"How great are our leaders? And do we accept their legitimacy? The best test of leadership greatness requires three questions..." File Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko
How great are our leaders? And do we accept their legitimacy? The best test of leadership greatness requires three questions:

Do those being led grow as people? Do they become healthier, wiser, more autonomous, more likely to become great leaders themselves? And what is the effect on the least privileged?

As leaders wrestle for power, progressive thinking is too often abandoned. Half a century ago the American thinker Robert Greenleaf felt a growing suspicion the power-centred authoritarian leadership style so prominent in US institutions was not working. In 1970, his revolutionary new concept was: Servant Leadership - A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. Replacing self-interest, with service to others.

Honing influence, rather than power and control. Focusing on others’ strengths rather than weaknesses. Listening rather than giving orders. “While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid’, servant leadership is different.

“A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and their communities.

“The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

Greenleaf warned: “Don’t assume, because you are intelligent, able, and well motivated that you know how to listen.”

And he damned the egomaniacs: “Ego can’t sleep. It micro-manages. It disempowers. It reduces our capability. Good leaders must first become good servants.”

Greenleaf warned: “A new moral principle is emerging the only authority deserving of 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.

“Those who choose to follow this principle will not casually accept authority of existing institutions. Rather, they will freely respond only to individuals chosen as leaders because they are proven and trusted as servants The only truly viable institutions will be those that are predominantly servant led.”

* Murray Williams’ “Shooting from the Lip” column appears in the Cape Argus every Monday.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus