Animal Farm, written by George Orwell, was one of the required readings for my high school English class. Recently, I re-read the story and found the temptation of power in leadership illuminating.
Perceived as an oppressor, Mr. Jones was kicked out of the farm after a revolution. Napoleon and Snowball were proven to be the capable leaders among the animals. The life at the farm was good initially where animals had fair share of food and work. They met regularly on Sunday mornings for policy debates and sang “Beasts of England” together.
However, Napoleon was a power hungry leader who found ways to eliminate Snowball, his perceived threat. Napoleon bred his own dogs for protection and they chased Snowball out of the farm. Later on, scandalous rumours were created about Snowball and he became the scapegoat who was blamed for all the hardship which happened to the farm. Gradually, Napoleon ignored the welfare of the animals but sought only for his own interest. He grew fatter and fatter while the other animals had reduced rations. Napoleon eventually moved into the farmhouse, slept on bed, drank beer, walked with his hind legs, and played poker with his human friends. From ‘four legs are good, two legs are bad’ to ‘four legs are good, two legs are better’, Squealer, his aid, used his twisted logic to persuade others to believe Napoleon was their good leader! Napoleon leveraged his position and abused others with his power. He was a total opposite to a servant-leader who seeks the betterment of others in a community.
The concept of servant-leadership is found in Jesus’ teaching with his disciples. James and John, the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus and requested if they could be seated at the left and right sides of Jesus in his glory. The other ten disciples were indignant of their boastful request. Using this as an opportunity to correct their distorted view of leadership, Jesus called them together and said,
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10: 42-45)
In another teaching moment, Jesus told his disciples that
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ … The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23: 2-12)
The teachers of the law, the Pharisees, and Napoleon in Animal Farm had one thing in common: they did not practice what they preached. What a hypocritical tragedy! The highlight of these passages is summed in the phase, “Not so with you”. As his disciples, we are to be different from these so-called leaders.
The imagery of a servant-leader is contradictory to the stereotypical dominating figure of a leader. Robert Greenleaf argues that
The servant-leader is servant first. … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first. … The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is that: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? (Greenleaf, 1970, p.13).
Furthermore, Greenleaf asserts that service to others develops legitimate power for leadership:
A new moral principle is emerging which holds that the only authority deserving one’s allegiance is that which is freely and knowingly granted by the led to the leader in response to, and in proportion to, the clearly evident servant stature of the leader (Greenleaf, 1977, p.10).
A servant-leader’s focus in leadership is for others to reach for their full potential. An effective leader has the combination of servanthood and leadership competency, but it begins with a servant heart, the focus of placing others before self. The being of a servant is the identity of a servant-leader and the title of a leader is the role one plays in his/her sphere of influence.
As a principal of a school which has recently moved into a new campus, I have been constantly stretched in ways which I have not experienced before. I need God’s grace and strength daily, and I am prayerful that these challenges do not dampen my desire to serve and build a community, as outlined in Alberta Education website, where:
- Healthy and respectful relationships are fostered;
- Positive mental health is promoted;
- Value, rights, and responsibilities are respected;
- Support is demonstrated through collaboration, high expectation, mutual trust and caring;
- Diversity is celebrated and understood as a strength;
- Expectations are clear, consistent, and regularly communicated;
- Consequences of unacceptable behaviors take into account the learner’s age, maturity, and individual circumstances;
- Support is provided for those impacted by inappropriate behavior as well as for those engage in inappropriate behaviors; and
- Every member of this learning community model positive social emotional skills.
Not so with you. Servant-leadership is not about exercising authority over others. On the contrary, Jesus challenges his disciples to be servant-leaders who serve, lead, and build community where Christ is the cornerstone and our source of strength. To Him be glorified!
Alberta Education (2017). Welcoming, Caring, Respectful & Safe Schools. Retrived from https://education.alberta.ca/safe-and-caring-schools/safe-and-caring-schools/
Greenleaf, R.K. (1970). The servant as leader. Indianapolis, IN: Robert K. Greenleaf Center.
Greenleaf, R.K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York: Paulist Press.
Orwell, G. (1996). Animal Farm: A fairy story. Orlando, FL: Signet Classic.