easier not to do so. It also often may mean being willing to let the people we are trying to help have a say in how they are being helped. This can be challenging; we sometimes have a tendancy to think we know best. But we can’t help empower others without giving up some of the power to do it our way.