By Dorcas S
While the servant/leadership construct I am familiar with is predicated on my understanding of Christianity, Robert Greenleaf (also) developed a similar movement back in the 70s.
Simplified, the servant/leader construct is one where an aspiring leader’s first instinct is to serve others, oftentimes those less fortunate. The converse of the foregoing is one where the first instinct is to “lead”, oftentimes for less-than-altruistic reasons.
Robert Greenleaf in his essay “The Servant as a Leader” offered that the difference between leader-first and servant-first is in how they prioritize (other) people’s needs. In developing the model, Mr. Greenleaf asked the following of aspiring servant/leaders:
– Do the served grow as people?
– Do they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?
– What is their effect on the least privileged among them?
Which brings me to former president Barack Obama’s first public comments since leaving office AND the on-going primaries in Kenya. In the April 24th speech and panel discussion with a group of students at the University of Chicago, the former Harvard Law graduate-turned-community organizer offered this commitment to the gathered:
“The single most important thing I can do is to help in any way I can to prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world.”
The former POTUS then asked the panel of America’s youngest and brightest why they sought public service after college. To a person each said that serving others prepared them to become better leaders.
So, consider this:
Top STEM students from some of America’s best universities, graduating in an economy with an unemployment rate of 4.6% opted for public service, in underserved communities, instead of the almost-guaranteed six-figure STARTING salaries in Wall Street or Silicon Valley! This is as vivid an illustration of the servant/leader model as there is.
Stepping back from my relentless criticism of Kenya’s political process and leadership and reflecting on the on-going/soon-to-be-completed primaries, I wonder:
What is next for those who lost their primary races?
While the primaries have exposed the short-comings of Kenya’s democratic process, they’ve also revealed some reasons to be optimistic: These include (i) a democratic process that is relatively peaceful; (ii) a polity that is nascent and trying to steady its democratic footing while (iii) amassing a near-tipping point of individuals who want to make a difference in their respective communities, not as elected officials, but as private citizens.
Unfortunately, these potential servant/leaders are also part of a body-politics where most seek public service, not to serve others, but to serve themselves i.e. to “eat”. The latter is part of the reason politics in Kenya is a vitriolic oftentimes violent game: It is a zero-sum game; an all-or-nothing proposition. The revulsion of politics notwithstanding, losing a primary election shouldn’t end one’s desire to serve.
As vividly illustrated by the trajectory of Barack Obama’s life, there is nothing wrong with public service as a conduit for public leadership.
(On a side but related note; shortly after leaving office, Mr. & Mrs. Obama inked a $65mn (KSh. 6.5bn) book deal. The former community organizer also lined up a $400K (KSh. 40mn) speaking engagement the same week he held the panel discussion with the students.)