It’s very easy for leaders to wield power from a place of positional authority. And if we’re not careful, we’ll use that power to demean and demoralize people and destroy a spirit of teamwork. In his book, The Five Levels of Leadership, John Maxwell tells a great story from the life of George Washington.
Washington illustrated the power of servant leadership:
One day during the American Revolutionary War, George Washington rode up to a group of soldiers trying to raise a beam to a high position. The corporal who was overseeing the work kept shouting words of encouragement, but they couldn’t manage to do it. After watching their lack of success, Washington asked the corporal why he didn’t join in and help. The corporal replied quickly, “Do you realize that I am the corporal?” Washington very politely replied, “I beg your pardon, Mr. Corporal, I did.” Washington dismounted his horse and went to work with the soldiers until the beam was put into place. Wiping the perspiration from his face, he said, “If you should need help again, call on Washington, your commander in chief, and I will come.”
Servant leadership is not just words we type on a corporate values statement. It is action. It is the humility to actually serve alongside the people who signed up to serve us. It’s the gratitude to serve people who sacrifice day in and day out. And it’s the generosity of spirit to serve those who have nothing to offer to us.
The next time you’re tempted to stay in your ivory tower and shout your encouragement from the comfort of your office chair, remember Washington. Dismount and serve.