Servant Leadership: Exuding Gladness, Humility, and Hope

Is exuding gladness, humility, and hopeful expectation an important part of servant leadership?

Last Sunday, I had the privilege of attending a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York that was led by Archbishop Timothy Dolan.  It was a special experience (complete with incense, full choir, pipe organ, etc.), especially coming during the Advent season (the period of preparation and anticipation leading up to Christmas).  I appreciated it deeply on a personal, religious level.  What I’d like to share with you today, though, are the leadership notes that I drew from the archbishop’s presence.

The Servant Leader

Archbishop Dolan cuts a large presence, both in physical stature (he looks like he could easily have been a Division I lineman in college) and personality – clearly gregarious and vibrant in nature, smiling broadly and constantly and engaging the congregation in ways large and small, more than holding his own against the backdrop of the grand gothic cathedral.  Observing him in this setting for the hour-long Mass, several  servant-leader characteristics stood out to me – none of which require a dramatic setting or a high position in the hierarchy, and all of which can be put to good use by leaders (formal and informal) in a wide range of settings and organizations.

  • Exuding Gladness  – Every aspect of the archbishop’s body language virtually shouted “I’m so glad to be here with you.”  There are two parts to this: 1 – joy at doing what you’re doing; 2 – gladness that you are there to serve the people who are with you.What effect does it have on a team to perceive their leader’s passion for what they do and who they serve and interact with?
  • Humility  – While the archbishop of New York is generally considered to be the head of the tens of millions of Catholics in the U.S., Dolan carried himself in a way that said, “I may have this big job – but I’m really the same guy that you watch the football game with over chicken wings and beer at the local sports bar.”  When you have a job that requires you to make moral judgments (as any leader does), the people must feel that you understand and share their interests if they are going to accept your judgments.Would it make a difference to how you felt about your organization if you believed your leader saw themselves as “above the masses” rather than perceiving that they “felt your pain”?
  • Humor and Hopeful Expectation – In speaking about patience, Dolan related an anecdote about his history of dieting – where, when he doesn’t succeed in losing weight right away, he gets discouraged quickly … and inevitably goes out for a juicy cheeseburger, fries, and a big milkshake!  A little humor goes a long way in building rapport in most settings, of course — but the larger message was broader: “We’re going to have our stumbles (personally and professionally) – it is part of life.  Let’s not lose heart and get down on ourselves; let’s keep moving forward, toward our ultimate goals, with hope and expectation.”How does it feel to be guided by a leader who deals realistically with mistakes and stumbles (yours and theirs), and keeps pointing you toward your long term goals, unshaken and undeterred?

We all have some roles as leaders today (for our teams, our organizations, or our families).  What can we do this week to exude gladness, act humbly, and lead with humor and hopefulness?

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