A band of men are on a journey.  One man named Leo accompanies the men, doing their menial chores, and sustaining them with his spirit and song.

All goes well with the journey until Leo disappears.  The group falls into disarray and the journey is abandoned.  It seems that they cannot make it without their servant Leo.

After many years of wandering, one of the men in the group that took the journey finds Leo.  He finds out that Leo is actually the titular head of the organization that sponsored the journey.  He was the leader even as he attended to the needs of the men on the journey many years ago.

The great leader was seen and experienced as servant first.

— Adapted from a citation found in Robert Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership, summarizing the story of Herman Hesse’s Journey to the East.

Servant leadership.  Servant-leader.  Leader as servant first.

Servant leadership emphasizes the leader’s role as steward of the resources (human, financial and otherwise) provided by the organization. It encourages leaders to serve others while staying focused on achieving results in line with the organization’s values.

Servant leadership differs from other leadership approaches by eschewing the common top-down hierarchical style, instead emphasizing collaboration, trust, empathy, and the ethical use of power.

Leo was a servant leader.

Is this possible for real?

I remember once getting into a heated argument about whether leaders are born or made.  My colleague was making a cogent argument that leaders are born.  Leadership development was essentially a scam, he said, an operating-on-the-edges activity that produced marginal leadership behaviors that did not translate into results.

Of course I countered with an argument that leadership has been extensively researched, and that there is in fact a leadership science that can be studied, learned, applied, and executed, to good effect.

I’m not entirely sure, but I think I was wrong.

I have serious doubts now that managers can actually learn to be great leaders.

I still believe that leadership development can teach the essentials of leadership. I do believe that emerging leaders can learn principles and practices that can help them lead their people and their organizations.

But I think learning and development produces men and women who know about leadership, and may begin to lead; and even lead effectively.

But servant leadership is a different animal entirely.  Caring is required.  A willingness and commitment to serve.

Can caring, and a willingness and commitment to serve, be learned and/or developed?

I have my doubts.

More likely born, not made.

But possible and real, I do believe.

Do you?