The path to servant leadership is not an instant one. In fact, the road one travels toward servant leadership can be compared to the road one travels towards loving God. We move down the path in degrees of love and, similarly, we move in degrees toward becoming a servant-minded and servant-hearted leader.
Servant Leadership applies to all leadership contexts. People in all contexts need love and deeply value being served and developed.
Bernard of Clarivaux, the 12th Century French monk who spent his life at the monastery of Citeaux, is well known for his treatise On The Love of God. In this work, Bernard outlines his famous “four degrees of love.”
These degrees are instructive insight in the journey a leader takes from selfishness to servant. And is oft stated in this blog, “Leadership beings with love,” Bernard’s thoughts provide a beautiful and thoughtful glimpse into a leader becoming a servant leader.
1st Degree of Love: The Selfish Leader
The developing servant leader always begins as a selfish leader. Love of self is the natural starting point for every leader.
“Love is a natural human emotion,” says Bernard. Leaders, naturally begin loving themselves. It is natural for a leader to look out only for their success, development, growth, reputation, etc. It is natural for leaders at this level to want to be loved by others and served by others.
But human nature is weak and therefore compelled to love itself serve itself first. In the human realm, people love themselves for their own sake. ~ Bernard of Clairvaux
In other words, leaders at this level of love serve only themselves. They do not serve God and they do not serve their neighbor and even worse, deceive themselves into thinking because they do love God and others. Leaders at this level are selfish leaders.
2nd Degree of Love: The Utilitarian Leader
No leader succeeds forever. And no leader will ever do anything truly world changing or great alone. Leaders, all leaders, at some point fall flat. They blow it. They fail. In these moments, leaders instinctively know that they need something outside of themselves to grab onto.
“…when we suffer calamity, some storm in our lives, we turn to God and ask his help, calling upon him in times of trouble. This is how we who only love ourselves first begin to love God. We will begin to love God even if it is for our own sake.” ~ Bernard of Clairvaux
All leaders at some point realize they are not going to be able to do it alone. These leaders realize that they are not God and that they need God and need others.
Leaders at this level begin to reach out to others because they realized they need others. They begin love others in a utilitarian way.
The developing servant leader starts to see the benefits of serving others, if only for the fact, that people will be more likely to serve with them and for them. Leaders at this level are utilitarian leaders…they serve others to get others to serve them.
3rd Degree of Love: The Leader Who Serves
Just as we are brought through hard times and difficulty experiences with God, so too does the developing servant leader begin to see again and again that service to others becomes a way through failure, pain, and difficulty in their leadership.
“But if trials and tribulations continue to come upon us, every time God brings us through, even if our hearts were made of stone, we will begin to be softened because of the grace of the Rescuer.”
“Thus it happens that once God’s sweetness has been tasted, it draws us to pure love of God more than our needs compel us to love him.” ~ Bernard of Clairvaux
The developing servant leader begins to taste the “sweetness” of serving others and the joy that comes with being unselfish in their leadership. The developing servant leader has moments when their service to others rebounds in effectiveness, accomplishment, and fulfillment.
4th Degree Love: The Servant Leader
Blessed are we who can be servant leaders, who can lead and serve others for the benefit of those we serve and lead.
“Blessed are we who experience the fourth degree of love wherein we love ourselves for God’s sake.
“…during those moments we will be of one mind with God, and our wills in one accord with God. The prayer, ‘Thy will be done,’ will be our prayer and our delight.”
“This perfect love of God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength will not happen until we are no longer compelled to think about ourselves…”~ Bernrard of Clairvaux
The servant leader delights in being able to use his or her leadership for the benefit of others, with little consideration to their own acclaim. The servant leader is the one who has reached, as Bernard call it, the 4th Degree of Love.
If leadership begins with love, than we must pursue a love that serves.
We must become a leader that serves God and serves others. Servant Leadership asks a leader to hope, risk, envision, and to empower… but it also requires a leader to sacrifice and to love. Bernard wrote, “True love is precisely this: that it does not seek its own interests” and this is the key to servant leadership.