Raymond W. Preiss

Professor and Chair

Department of Communication Studies

Viterbo University

Copyright 2014. Raymond W. Preiss. All rights reserved.

Servant leadership (SL) involves a management style and personal philosophy that is rooted in the common good. Leaders following this philosophy serve organizational members, nurture their talents, build upon their skills, and make strategic decisions that benefit the company, the community, and the society.

In this entry, I discuss the Executive Servant Leadership Scale (ESLS; Reed, Vidavir-Cohen & Colwell, 2011). There are similarities and differences between this instrument and the Servant Leadership Questionnaire (SLQ) scale by Barbuto and Wheeler (2006) discussed earlier. The SLQ asks participants to consider and assess the behaviors of an organizational superior. The items in the SLQ ask for judgments about categories or groupings of behaviors and perceptions associated with servant leadership: Altruistic calling, emotional healing, wisdom, persuasive mapping, and organizational stewardship. A total of 23 items are used to measure these SL groupings.

Reed et al.’s (2011) ESLS shares qualities with the SLQ. The authors search the literature on ethical leadership, and conclude that certain leader behaviors can create an ethical climate in an organization. Four management styles were reviewed: Transformational leadership, authentic leadership, spiritual leadership, and servant leadership. Their review of each area is somewhat limited, but the comparison of the four approaches is informative. For our purpose the connections between SL and ethical leadership is fundamental. Most of the literature on this issue is anecdotal and interpretive. Empirical evidence is cited (Reed et al., 2011, p. 423), but support for specific claims about SL is not documented. Instead, the authors reason that attention should be directed at top executives, not workplace supervisors.

I have some reservations about this logic, but it is hard to deny that research is needed about the effects of SL at all levels of an organization’s hierarchy. I’ll return to this issue later. Reed and his associate make a plausible case that perceptions of executives’ SL may affect behaviors at many levels in a company. To measure this executive influence, the authors examined various scales employed to assess SL at different organizational levels (Liden, Wayne, Zhao, & Henderson, D., 2008; Barbuto & Wheeler, 2006; Page & Wong, 2000; and Ehrhart, 2004). Items from these scales were refined to address behaviors and perceptions of executives. A total of 1,522 participants (on-line learners and private college alumni) were invited to complete the items on-line. The survey was completed by 218 participants out of the 344 who attempted the survey. If you are unfamiliar with exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, don’t be discouraged. Expert reviewers examined the results prior to publication. It is important to observe the patterns of responses. Within the exploratory factor analysis, a pattern of SL responses was located. Multiple items were associated with five categories consistent with Greenleaf’s conceptualization: Interpersonal support, community building, altruism, egalitarianism, and moral authority (Reed et al., 2011, p. 424). The Executive Servant Leadership Scale is the sum of these 25 items. If you look closely, you can see that the 25 items can be used in several ways. You could use the entire 55 items and build the ESLS by extracting only the 25 items that measure the five categories. On the other hand, you might use only the 25 items that address the five categories. It is difficult to resolve this question because few experiments have been conducted to assess the reliability and validity of either scale. I recommend that if you elect to use the 25-item scale, you arrange the items of the ESLS in the order listed on the left side of the scale. If you choose to use the 55-item scale, arrange the items in the order specified in the original manuscript (Reed et al., 2011, p. 426). The format of the scale below uses the directions provided by Vidaver-Cohen, Reed, and Colwell (2010; also presented in Reed et al., 2011, p. 424). Omit the descriptors that group items, but use these terms when you compute the subscales associated with SL. You may sum the subscales to compute a composite SL score.

Table I

ESLS Questionnaire


Please respond to the following statements regarding your perceptions of the top executive at your current place of work. If you have no direct experience with this person, you may consider organizational policies, practices, or public communications as evidence of his/her values and beliefs. If you are not currently employed, please consider the top executive at your most recent place of employment.

My Organization’s Top Executive…

Interpersonal support (alpha =.94)

6. Recognizes when employee morale is low without asking.

7. Looks for ways to make others successful.

15. Nurtures employee leadership potential.

25. Treats all employees with dignity and respect.

29. Ensures greatest decision-making control given to employees most affected by decision.

37. Listens carefully to others.

Building community (alpha =.90)

2. Considers the effects of organizational decisions on the community.

20. Encourages a spirit of cooperation among employees.

21. Inspires organizational commitment.

45. Believes our organization has a duty to improve the community in which it operates.

46. Values diversity and individual differences in the organization.

Altruism (alpha=.93)

9. Sacrifices personal benefit to meet employee needs.

11. Serves others willingly with no expectation of reward.

22. Places the interests of others before self-interest.

42. Prefers serving others to being served by others.

Egalitarianism (alpha=.94)

10. Encourages debate of his/her ideas.

13. Invites constructive criticism.

27. Displays interest in learning from employees, regardless of their level in the organization.

52. Welcomes ideas and input from employees at all levels of the organization.

Moral integrity (alpha=.95)

12. Inspires employee trust.

18. Refuses to use manipulation or deceit to achieve his/her goals.

32. Freely admits his/her mistakes.

33. Promotes transparency and honesty throughout the organization.

40. Values integrity more than profit or personal gain.

55. Models the behavior he/she expects from others in the organization.


There is much to applaud in the design of this instrument. The reliability of the groupings is very strong (the convention for acceptable reliability is .70) and the categories seem to be consistent with Greenleaf’s, Spears’, and Reed’s conceptualizations. This feature of the scale is termed face validity. The most acceptable target of the scale is to evaluate “top” executives. If you are concerned with organizational leaders that are “closer” in the hierarchy to the employee, this scale may not be for you. On the other hand, it is possible to modify the ESLS by changing the target. For example, the phrase “My Organization’s Top Executive…” might be changed to “My immediate superior…” This would allow the researcher to adapt the scale to specific needs. Taking this approach should be used cautiously, as some of the items describe behaviors that are more common among executives than among unit managers. Changing the target may alter the validity and reliability of the ESLS, so great care should always be taken if you change the phrasing of individual items or the target of the instrument. When possible (and when more appropriate instruments are available), use a previously validated scale. In future entries I will discuss validated instruments designed to target a range of organizational leaders.

If you elect to measure perceptions of executives, there is another peril to be thinking about: SL refraction. When you ask about perceptions of a “top” executive, the items may involve behaviors and perceptions that are unlikely to occur in face-to-face interactions between a subordinate and the top executive. Thus, perceptions of the top executive must necessarily be filtered through perceptions of other leaders along the chain of command. Perceptions of a strong SL executive may be altered by perceptions of less committed managers situated between the respondent and the top executive. Of course, this refraction can also be complementary as SL mid-managers can bolster perceptions of a top executive. This is a common practice, as executives select lower managers who mirror the organization’s philosophy and the executive’s management style. Researchers should consider SL refraction as they design experiments.  If the CEO exhibits SL characteristics, intermediate managers and supervisors may distort this perception. On the other hand, in a flat organization the ESLS may be an appropriate and effective instrument. The executive may be easily identifiable and may be known to the participants completing the scale. SL Refraction becomes more problematic in hierarchical organizational structures. Assessments of the executive are filtered through layers of superiors that may vary in their commitment to, and expression of, SL principles. Of course, this difficulty is not unique to SL. Every leadership style that is measured by judgments of distant, front-line employees is subject to refraction.

If you are designing an experiment, I hope this review assists you in balancing strengths and limitations of the ESLS. When I searched for publications using this instrument, I was disappointed in the results. Like Barbuto and Wheeler’s (2006) SLQ, the Reed ESLS instrument has not produced many experiments. It is a recent conceptualization, and use of the ESLS may increase as it becomes well-known. Also, organizations practicing SL wish to know if their SL philosophy is diffusing uniformly throughout the units and workforce. This suggests that instruments will be needed that assess SL at all levels: Executives, managers (Barbuto & Wheeler, 2006), supervisors (Liden, Wayne, Zhao, & Henderson, 2008), and workers (Ehrhart, 2004). The ESLS fills an important niche and it should be part of the SL researcher’s tool kit.



Barbuto, Jr., J. E., & Wheeler, D. W. (2006). Scale development and construct clarification of servant leadership. Group & Organization Management, 31, 300–326.

