Overwhelmed to be returning back to India from a 4 day retreat in Phoenix, USA with the Service Space gang. About 40 individuals from across the world got together to share how they were trying to be Ladders, not Leaders i.e facilitators for people they served and not implementers!
What really stayed with me though, was this passage on Servant Leaders, by Vinoba Bhave from the monthly magazine - 'Maitri'. I thought it resonated deeply with a lot that was discussed back in Phoenix :)
Vinoba on Servant Leadership
One of the most powerful practices is to strive to look at the good in every human being. When we do this, it allows us to witness the divine in them. But in that process, we sometimes elevate them and call them ‘leaders’. While it is important to see divinity in everyone, it is also important that the basis of our relationship is not distorted. After all, the world is our foundation, and it is our duty to give it shape through our collective consciousness – by coming together as a society of friends.
It is on this basis that I suggest ‘Leaders’ are not what society needs to progress. This won’t mean that we won’t have great men amidst us. I think great men will come and they are vital for the progress of humanity – but they will be so great that they will refuse to take up this position of leadership. People will not follow the great men, but will listen to their thoughts, philosophies and views and through their sharing, society will find its way forward.
I have seen several people who have dedicated their lives to service, but are often more focussed on their outward actions. Some of them call themselves ‘Gandhian’ but may not have deeply thought about what this philosophy represents and what their values really are. It is important that they remain open to various philosophies and thoughts and establish values for themselves after some critical thinking. The must then aspire to imbibe these values in their work at every moment. The role of people in service will then be to help people find their strength – and by this I refer to an ‘inner strength’. Only then will humanity come together as a whole and move forward with a renewed vigour and enthusiasm.
Take a look at the Bhoodan Movement for example. Because it was entirely executed on foot, there was never a Central Leadership that was created. If you think about it, the Buddha too, walked on foot for thousands of kilometres with a few simple thoughts. But because those thoughts were worthy, and he lived in complete harmony with those thoughts, they have spread across the world and are valid even two and a half millennia later.
Any change, any revolution for the people always occurs in one place, but the winds carry them far and wide. Similarly, because we walk, the leadership that is created is always local. In fact, I would like to restate it and say that we aren’t creating local leaders, but local servants.
When we approach people as their servants, we appeal to their hearts and they are moved to gift land to their brothers. In fact, our real strength lies in the fact that we are servants. The divinity in each and every person can be witnessed and reached, only when you approach them as a faithful servant.
Think of how the various organs and limbs come together as servants to our body. If somebody tries to strike your head, the hand comes forth to protect it. It does not do so out of an expectation that the head has, or out of fear. It does it because it sees itself as part of the whole and therefore works out of a sense of duty.
When we will all see our role in society as servants, we will all light up the sky together like countless stars on a dark night. Don’t think of society as the sky on a full moon night. The moon’s harsh light blinds us to the true and humble work of the stars. But on a moonless night, the true servants shine forth, as though they are connected invisibly in this vast and infinite cosmos.