When I was in high school, my friend Penny introduced me to her grandfather. As I shook his hand, I remember his scent of musty peppermint filling my nostrils. It was a pleasant smell. The way grandfathers should smell. He was an eloquent and intriguing man. His eyes shimmered with purpose, his movements were graceful, and he had a soft whistle that would roll off his tongue every time he would verbalize a word that ended with the letter “s.”
It wasn’t until a couple years after our initial introduction that I sat with Penny’s grandfather for supper and tapped his treasure chest of wisdom and business experience. One statement he shared introduced me to the notion of servant leadership. His voice lowered as it acquired a rhythmic intensity salted with sincerity. I took a purposeful breath as he said, “If you desire to find success, be a man of character and integrity; live your life as a servant of Jesus.”
The paradigm clicked. I am not to find success in order to bring glory to God; I am to bring glory to God to find fulfillment, which reframes the definition of success. And what better way to bring Him an offering of worship, to bring glory to Him, than to follow Christ’s ultimate illustration? To the world, this philosophy is mistakenly identified as bondage, but to the Christ-follower, it is accepted as freedom.
This attitude of servant leadership is relevant not only within the life of an individual but also in regards to the administrative techniques of a business. A servant leader is a person of wisdom. He is an astute steward of his organization’s human, fiscal, and physical capital. His leadership style is compassionate, yet firm. And he defines success not merely in terms of monetary gain or results, but places an equal emphasis on the importance of value-added relationship building to create long-term success.
This combined concentration of results and relationships are a rejuvenating force in today’s global marketplace, cultivating an environment of sustainability. Employees are encouraged and challenged to share the same vision of success. In doing so, a bond of unity is fashioned. Employees begin to feel like family, not just co-workers. They find enjoyment in their job. They stumble upon happiness. And as a result, companies like Chick-fil-A have recorded “an annual retention rate of 97 percent,” (Blanchard & Miller, 2007).
When employees feel as if they are a part of something greater than themselves, they will imitate the sentiments of their leader, which ushers in the law of reflection. In physics 101, a professor will teach his students that when a ray of light strikes an average mirror, the light ray will reflect off the mirror. Reflection involves a change in direction of that light ray. This concept is true of business and taught by Christ. What materializes internally is reflected externally. If an employee feels valued by his organization, he will make a customer feel valued by the organization. And it is this perceived value that arguably entices customer loyalty, which in turn has the authority to transform the marketplace locally, nationally, and globally.
I know now that servant leadership has become the distinction between two firms selling the exact same product. As a firm’s vitality has become more than just the sale of a product or service, it has become the sale of an emotional attachment built on the doctrines of integrity and trustworthiness. Perhaps this is the secret to success harnessed by some of the world’s greatest servant leaders.