In the children’s classic, Charlotte’s Web, Charlotte the spider and Wilbur the pig live in a barn, a community with different animals under the same roof. Wilbur, who was born a runt, has a dim view of himself and his fate. However, Charlotte encourages and helps Wilbur to enter a county fair.
Taking the role of a servant-leader, Charlotte creates the context in which Wilbur’s gifts can be developed and polished. Charlotte believes that Wilbur has talents, and she makes herself available to serve and lead him to reach his dream. As a result, Wilbur performs well in the fair and escapes the fate of slaughter.
Servant-leadership hints the transcendent nature of human beings to live beyond one’s own limitations. Prior to the passing of his best friend, Wilbur asks Charlotte why she has helped him. Charlotte replies,
I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life anyway? We’re born; we live a little while; we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you I was trying to lift my life up a trifle (White, 1952, p.164)
It is heart-warming to realize that Charlotte and Wilbur’s relationship brings wholeness to both the servant-leader and the led.
Servant-leadership gives meaning to our work and our life. In The Case for Servant Leadership, Keith states that
First, … you really have to love people. You have to really care, because change usually takes time, and love is one of the only motivations that is strong enough to keep you with the people and with the process until change is achieved. The second message was this: If you go out into the world and do what you believe is right and good and true, then you will get a lot of meaning and satisfaction. If people appreciate you, that’s fine, but if they don’t, that’s okay. If you have the meaning, you don’t have to have the glory. (Keith, 2008, p. 58)
Finding meaning in life is powerful to sustain our intrinsic motivation, as well as emotional and mental health. It is a source of deep happiness, despite the circumstances.
The story of Charlotte’s Web teaches us that a servant-leader values diversity with an abundance mindset. A servant-leader cultivates relational effectiveness and creates opportunities for others to become autonomous. A servant-leader enables others to live with dignity and to reach for their potential. Both the servant-leader and those who are nurtured by the servant-leader find wholeness. Instead of competition for scarce resources, Charlotte and Wilbur teach us to collaborate for collective success.
Keith, K.M. (2008). The case for servant leadership. Westfield, IN: The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.
White, E.B. (1952). Charlotte’s web. New York, NY: Harper and Brothers.