The world needs more servant leadership

Tom West, West Words
Tom West, West Words

I believe in the concept of servant leadership. At least, I believe that if more people took the idea to heart, the world would be a much better place.

I think I understand fully how hard it is to be a servant leader. Everyone of us needs food to eat, a place to lay our heads at night and to take shelter from the storms. In Minnesota, at least, we need clothing to survive.

To acquire those absolute necessities, we need to serve others in some way, but we do that to serve ourselves. Luckily for those alive today, we live in a time of relative abundance. We no longer have to forage in the forest or even hitch two mules to a plow in order to scratch out a survival on 40 acres. We have time, if not always the will, to serve others.

My understanding of servant leadership is somewhat different from the concept as outlined in business settings. Most people think servant leadership describes only the attributes of leaders of organizations.

I don’t see it that way. One doesn’t have to be the official leader of an organization to be a leader. We are all leaders in some way. Even the low man on the totem pole can lead by example. Servant leaders ask themselves constantly, “How can I help?”

The wisest among us find their calling early in life. The calling can be anything: caring for the ill and infirm in the health care industry, teaching children, or creating, building and selling products.

You can be a soldier or a plumber or a nun. All are noble professions.

Servant leadership, as I conceive it, does not require that you let people walk all over you. The only thing needed is to find that calling to help others in a way that the world needs or wants.

Some years ago, a hardware store owner of my acquaintance was talking about how communities operate. He said that if you are a good person and do a good job at whatever it is you choose to do, a community will find a way to keep you around. It’s not overt; in fact, in some ways it’s almost magical.

Too often, young people, myself included at one time, get hung up by a mental laziness or what some call a lack of purpose. They don’t know what they want, drift along without asking, not realizing that opportunities to be of service are endless.

Some wander into drug use, but even many who don’t, end up wasting years.

When one is in the first third of life, sometimes the sense of urgency is lacking. Each of us gets only X number of days, but that’s of no concern before age 30.

It is human nature that the younger we are, the more self-absorbed we are. A newborn is totally helpless and can only cry to express that it wants something. It takes good parenting and a little luck to outgrow that. It also takes some of us longer than others.

I have always envied those few people who knew they wanted to be a fireman or a doctor by age 12, and then achieved their goal. I was in my mid-20s before I discovered newspapering.

But age doesn’t matter. One can discover a new calling at a relatively old age. Grandma Moses began painting in her 70s and became world famous. Harlan Sanders began franchising KFC at age 65. Laura Ingall Wilders, of “Little House on the Prairie” fame, was also 65 when she published her first novel.

Anyone can find a calling at any point of their life, but a lot of us remain stuck in selfishness or self-absorption.

So it is that the world has moved on from the Boston bombers to the Cleveland kidnapper. No matter how the drive-by media spins it, I find it hard to believe that the former were serving any cause but their own delusions by killing innocent civilians. The latter, it appears, was serving only his own lust.

The madness, of course, is everywhere. Here in Little Falls, last week, we had perhaps our first home invasion since the Thanksgiving Day shootings. After what happened in November, how could anyone in their right mind think breaking into someone’s home is a good idea?

Elsewhere in Central Minnesota, we also had the arrest of a young man who allegedly was fixing to bomb the Montevideo police station. Again, given the response from law enforcement after the murder of a Cold Spring police officer in December, followed by the suicide of a “person of interest” in that case, how could anyone think blowing up a cop station would turn out well?

In my mind, instead of servant leadership, these criminals, actual or alleged, were serving only themselves, to the exclusion of anyone else.

The good news is that they can grow out of it. The bad news for them is that when society gets mad at you, it will be a long time, if ever, before you get your freedom back.

In the meantime, as chance would have it, this week will be an excellent time to practice your own servant leadership. The Little Falls Day of Caring is coming up this Wednesday.That same day, fitness guru Robert Sweetgall will be in Little Falls and Pierz teaching people how to live healthier lives mentally and physically. Thursday evening, Hands of Hope will be hosting the “Take Back the Night” event in Maple Island Park. And then Friday evening, the Ripley Rock N Run will be held at the Morrison County Fairgrounds. Get involved and practice or learn how to rejuvenate your own servant leadership.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Call him at (320) 632-2345 or e-mail