Ehrhart, M. G. (2004). Leadership and procedural justice climate as antecedents of unit-level organizational citizenship behaviors. Personnel Psychology, 57, 61–94.

Liden, R. C., Wayne, S. J., Zhao, H., & Henderson, D. (2008). Servant leadership: Development of a multidimensional measure and multi-level assessment. Leadership Quarterly, 19, 161–177.

Reed, L. L., Vidavir-Cohen, D., & Colwell, S. R. (2011). A new scale to measure executive servant leadership: Development, analysis, and implications for research. Journal of Business Ethics, 101, 415–434 doi 10.1007/s10551-010-0729-1

Vidaver-Cohen, D., Reed, L. L., & Colwell, S. R. (2010, August). Executive servant

leadership: A new scale to test if leaders dare to care. Paper presented at the meeting of the Academy of Management, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.




Author: Raymond W. Preiss, Viterbo University

In my opening blog entry, I started reporting my assessments of instruments designed to measure servant leadership (SL).  This is still my plan. However, when noteworthy articles come across my desk, I will try to bring them to readers’ attention.  Recently, I located an article that systematically searches for empirical studies based upon SL.  Parris and Peachey (2013) produce much more than a list of SL characteristics and motives.  Their research merits attention because it is the first attempt to systematically review the SL literature and summarize conceptual advances made during the 30 years since Greenleaf’s writings. 

Parris and Peachey (2013) make a persuasive case for the logic of SL and marshal considerable evidence supporting their interpretations.  The article opens by describing the turn away from top-down management philosophies.  Many perceive current business practices to be based upon greed, power, and egocentrism.  The alternative to this “selfish” approach stresses the common good, shared success, and the role of ethical decision-making.  SL is offered as an exemplar of this new school of leadership.  Parris and Peachey offer a somewhat speculative rationale for their review (segmented, fragmented, and unscientific management literature), but the product is impressive.  They summarize definitions, contexts, methodologies, and findings.  They systematically survey the empirical literature and present the evidence in a systematic and thoughtful way.  Their work is accessible, engaging, and thought provoking.  More importantly, this systematic literature review summarizes the empirical research, and it offers evidence-based claims about SL.

Those of us working on SL at Viterbo University will be comfortable with the approach taken by Parris and Peachey (2013).  They begin with a summary of Greenleaf’s contributions and writing, followed by connections to historical figures and religious practitioners of the SL philosophy.  Students in our Masters of Arts in Servant Leadership program will be familiar with the individuals and texts referenced in this section.  As the authors conclude, the challenge facing those studying SL is to document the many connections between SL theory and practice and outcomes that are fundamental to modern management practices.  The authors take an important step by locating the empirical evidence in a systematic way and advancing propositions based upon that evidence.  They identify three threads of evidence (conceptual, methodological, and model-building) and report the functional attributes and skills associated with SL.  As they acknowledge, there is still much conceptual ambiguity, even as evidence aggregates and new controversies emerge.  A student of SL will be interested in both the progress and the gaps in concepts, methods and models identified in this section of the review (Parris & Peachey, 2013, pp. 380–381).

In the discussion of their study collection procedures, the authors cast a wide net.  They query appropriate databases and report explicit inclusion/exclusion criteria.  I was uncertain if the methods also involved a search of captured articles’ reference section.  This step will often reveal published manuscripts originating in journals that are not tracked in databases.  Also, the decision to focus on only published manuscripts is questionable.  SL is a “new” body of empirical literature, and information may not flow efficiently into print.  A search for dissertations, conference papers, and working papers may reveal the most recent empirical evidence for SL.  These are minor concerns, however, as the authors’ intent is to locate peer-reviewed evidence and knowledge claims.  I was interested in the diversity of the research captured by the systematic review.  Studies originate in journals specializing in management, health care, education, social psychology, business, leadership studies, and administration (Parris & Peachey, 2013, p. 382). Quantitative (27), qualitative (11) and mixed method (1) studies were extracted.  It seems that SL is recognized as a promising theory in a variety of academic disciplines.

I have some concerns about the tabulation of findings reported in Table 3 (Parris & Peachey, 2013, pp. 384–385).  This type of theory-building is termed “middle range” (Merton, 1968), falling between grand theory and low-level empirical deductions.  The middle range process isolates a discrete set of interrelated propositions, not broad, abstract variables.  These propositions are designed to be clear, specific and empirically testable.  The set of propositions specify relationships between concepts as an analytical model that allows a theory to emerge (Merton, 1968, p. 143).  Parris and Peachey’s (2013) analysis does not group studies around propositions.  Instead, they use categories such as “demographics,” “spirituality,” and “followers’ well-being.”  A close examination reveals that within these grouping are propositions related to job satisfaction, work climate, job turnover, creativity, and commitment.  Middle range theory always groups findings on propositions, not categories. 

This criticism noted, there is a richness in the “conclusion” column that reveals a clear silhouette of servant leadership.  SL is linked to variables that demonstrate succession planning, collaboration, team effectiveness, organizational citizenship behaviors, leader trust, and procedural justice.  The mosaic that emerges is different from transformational leadership or spiritual leadership.  This suggests that a body of “evidence-based practice” resides below Greenleaf’s theorizing, a development that should encourage those of us who subscribe to the logic of SL.  Our task becomes enlarging and refining the propositions in the middle range theory.  The systematic literature review offered by Parris and Peachey (2013) is a necessary, but insufficient step to consolidate the empirical research.  Researchers should next conduct meta-analyses that compute effect sizes of the generalizations about SL.  This would quantify the direction and magnitude of the relationships between variables, constructs, and propositions.  With central relationships established, researchers can move beyond definitional questions and explore the full palate of variables associated with the SL management style.  If you are a student of SL, this Parris and Peachey (2013) article is a source of optimism.  There is a theological, ethical, and social scientific dimension to SL that is dynamic and persuasive.  I invite you to consider this important literature review as you establish your research agenda regarding servant leadership.


Merton, R.K. (1968). Social theory and social structure. (3rd ed.). Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Parris, D. L., & Peachey, J. W. (2013).  A systematic literature review of servant leadership theory in organizational contexts. Journal of Business Ethics, 113, 377–393. 

doi: 10.1007/s10551-012-1322-6

Raymond W. Preiss

Professor and Chair

Department of Communication Studies

Viterbo University

Copyright 2014. Raymond W. Preiss. All rights reserved.

If you are looking closely at the servant leadership literature, it is likely that you have noticed gaps and contradictions in the material. Let me begin by observing that this is not unusual. Anytime a new approach is offered, conceptual work precedes evidence. Also, early work tends to rely on anecdotes, examples, and stories (narratives). It is true that these interpretations can be gathered systematically and applied creatively. Over time, however, scientists devise measurement schemes that are both valid (measures a construct that exists) and reliable (any two people using the same instrument will find the same thing). As a result, science tends to lag behind conceptualization. In the area of servant leadership, the gap between fact-based evidence and concept development is very wide. This will change as researchers test the propositions derived from Greenleaf’s work.

If you find the “logic” of servant leadership (SL) to be reasonable and natural, you should be optimistic about the future. As science begins to catch up with the professors you have been working with, a wave of favorable results will surge through the business, management, and communication journals. Skeptics (often misinformed about the nature of SL) will look closely at the nature and outcomes of SL. They will conduct their own studies and the publication of new manuscripts will change the way we think about modern organizations.

This optimistic view should not be mistaken for naiveté. Please take a moment to read the book review by Dean (2014). It starts off in a rather mild, but insistent voice. By the end, however, the tone is harsh and demoralizing. My work has received this type of scrutiny, and it is unpleasant. The point is that we can never make critics like Dean take notice until we can produce a body of research that supports the propositions of SL and leads to nuanced predictions. None of this work can occur until we can define and measure SL validly and reliably. SL will never be accepted in the academy until we have answers to her powerful critique.

Where is one to start?

Over the next few months, I hope to explore the full palate of instruments used to test propositions about SL. While sorting through the surveys and questionnaires, there was no obvious starting point. I elected to present the scales that best served my purposes. For that reason, I begin with the Servant Leadership Questionnaire (SLQ).

