Servant leadership in public life
Lecture by Monica Bouman, Caux Conference on 'Service, Responsibility, Leadership', 6 July 2002 Switzerland
It is with great pleasure that I will speak on servant leadership in public life.
In the tradition of this house I start with two thoughts on silence. I will read them aloud.
'We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence.
This house, dedicated to work and debate in the service of peace, should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense.'
'To preserve the silence within – amid all the noise. To remain open and quiet, a moist humus in the fertile darkness where the rain falls and the grain ripens – no matter how many tramp across the parade ground in whirling dust under an arid sky.'
These quotes are from Dag Hammarskjöld.
The first quote is from his leaflet to the meditation room of the United Nations building in New York,
The second quote is from his spiritual diary.
Dag Hammarskjöld, originally from Sweden, was the second secretary general of the United Nations. He died in a plane crash in 1961, during a diplomatic mission in Africa.
For him stillness was his inner discipline to stand naked under God
As he wrote in his spiritual diary 'To listen – in faith – to find one's way and have the feeling that, under God, one is really finding it again.
This is like playing blindman's buff; deprived of sight, I have, in compensation, to sharpen all my other senses, to grope my way and recognize myself as I pass my fingers over the faces of my friends and thus find what was mine already and had been there all the time. What I would have known all the time was there, had I not blindfolded myself.'
I have recently noticed that in the same year 1961 Frank Buchman died, the founding father of MRA.
And that Hammarskjöld and Buchman had more in common:
Each of them strived for maturity of mind, balancing his public life of action with an inner live of contemplation.
They both were tuned in to stillness and they both found inner freedom in writing a spiritual diary.
And the fruit of their spiritual maturity was their international service.
So, now I'm wondering whether they met each other and if so: Did they met at Caux?!!
I will introduce Dag Hammarskjöld as a positive model of servant and spiritual leadership in public life.
But, first, let me pay some attention to 'leadership in public life''
Last week I was talking with an adviser and career-making expert of a political party in the Netherlands.
When we were getting on the subject of a politicians attributes of character and leadership effectiveness, she told me that in practice you rather had to fight for yourself more than fight for your ideals. A politician needs much 'ego' to survive in a political context.
In political practice appearance maters more than integrity.
And a politician must put lots of energy in networking and image building.
It's all in the game!
In my opinion, the fighting issue as such is correct and a politician needs to be skilful and in good condition, but he also needs an attitude of service and responsibility. In politics fighting for justice and a better society, must be a fighting with words and arguments rather than with bombs and bullets.
There are too many places on earth where this value and product of cultural evolution hasn't yet been realised.
Politics is a game with players, rules ad procedures.
Some political scientists therefore call politics 'a fighting for policy making.'
Influencing public opinion is thereby a major area for competition, upon which the media play an important role.
So, if in politics you would like to play the game you really have to be ready to fight!!
But what is the game all over and what is at stake?
No less then the ideals of democracy, freedom, respecting diversity, honouring the individual and the heritage each one represents.
We have to approach these values in a time of many changes in globalising economics, biotechnological and information technological developments, as well as a time of extreme differences in material wealth, migration, and religious and cultural conflicts all over the world.
These changes put policymaking into strain and uncertainty.
How do we have to act and to react?
And looking at our political leaders what model do they present to us to interpret our world and find ways and direction into the future?
These questions and the answers to find do matter to all of us appealing to our sense of service, responsibility, leadership.
So let us now look at leadership in public life.
Let us look at leadership as a function, a set of tasks that must be accomplished in a society in order to let her citizens live together optimal and durable.
Leadership in practice means that people as citizens take care and accomplish their tasks.
Tasks of public leadership are:
1. identifying problems,
2. signifying them in public,
3. taking them as a starting point for decision making, (Ideas that were unspoken of or unthinkable before, are particularly the ideas that matter)
4. and finding bonds with others to make possible the respective policy making, as a winning coalition
Under certain circumstances individuals and small groups within states can be decisive and influential.
Succeeding in the promotion of binding political decisions their leadership is effective.
It makes clear that 'people in politics matter,' that integrity matters, that active involvement in politics must be less a fighting for oneself, than a fighting for ideals and the benefits of others, a servant leadership.
The term servant-leadership comes from the field of management research, development and education. The term was first coined in a 1970 essay by Robert Greenleaf, entitled The Servant as Leader.
In all of his works Greenleaf discusses the need for a new kind of leadership model, a model that puts serving others … as the number one priority. True leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others. Servant leadership emphasizes increased service to others, a holistic approach to work, promoting a sense of community, and the sharing of power in decision making. The power to cultivate servant leadership comes from the individual. It's an inside-out approach.
Now I've come to introduce Dag Hammarskjöld.
Dag Hammarskjöld was born in 1905 and died in 1961. A Swedish statesman, he served as the second secretary-general of the United Nations from 1953-1961. The son of a former prime minister of Sweden, Hammarskjöld studied law and economics and taught for three years before entering the Swedish civil service. He soon acquired an international reputation as a monetary expert. In the years of economic readjustment following World War II, he represented Sweden at many international conferences.
In 1951 he joined the Swedish delegation to the United nations, becoming its chairman in 1952. When Trygve Lie his resigned as secretary-general in 1953, Hammarskjöld was elected to the position.
