Guiding Principles

DeDe Plaza There cannot be any singular, rigid definition of what it means to be a servant-leader. These guiding principles offer a framework for considering how to put into practice the deeper beliefs about people, organizations, and community on which servant-leadership is based. Instead of suggesting explicit practices, however, they challenge the servant-leader to discover the appropriate practices for expressing the intent of each of these principles. In everyday events, the servant-leader may find that a situation involves one, or many, of the principles.

Principle #1: Transformation

We embrace transformation as the vehicle for personal and institutional growth, recognizing its promise for improving the quality of life of our society. Servant-leaders embrace transformation as the process through which people and institutions develop improved and innovative ways to meet their needs. They are particularly sensitive to the challenges of change and attempt to create circumstances where people are free to respond authentically, accepting honest mistakes and celebrating genuine efforts. The servant-leader uses foresight, looks first for causes, seeks to understand the sources of problems, and is careful to understand the needs of people who are involved. He or she recognizes that solutions emerge because of the process. Problems are viewed as opportunities to become aware of our limits and rediscover our authentic selves in the search for better directions.

Principle #2: Personal Growth

We accept the central importance of on-going learning and the importance of human growth to the person and the institution. "The best test, and difficult to administer, is: do those being served grow as persons; do they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous while being served" (Greenleaf). The servant-leader acknowledges that the organization's capacity to provide for the liberation of human potential is the cornerstone for success. A commitment to holistic growth and development of every person means that the servant-leader ensures that the organization has structures, programs, and activities where everyone can grow. He or she accepts the need to create awareness, even when it disturbs more than it comforts.

Principle #3: Enabling Environments

We are committed to creating enabling work environments. Servant-leaders promote work environments where individuals can be accepted, authentic, honest, listened to, and productive. They understand that the organization's potential is based on how well it helps people reach their capabilities. Policies and procedures should be designed so that people are free to express their feelings and ideas.

Principle #4: Service

We believe that people should accept formal and informal leadership roles primarily out of a desire to serve. Accepting a role of an organizational leader at any level means accepting responsibility for contributing to the welfare of the community and the individuals who are related to the organization. The servant-leader serves the institution by holding its future in trust. The servant-leader also seeks to provide direction and vision for the future of community, assuring that it meets the needs of people as well as those of the organization.

Principle #5: Trusting Relationships

We believe that relationships must be built on mutual respect and trust. The foundation of relationships is not based on organizational position but on a concern for others that is characterized by acceptance, trust, civility, reciprocity, respect, and collegiality. The servant-leader is absolutely inclusive of all people. The servant-leader seeks to understand others first before seeking to be understood themselves. He or she goes beyond congeniality to genuine collegiality. Decisions regarding others provide fair opportunities for their involvement. Servant-leaders model these values in their own actions.

Principle #6: Creating Commitment

We recognize that productivity emerges from commitment not control. People work best when they try to accomplish valued missions. It is passions for important purposes that bring out our best. Leaders are those who champion meaningful visions and encourage people to commit their best to achieve them. Persuasive power is the preferred mode of influence. Decisions are reached through collaboration and open communication. Effectiveness is developed through enabling others to act. People should be directly involved in the discussions about the needs and directions of the community.

Principle #7: Community-building

We believe that people work best in communities. Effective teamwork is a preferred approach, where individuals work together, complementing each others' strengths and weaknesses. Servant-leaders are actively involved in the life of the community, modeling personal skills, setting examples, and developing everyone's comfort level with a participatory approach to community efforts.

Principle #8: Nurturing the Spirit

We accept the need for organizations to provide joy and fulfillment through satisfying work. The servant-leader is someone who understands the deep human need to contribute to personally meaningful enterprises. He or she nurtures the individual's spirit through honest praise and supportive recognition. Criticisms and suggestions are not personal or harsh. The joy of work is celebrated both daily and in special events that acknowledge the value of human commitment to worthwhile work. The community is reminded to reflect on the importance of its struggles and successes..