Development of the SLQ

Barbuto and Wheeler (2006) went about the work of scale development systematically. They identified 11 characteristics of SL and developed many statements addressing each characteristic. Many items (between 10 and 15) were rephrased if they appeared unclear, vague or confusing. An expert panel attempted to identify how the questions ‘fit” into the 11 categories, and if they could not, the items were revised. The 56-item SLQ was administered to 468 leaders and raters, along with the Multi-leadership Behavior Questionnaire and the leader-member exchange scale.

If you haven’t conducted a factor analysis before, don’t be intimidated by the results. Basically, a factor analysis examines how movement between any two items is associated with movements in all other items. This is an oversimplification, but when patterns of movement can be determined, those scales are said to “load” on the same factor. For our purposes, it is sufficient to say that there was support for SL in the factor loadings. When you examine the five factors that emerged from the responses, keep a couple of things in mind. First, the categories make a great deal of sense from the perspective of SL. The Altruistic calling grouping, for example, has a distinctly SL flavor. This grouping would not be expected from the perspectives of theory-X or theory-Y. Also, notice that the alpha reliabilities for all factors are strong (see the internal consistency estimates within the parentheses to the right of the grouping).

That said, I do find the patterns curious. If I “add up” all of the groupings (Altruistic calling + Emotional healing + Wisdom + Persuasive mapping + Organizational stewardship), I’m not sure if I “see” servant leadership. For example, servant leaders often serve subordinates by having faith in the worker and giving him or her the training needed to be effective and the opportunity to be successful (humbly allowing others the credit for successes). I don’t see these fundamental qualities in the scale. This is called a problem with parsimony. These five categories do not appear necessary and sufficient to produce SL. Of course, this may be nit-picking, as it’s impossible to reflect every SL quality. Still, the scale seems to lack the richness and nuance of servant leadership. This is probably to be expected. It is early in the scale development enterprise, and other scales may be better suited for studying humility and faith in subordinates.

The more serious issue I have with the SLQ is not the factor structure, but the lack of a composite score. Many of the dimensions are highly associated, but are the sum of the dimensions a measure of SL? Why isn’t this number (the composite SL score) used in any of the validity tests? I would be interested in knowing the LMX-SL relationship, but I haven’t been able to find it in the tables. So, the basic questions become, as the Wisdom score increases, do the other associations “look” like SL? As Altruistic calling score increases, do the other associations “look” like SL? Repeat this three more times and you sense my frustration. All the patterns, considered together, don’t feel like SL to me. This problem is called isomorphism. A good theory is said to be isomorphic when there is a correspondence between the construct (SL) as you know it to be and the research you see in the literature. I’ve known servant leaders, but I do not see their silhouette when I read the SLQ.

You’ll need to make up your mind on this one. Take a close look. The number on the far left is item number from the order used in the original 56-item scale. Here are the SLQ items:

The Servant Leadership Questionnaire Items

Altruistic calling (α = .82)

01 This person puts my best interests ahead of his/her own.

03 This person does everything he/she can to serve me.

35 This person sacrifices his/her own interests to meet my needs.

46 This person goes above and beyond the call of duty to meet my needs.

Emotional healing (α = .91)

05 This person is one I would turn to if I had a personal trauma.

16 This person is good at helping me with my emotional issues.

27 This person is talented at helping me to heal emotionally.

38 This person is one that could help me mend my hard feelings.

Wisdom (α = .92)

06 This person seems alert to what’s happening.

09 This person is good at anticipating the consequences of decisions.

17 This person has great awareness of what is going on.

28 This person seems in touch with what’s happening.

50 This person seems to know what is going to happen.

Persuasive mapping (α = .87)

07 This person offers compelling reasons to get me to do things.

08 This person encourages me to dream “big dreams” about the organization.

18 This person is very persuasive.

29 This person is good at convincing me to do things.

40 This person is gifted when it comes to persuading me.

Organizational stewardship (α = .89)

21 This person believes that the organization needs to play a moral role in society.

34 This person believes that our organization needs to function as a community.

43 This person sees the organization for its potential to contribute to society.

45 This person encourages me to have a community spirit in the workplace.

54 This person is preparing the organization to make a positive difference in the future.

Strengths and Weaknesses

If you are interested in clearly defined dependent variables, Barbuto and Wheeler may be a good scale to use. A clear dimension like Organizational stewardship may well be associated with a variable like trust or solidarity. Also, some categories (dimension) are measured nicely. I like the Wisdom items. I’m not sure that being “in touch with what’s happening” is really wisdom, but I’ve seen servant leaders in action and they are totally aware of what is going on in the organization.