He was an active international peacemaker of great moral authority and sensitivity, he worked to resolve the Suez crisis of 1956 and the 1958 crisis in Lebanon and Jordan.
In 1960, with the onset of the Congo-crisis, he sent a UN peacemaking force into that country (now Zaire), a move that was strongly attacked by the USSR.
Hammarskjöld was killed in a plane crash while on a peace mission to Katanga in the Congo. He was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1961. His writings include 'Markings'(1964) a spiritual diary.
In a speech at Lund University in 1959 on 'Africa, Asia and the West' he commented on the difference between power and leadership and introduced some ideas that might be very interesting for this conference. He said:
'The health and strength of a community depends on every citizen's feeling of solidarity with other citizens, and on his willingness, in the name of this solidarity, to shoulder his part of the burdens and responsibilities of the community. The same is of course true to humanity as a whole…
He than points to the implication of democratic ideals.
'..Those democratic ideals which demand equal opportunities for all should be applied also to peoples and races. In these circumstances, it appears evident that no nation or group of nations can base its future on a claim of supremacy. It means that leadership is substituted for power - leadership both in giving other peoples their chance and in assisting them, without issuing commands, to find the best way to develop their spiritual and material resources'.
Here, we see the servant leadership-approach in Hammarskjöld's words. He promotes a sense of community, and the sharing of power in decision making.
He continues by saying:
'… it is a sign of the highest culture to be really capable of listening, learning and therefore also responding in a way which helps the less favoured ones; while it is a privilege reserved for the half educated who is unaware of his limitations to be a poor listener in a feeling of his own false superiority.
And this 'listening' is for Hammarskjöld a sign of a rich European cultural heritage.
For in his opinion '…the most influential leaders in the European cultural evolution were askers of questions like Socrates or the carpenter's son from Nazareth'.
Hammarskjöld learned the inner-attitude of international service in the inner dialogue with himself and – God . His spiritual diary shows us his inner way.
You can only hope to find a lasting solution to a conflict if you have learned to see the other objectively, but, at the same time, to experience his difficulties subjectively.
In a speech which he delivered in 1955 on International Service, he instigates us all to take the privilege and the duty to international service very seriously and strive for maturity of mind.
I quote his argument.
'At this time of great ideological conflicts and violent clashes of interests, technological and economic developments have, as never before brought us together as members of one human family unified beyond race or creed on a shrinking globe, in face of dangers of our own making.
In such a situation many ethical problems take on a new significance and our need to give sense to our lives exceeds the inherited standards.
True, our duties to our families, our neighbours, our countries, our creeds have not changed.
But something has been added.
This is a duty to international service, with a claim on our lives equal to that of the duty to serve within those smaller units whose walls are now breaking down.
This international service has become today the obligation as well as the privilege of all.
And it is not an obligation that estranges us from ourselves.
International service requires of all of us first and foremost the courage to be ourselves.
We should be true to none other than our ideals and interests but these should be such as we can fully endorse after having opened our minds, with great honesty, to the many voices of the world.
For, the greatest contribution to international life that any one can render – be it as a private citizen or as one professionally engaged in international work - is to represent frankly and consistently what emerges as one own's after such a test.
And so, this puts us under the obligation to let our ideals and interests reach maturity and fruition in a universal climate'.
I think these words of Hammarskjöld express well the basic attitude of service, responsibility and leadership.
He explored this attitude in his own inner diary.
Three years later at Cambridge University Hammarskjöld comments on the first steps that had been token towards the establishment of an international democracy of peoples, bringing all nations together on an equal basis as partners in the vast venture of creating a true world community. He reflects on the basic attitude that would be necessary to really engage in this project. He says:
'There is a maturity of mind required of those who give up rights. There is a maturity of mind required of those who acquire new rights. Let us hope that, to an increasing extent the necessary spiritual qualities will be shown on all sides.'
And then he proposes: 'Is it not possible (for western civilization) to establish and maintain a spiritual leadership, whatever the changes in other respects?'
Coming to the end of my speech I like to refer to words spoken by a contemporary public man.
I was witness of the speech of the king of Jordan, king Abdullah II in a special honorary meeting in the house of the European Parlement in Straatsburg during this years June session.
He appealed to the cultural heritage of Europe asking for our servant leadership, while showing servant leadership himself.
Words spoken by King Abdullah II, King of the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan:
'Your forum is home to an historic experiment that attests that even after the most terrible of conflicts people of different nations of unique cultures can create a future peace.'
'… Today we urgently need Europe to take a leadership role. …. This Parliament has an important part to play. Your history in breaking through centuries-old conflicts can provide a model for those who are trapped in today's cycle of violence.'
'.. . Ours is a struggle for the future, a struggle in which every hand will count. That means ongoing practical dialogue and cooperation and , above all, it means speaking clearly and forcefully about the principles we stand for: democracy, freedom, respecting diversity, honouring the individual and the heritage each one represents.'
'… Today I know that peace is possible but it cannot be achieved unless all of us act. Together we create a collective destiny that offers hope to all our people. But let us act now. Let us act decisively and let us make it real, not only for tomorrow's children but for our own.'
At the end I read this poem of Roger Mc Gough, aloud to you:
I wanna be the leader
I wanna be the leader
Can I be the leader?
Can I? I can?
Yippee, I'm the leader
I'm the leader
OK what shall we do?
Monica H.A. Bouman
Email: monicabouman (at) hotmail.com