As promised in my last post, I will address leadership styles and explain why servant leadership is so well suited in our quest to save the world. In an internet search of “leadership styles” you will frequently see the following listed: coaching, visionary, servant, autocratic, laissez-faire, democratic, pacesetter, transformational, transactional, and bureaucratic. Rather than elaborating on each style, I am going to just focus on servant leadership.
Like many of the other styles, servant leadership is also often referred to as a theory. Leadership theories and leadership styles are often used interchangeably depending on the academic paper, blog, or book. When I use the term “leadership style” I am referring to the actions and behaviors that can be seen in the leader who is leading. It is where the tires of leading hit the road. When I think of servant leadership, I think of it as both a philosophy (theory, the “why” behind servant leadership actions) and a practice (style, the “how” of actually leading). It just depends on what aspect I am focusing on. So, with the question of theory versus style firmly laid down . . . let’s look at the practice of servant leadership and why it is especially suited to addressing our environmental and social justice issues.
Environmentally and socially speaking, the planet is a hot mess. Social inequality and injustice issues plague millions, as does the lack of food security, educational opportunities, and basic healthcare access. Deforestation, habitat destruction, and overdevelopment are serious problems, as are water, ground, and air pollution challenges. Our environment continues to be degraded as we extract, generate, produce, consume, and discard the resulting waste. On top of all of this, we have a climate that is changing, resulting in new challenges while contributing to many of the existing ones. Let’s not forget we are also in the midst of an accelerated species extinction event. Both plants and animals are disappearing at a rate 1,000 times faster than normal (yes, there is a normal extinction rate and the current conditions aren’t normal). The Doomsday Clock, which represents the possibility of a man-made global catastrophe, is set at 100 seconds to midnight by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the shortest time to global apocalypse ever—pessimists.
Given what is at stake and the urgency of the situation (not to mention our track record so far), we need leadership that is powerful enough to lead a movement yet speaks to and meets the needs of the individual. After all, we aren’t trying to build better widgets, outperform competition, or gain more market share—the topics of most books on leadership. We are trying to ensure the survival and wellbeing of every species, including humans, on this planet.
Whether you are addressing the United Nations’ seventeen sustainable development goals or building an organizational culture that supports a mission of conservation, the attributes of servant leadership are uniquely suited to accomplishing these objectives—listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people and building community. No other leadership style strives, as its primary objective, to ensure that those who are led, will be healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and likely to become leaders themselves in the cause. No other leadership style asks the questions of its application, “What is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?“
Transformational leadership (also cited as both a theory and style) gets a lot of press, and rightfully so. On many levels it is also a much-needed leadership style. But my argument is that given the unique focus of servant leadership, servant leadership is the winner, winner chicken dinner for environmental justice. Why? Because servant leaders focus on the individual first, then the organization (or the cause). When it comes to social and environmental justice, we must focus on the individual. When it comes down to it, the health of our environments—natural or human—are based on our relationships with each other and to ourselves. People first, then the organization, but always both—an approach uniquely supported by servant leadership. When we address the person, we address the planet.
I believe if we start adopting a servant leader’s approach to our environmental challenges, we will come up with, dare I say it, cool solutions to the hot mess our planet is in. I am actually hopeful. Besides, I have never been a good pessimist.
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This post comes from the book I am writing, Human. Nature.