The weaknesses have been discussed earlier. I am somewhat unclear about the versions of the SLQ. I wondered about the “self” ratings on the SLQ. How could a community leader respond to the last question in Altruistic calling? Why didn’t the authors include the self and other versions of the scale? Finally, it’s been nearly eight years since this scale was published. I have seen very few studies use it. This is a problem of heurism. If the scale was used by many to test important qualities of SL, the scale (or theory) is said to be heuristic. Heurism is a good feature, but there is little evidence that SL scholars have rushed to embrace the SLQ.


Barbuto, Jr., J. E., & Wheeler, D. W. (2006). Scale development and construct clarification of servant leadership. Group & Organization Management, 31, 300-326.

Dean, D. R. (2014). Review of Daniel Wheeler. Servant Leadership for Higher Education: Principles and Practices. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012. The Review of Higher Education, 37, 274-277.

Submitted anonymously, October 10, 2012.

“The Great Leader is Servant First”

Masterpiece Theater’s Downton Abbey chronicles the lives of those who live and work at the great British estate of Downton Abbey, from the scullery maid, Daisy, to the Earl of Grantham, Robert Crawley. The story throws the differences between Edwardian life “upstairs” and “downstairs” into sharp relief, but also points out the similarities that cross both spheres and explores what happens when these worlds come in contact with each other. Lord Grantham’s leadership of the family and estate is an interesting study of one who is born into a position of authority and yet uses his power very conscientiously. Without going into the specifics of the plot or characters, I’ll try to briefly summarize Grantham’s leadership style with examples from the story.

Grantham is undoubtedly the head of Downton Abbey, yet he by no means tries to make himself the center of it. He sees his role more as custodian than commander; a good imagery for the servant as leader. From such humility stems his continually solicitous behavior towards his family of women, his staff, and all guests and outsiders. In the first season, when he finds he must take on a socially inferior stranger as heir—leaving his own daughter out in the cold—he accepts the inevitability and moves to embrace the young man and guide him in his new role. He gives everyone in his charge room to grow and live their own lives, while always making himself available to them to listen and help however possible. This can be seen in his support of Bates, in personally interviewing Branson and allowing him use of the library, in arranging first-rate medical care for Mrs. Patmore, and even in allowing Gwen, a simple housemaid, to use the library for a job interview as a typist. He has a clear idea of who he is and his purpose in life, and this allows him to be equally accepting of others and see their value, too.

The second season brings the Great War and its upheaval of tradition and the aristocracy. Lord Grantham questions his value even as head of Downton in the face of such massive, senseless destruction, especially when he seems to be of no use to the war effort. Whereas he once knew his own significance, being custodian of a grand house seems absurd. Grantham’s house is commandeered, his family is in tumult, his male staff sent to war, and his heir grievously incapacitated. He loses the vision for his life, yet continues to try and build up those around him. Adrift and heading into the darkness of despair, Grantham stumbles badly in his principles but manages to hold on to the attitude that whatever little he can do, he can and must do with honor. The small, and to him trivial, job he has now of keeping up morale, he tries to do well. He perseveres in fostering community around him. He allows his wife and daughters to grow, learning new things and breaking out of their social shells. He continues to have respect for all people, taking on Lang and Jane, who have been hurt by the war, and personally seeking Bates out, apologizing, and ultimately providing his own legal counsel for Bates’ defense. He keeps supporting others in their search for fulfillment by allowing Branson and Sybil’s marriage, encouraging Mary to follow her heart in the face of scandal, and by even being willing to give up Carson, who ponders leaving Downton. In recognizing his own faults, he forgives others’ theirs: Mary and Pamuk, Cora and her selfishness, Thomas and his thievery. Grantham will still have to search for a renewed sense of purpose in this brave new world, but if he prevails in acting as servant first, he need not despair the task.

