Reluctant Leaders Called to the Front

Jan 06, 2022

A few years ago I was asked to speak on “Leadership” to a women’s professional networking group within the Utility industry.  To prepare for the topic, which of course is really quite broad, I randomly selected about a dozen women in the organization to talk with about leadership.  I wanted to know whom they thought of when they thought of leaders in their lives; if the women saw themselves as leaders; and how the women spent their time inside and outside of work. 

The answers I received in my research helped me see that first of all, most of these women did not see themselves as leaders.  However, the truth is that they were leaders in many aspects of their lives – within their families, as volunteers helping others, in leading various efforts within their children’s schools and extracurricular activities, leading Sunday School or committees in their churches, in work to launch the United Way campaign and other such activities.  Those who did not have a title with authority over other employees were the least likely to see themselves as leaders.

Most of the women I spoke with were servants.  They served from where they were in all aspects of life.  Serving is at the very heart of leadership.  And this was the message that these women needed to hear most.  It was by the very nature of their serving others that they were tapping into their leadership abilities.  In their very service, they were being “called to the front” – essentially to serve as leaders.  They did not set out to lead, they set out to serve.

Instead of speaking for the 45 minutes, I was given, I chose to get the women talking.  This is not hard of course since women love to talk.  My mission became to discover together the key traits of a Servant Leader and to identify directly how their serving was building their leadership traits.  I led them through a process where they discussed the following in small groups and then in the larger group:

  1. What is a servant?
  2. What is a leader?
  3. What is a servant leader?
  4. What are some leadership dilemmas you have faced?
  5. How might a servant leader respond to these dilemmas to resolve them?

This discovery process worked well.  The women began to admit that through their service, they are leaders in their families, their churches, their clubs, and in other areas of their lives.  They confessed that at times they fear being the leader because they thought leaders had to have all the answers and are always ready and willing to “command the troops”.  Finally, they agreed that no one has all the answers, or we would not need each other.

The women discussed and settled on the traits of a servant leader, not unlike those that Robert K. Greenleaf so eloquently writes about in his 1970 essay “The Servant as Leader.” In their words, the traits of a servant leader are:

In their words:

In Greenleaf’s words:

Use your ears twice as much as your mouth

Listening

Show and verbalize care and concern

Empathy

Help others resolve troublesome situations

Healing

Stop, look and listen so you know what is really going on

Awareness

Tell others about the benefits of something and what you have gained from it

Persuasion

Be sure you understand and help others understand

Conceptualization

Think about and talk about all the consequences before you act

Foresight

Take good care of the environment, the resources, and others

Stewardship

Helping others grow is the best reward

Commitment to the growth of people

Invite others to join you and make them feel welcome

Building community

I don’t know if you have noticed the reluctant leaders among us.  I don’t know if you have asked what holds them back.  I don’t know if you have noticed that though they are reluctant to “take charge”, they most likely are ready to help, to serve, to give of themselves.  I suspect you are like me and see this more often than not.  When you see a servant leader in the making, call them to the front. Help them develop their leadership skills.  That is truly what we are called to do as servant leaders.

If you are a reluctant leader, serve. Through your serving, you will be called to the front to lead.

If you see yourself as a leader, who are you serving to be a leader?  Who are you calling to the front to lead with you?

I'd be honored to speak to your group.

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