In their book, Servant Leadership in Action, Ken Blanchard and Renee Broadwell have collected an incredible collection of essays by prominent writers on the subject of servant leadership. Simon Sinek, in his essay, The Evolution of Servant Leadership, suggests that the origins of servant leadership can be found in anthropology. Some 40,000 to 50,000 years ago, he writes, people lived in populations of 150. Tension existed between the stronger and weaker. To deal with this, we evolved into “hierarchical animals” who constantly assessed who were in dominant roles: “We tried to figure out who was the alpha…. If we assessed that others were more senior in the social hierarchy, we would voluntarily step back and allow the alpha to eat first.”
Sinek believes that today we continue this assessment in search of the alpha, or leader. Yet, that position comes with a price. He writes: “A deep-seated social contract is hardwired into all human beings. There is an expectation that, when danger threatens, the alpha… will rush forward toward the danger to protect the tribe.” It is in this that he finds the anthropological roots of servant leadership: “Leadership, it turns out, is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” He relates this to the responsibility of parents who, while in authority, would do anything to protect and serve their children “to benefit the life of another human being.” They put aside their interest in the well-being and life of others.
Sinek concludes writing that servant leadership “is not based on a series of transactions, but on the promise of being there when someone needs you most…. A few scattered, well-intentioned actions by a leader can’t hurt, but they won’t breed loyalty…. It is the accumulation of a lot of little things that make all the difference.” May we take care of those whom we serve. Yes, we will hold them accountable and responsible. We will grow, develop, and guide them. We may push them to their limits to achieve their greatest potential. We will do all these things because we deeply care for those in our charge, those whom we serve.