Among Grantham’s many superb leadership qualities, three stand out as exemplary of the servant leader. First, Grantham has a great capacity for recognizing the worth of others and their right to find purpose and dignity. This is evident in his behavior towards everyone, whether it’s Matthew’s butler, Mosley, or his own daughter, Edith. It is also apparent in his thoughtfulness—he is constantly thinking of others’ welfare, be it the 3rd class passengers on the Titanic or Sybil, preparing for her social debut. It guides Grantham to let his daughters pursue occupations of real value for the war effort; to appoint Isobel as chairwoman of the board at the hospital so she can feel satisfaction in being useful; to keep Bates on when everyone else has given him up as incompetent, and later, a criminal. Though he feels himself useless and without value, he still works to give others a chance, as with Jane’s son in the Ripon school. Even Thomas, once caught stealing, is given another chance because of Grantham’s recognition that he may be trying to better himself. Such an affirmative view of others stems from a well-rounded view of oneself, which leads to another of Grantham’s remarkable attributes: his ability to see the big picture and where he stands in it. The clarity with which Grantham accomplishes this is due to a humble appreciation of both his part to play and his faults that make success in such a part difficult. Grantham is wonderfully unassuming; he knows he is no great figure to go down in history, but he also knows that he has been given a specific job to do and that such a job has worth: to continue the dynasty of Downton Abbey, forwarding the hard work of his forebears. While Grantham changes the things he can, such humility also helps him acknowledge the things that are out of his control—another valuable aspect of good conceptualizing—and he realizes the importance of stepping aside and supporting Matthew, a lowly stranger, as heir when Grantham sees the entailment is inevitable. With Grantham’s mentoring, Matthew grows to acknowledge the value of his own part at Downton and the dignity of those who really make Downton Abbey what it is—the servants. With a mutual respect for both himself and others, Grantham exhibits his most extraordinary leadership attribute—the talent of building a community where everyone can thrive. Grantham makes sure there is both ritual and celebration in the lives of those around him: letting the staff go to the fair; making sure the flower show is enjoyable for everyone, not only the redoubtable Dowager Countess; instructing that the servants be allowed to grieve upon the death of Mr. Pamuk; marking the end of the War with an assembly and moment of silence; giving time off to all personnel at Christmas; and of course, the annual Servants’ Ball; these among numerous examples. In supporting work and play, fairness and mercy, Grantham builds a cohesion in his staff and family that seems almost implausible, given the range of discordant characters. Overarching all the individual squabbles, however, is a unity which, in the family’s case, binds them against outside forces, and in the servants’, led by Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson, center around the honor and duty of serving at Downton. In building a community that looks after its own and encourages them to succeed, Grantham has passed Greenleaf’s “best test” of a servant leader: that his/her followers become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servant leaders. Mrs. Hughes, Mr. Carson, Sybil, Matthew, Anna—all are servant leaders fostered in Grantham’s community. The future of Downton Abbey may be in doubt, but Grantham has ensured the continuance of servant leadership—a tradition that will always have value.

Recently my friend, Fr. Doug Robertson, was describing the beauty of the parish picnic. He said it was “the power of the potluck” that transformed the ordinary into the sacred. This can be a metaphor for Servant Leadership. The “power of the potluck” is the personal sharing of what we all have, to feed each other. It is a banquet of goodness and generosity in which we are all fed and nourished. The power of the potluck recognizes that everyone has something to bring to the table and everyone has something to take away. By definition this is what it means to be in a good company. Company comes from the Latin words “cum panus,” meaning to break bread with. Servant-led organizations are good companies to work for because they have discovered the power of the potluck where people gather to work together, play together, and celebrate together for a Good greater than themselves. During this Oktoberfest season, a time to remember and celebrate good work, why not unleash the power of the potluck.

