Nigeria In Search Of Servant Leaders


Leaders must choose the part of service to others above self-interest, writes Linus Okorie

The premise of servant leadership is that the leader is one who seeks to serve, and that this serving is a natural component of the leader (Greenleaf, 1977; Farling, Stone, & Winston, 1999). Somewhat paradoxical to the typical view of leadership where the purpose is leading, servant leaders seek to serve first as the primary means of leading. These authors maintain the idea that servant leadership offers something different that makes it attractive as a leadership model that is well received in organizations and societies.

The thrust of servant leadership is empowering others. Whenever leaders begin to care for others, understand the needs of others, pay attention to the welfare of others, they set the foundation to help others to become more than they have ever been. That is what true empowerment is all about. The more people you can help to become successful, the more successful you will become as a person. This is a concept that I believe so much in. Patterson (2003) asserts that, “empowerment is entrusting power to others, actually giving it away and involves effective listening, making people feel significant, putting an emphasis on teamwork, and valuing of love and equality.” This also centers on the fact the greatness comes to us only when we have inspired and served others through our work.

Robert Greenleaf, who is considered the father of the Servant Leadership concept said, “The servant-leader is servant first… Becoming a servant-leader 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 the most difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

The role of a leader is to take care of the needs of the individual, the needs of the group and the needs of the task. If you take a critical look at this very role, you will see that no organization will be able to make any meaningful progress until the needs of these circles are met. What gives extraordinary success is empowering others to succeed by meeting their needs and some of the needs are: the need to feel recognized, the need to achieve results, the need to be motivated, the need to contribute to the team and most importantly the need to be loved.

It is time for us to grow, to become more selfless so we can stretch, sacrifice, go the extra mile, put in the work and commitment needed to deliver service and achieve our bold visions, dreams and imaginations of a Nigeria that will attract the very best in the world. Whenever the word “servant leadership” is mentioned, I get so excited and a few names just run through my mind. I remember when Mother Theresa died, the whole world mourned her exit and world leaders attended her burial. I have always asked what made her so influential even in death. The answer is servant Leadership. She was a servant leader that brought value to our world. According to (Patterson, 2003), a servant leader is one who “seeks to serve first as the primary means of leading.” Mother Theresa made such a huge difference that the world noticed that she lived her life for the happiness of others.

Organizations that want to make a difference must as a matter of fact select leaders who truly are servant leaders to drive the progress of that organizations. Any organization that has leaders who understand the concept of putting others first above themselves will make faster progress. The culture of love, care and inspiration will motivate people to work with each other to achieve great result. There will be the practice of agape love that makes it possible for people to love each other despite of their mistakes. People will focus on each other’s strength and deliberately ignore their flows. According to (Winston 2002), the basis for agape “is to consider each employee/follower as a total person with needs, wants, and desires.”

I like to share an experience I had in my first year in college. One day, I was on my way to meet with the President of the university then I noticed that there were series of accidents involving motor bikes conveying students in and out of the school as a result of a leaking fuel tanker conveying fuel. So many students were injured as they kept tripping over the slippery ground. Danger was looming as night was fast approaching. I convinced a few students to join me and we decided to pour sand on the road covering the entire area that was affected by the fuel. It took us three hours to complete this intervention. The service we provided ended the accidents and we went home happy. Two years later when I decided to contest for the office of the Students Union President, a group of female students came to see me to declare their support for my candidacy. They had witnessed the incident I shared about and were amazed at my dedication to serve even without a title. They gave me great support and I won.

Leaders must choose the part of service to others above self-interest. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

 I was teaching a very senior level leadership class and mentioned Simon Sinek, a great global leadership expert, speaker and author who wrote a book and titled it “Leaders Eat Last.” The entire class burst out laughing. To the entire class, that was opposite of the type of culture that exists in our nation. According to the class, in Nigeria most leaders eat first and will even eat the remaining food meant for the followers. I believe we can change that culture and leaders can truly begin to practice the art of putting others before themselves.

The best way to develop servant leadership traits is for you to start seeing yourself as a servant whose primary goal is to help others rise. Become a person driven by love for others and nation. When you make this decision, you will experience a transformation that gives you a sense of fulfilment that reassures you that we rise by lifting others.

We are at a cross road as a nation and it is time for all Nigerians to ensure that we elect servant leaders across the nation for Nigeria is indeed in need of servant leaders.

Great people of Nigeria you must remember, when a person does not have a purpose for waking up, sleeping becomes interesting.

Okorie is a leadership development expert spanning 27 years in the research, teaching and coaching of leadership in Africa and across the world. He is the CEO of the GOTNI Leadership Centre


The best way to develop servant leadership traits is for you to start seeing yourself as a servant whose primary goal is to help others rise. Become a person driven by love for others and nation

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