Servant-leadership stands in sharp contrast to the typical American image of a leader as a multi-talented, multi-gifted stand-alone hero, usually white and male.
Mindlessly accepting this false picture of what defines a leader, we celebrate and reward the wrong things — winning for the sake of winning, competitive advantage over cooperative effort, and majority rules regardless of what is best for everyone.
Even in the church we are prone to celebrate and reward the wrong things, the wrong kinds of leadership.
Larry Spears put it this way:
This appetite for high drama can fool us into believing that we can depend on one or two “super people” to solve our organizational crises. Even in impressive [church] turnarounds, we tend to look for the hero who single-handedly “saved the day.” We long for a “savior” to fix the messes that we all have had a part in creating. But this myth causes us to lose sight of all those in the background who provided valuable support to the single hero.
Cynicism is not a fruit of the Spirit
Comparison and competition might be the fruit of cynicism, but cynicism is not a fruit of the Spirit. In leaders, cynicism “justifies” a competitive approach that seeks to win because “nobody else cares about this as much as I do,” or “they only care about themselves, so I better look out for myself, too.” Although it is ubiquitous in today’s world, cynicism undermines faith, hope and trust, which are essential character traits of servant leaders.
Let’s be clear: We-they, either-or thinking promotes competition and produces winners and losers rather than promoting cooperation and producing unified pursuit of common goals.
This non-servant approach to leadership has done great damage to the church and community. It seems that Christian leaders sometimes forget that comparison and competition are not Jesus’ way of leading.
As just one example, consider Paul’s admonition to the Galatians:
If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. (Galatians 6:3-5)
Servant Leaders and Third Right Answers
Servant leaders, conversely, facilitate finding Third Right Answers (TRA)—it’s one of their greatest competencies.
Third Right Answers are more than a mere compromise; they go beyond splitting the difference. In a true TRA, all parties’ goals are fulfilled with a solution significantly better than an either/or answer. We-they attitudes are left behind and there are no winners or losers.
Learning to discover and discern TRA involves the fine art of growing from either/or thinking to both/and possibilities.
Servant leaders facilitate this process through their commitment to others for the benefit of all. Believing Third Right Answers are “out there,” servant leaders facilitate discovering them by intentional effort and a radically different attitude than we-they, win-lose oriented leaders. This is because seeing leaders as servants emphasizes very different qualities. Servant-leadership is not about a personal quest for power, prestige, or material rewards. Instead, servant leadership begins with a true motivation to serve others.
Rather than controlling or wielding power, servant-leaders work to build a solid foundation of shared goals by:
- listening deeply to understand the needs and concerns of others
- working thoughtfully to help build a creative consensus
- honoring the paradox of polarized parties and working to create TRA that rise above the compromise of “we/they” negotiations
Servant leaders focus on sharing information, building a common vision, self-management, high levels of interdependence, dependence, learning from mistakes, encouraging creative input from every team member, and courageously questioning present assumptions and mental models.
In a context of servant leadership, the process of leading and the approaches and tools used bring deeper meaning to everyone’s work and empowers each person to participate more in effective decision making and creative problem solving.
Individuals are no longer merely hired hands, but co-creators and contributors to common successes, having fully engaged minds and hearts.
The search for TRA constitutes true empowerment, which significantly increases job satisfaction and constructive involvement from each team member.
Facilitating Third Right Answers
Facilitating Third Right Answers requires the attitudes and competencies of a servant leader. There are actions which contribute to discovering them, and actions which detract from finding them.
Actions which contribute to finding TRA include:
- Welcoming a contrarian point of view
- Exploring blocking assumptions
- Welcoming feedback
- Asking questions to go deeper
- Reframing your question
- Asking 5 “whys” to get to root cause
- Inviting a third party with a fresh perspective
- Keeping an optimistic viewpoint
- Changing your environment
- Allowing time to ponder
- Loosening up your thinking with a glass of wine
- Gathering facts into a database and looking for patterns
- Facilitating to keep flow
- Getting completely away from the problem and clearing your mind by doing something fun
- Daring to be outrageous – often our intuition pops out in an idea that at first seems impossible
Actions that detract from finding TRA include:
- Afraid to use experiences
- Not the right people at the table
- Self-reliance/excluding others
- Strong opinions
- Not a safe environment
- Stick to past practices/paradigms
- Quit communicating
- Not asking open-ended questions
- No facilitated structure
- Lack of follow-through
- Negative attitudes and body language
- Negative humor/sarcasm
- Ridiculing out-of- the-box ideas
- Grumpy, controlling, intense
- Lack of commitment or disengaged
- Staying focused on “why it won’t work”
Finding Third Right Answers benefits everyone and accomplishes what can seem impossible from a we-they perspective.
As one of the most powerful tools in the servant leadership toolbox, the ability to facilitate TRA distinguishes leaders who are leading for the best of everyone involved.
The Church, especially, needs more servant leaders who are able to overcome the we-they competitive approach, and instead, to unite people to achieve common goals for the Kingdom of God, exalting Christ and glorifying the Father.