Peace and all good,

Tom Thibodeau
Director, MA in Servant Leadership program



A peace that passes all understanding. That has been my prayer of late. The desire for a peace that passes understanding seems the only appropriate response to the persistence in our world of conflicts that pass understanding. Servant leadership students at Viterbo University know all too well what these conflicts look, sound, and feel like. A recent graduate returns to Rwanda to carry the work of truth-telling and reconciliation forward for the next generation. A current student and priest celebrates the independence of his home country, South Sudan, even as he anticipates the challenges of raising up leaders from the literal rubble of decades old animosities and atrocities. Closer to home, many of our students navigate the increasingly perilous politicization of their workplaces, their uncertainty about the future a stark contrast from the too-often righteous certitude of many of our leaders.
Praying for a peace that passes understanding is a practice that makes me more sensitive to the peace that already exists in our midst. We know what peace looks, sounds, and feels like—even when we don’t always know how to make peace or resolve conflict. It looks like Hutu and Tutsi women in Rwanda collaborating on a micro-enterprise coffee bean project in order to support their remaining family members. It sounds like hammers pounding new roof beams on the bombed-out shell of a church near the new capital of South Sudan. It feels like that moment when the bread is broken at a divided family table, and all those present recognize in the face of one another our deepest human need to be loved unconditionally, our greatest desire to be heard amid the cacophony of campaign slogans.
Before we can become peacebuilders, we must re-sensitize ourselves to the ways peace is revealed in, around, and often in spite of us. May we discover in the coming days a world abundant with acts of peace. And may we find the courage to become “peace-revealers”—especially when that peace passes our understanding.

I sit on a well-worn chair; it is half an hour before the front door is opened and the community invited into the house.  I take these moments to look around the Place of Grace; it is empty now, without the conversations and clatter of dishes that regularly fill the space.  I look into each room, so often filled with people, and recognize the many stories that I have shared in and remember the many people who have influenced this house and its ongoing work.  There is a photo of Earl Madary, his presence still remembered now three years after his death; a portrait of Sister Grace Clare Beznouz rests atop a shelf, her ministry as an FSPA was an inspiration for the naming of this house; toward the kitchen and above the dining room table a painting of Dorothy Day is hung; near the back door and nailed to the wall is that most iconic of Catholic Worker images, the wood carving titled Christ in the Breadlines; and hung near another table is the cross of San Damiano, that cross which called forth St. Francis to rebuild the church….

As coordinator of the Place of Grace I weekly prepare and serve meals for our guests and daily interact within a community that experiences both the bonum of life but also the hardship – be it mental illness, poverty, addiction, or loneliness.  Through the many conversations and shared experiences that I have had with our guests I have come to understand what it is to be a servant in the midst of tension, but also what it is to be a servant in the midst of life.  The Place of Grace has taught me an identity of the Church in which Christ is most apparent in each of our own imperfections; it is a Church that is not at all times holy, not at all times sacred; rather, it is a Church that is human, composed of the bitterness and sweetness of our lives.  And so gathered here, through the sharing of stories and images, are the servant leaders of my own time.

Each morning I try to read a few pages from the diaries of Dorothy Day.  Most of her writings are neither in-depth nor completely reflective; rather, they share the day-to-day labors of the house, brief descriptions of the people who come and go, and the daily burdens and tension that arise.  Leadership, as I have come to experience it while at the house, often emerges in that which is ordinary, the day-to-day moments of our lives.  To be a servant leader is to discover the sacred that is found within the depths of the ordinary – be that in the circumstances of a person’s life or within the context of an arising situation.  For St. Francis it was through his embrace of a leper that the sacred emerged, and for the community gathered here, at the Place of Grace, it is through the sharing of a meal and the conversations that develop in which the sacred is brought forth.

As Dorothy Day wrote many years ago in her book Loaves and Fishes: “The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?  When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the Cross, then we can truly say, ‘Now I have begun.’”  (215)

~ Michael Krueger, Student, M.A. in Servant Leadership, Viterbo University

(excerpted with permission from 2011 M.A. in Servant Leadership application materials)

It was spring 2009; I received a letter from Dick Pieper inviting me and Dave Skogen, chairman and founder of Festival Foods in Onalaska, Wisconsin, to a meeting at the Greenleaf Conference that would be held that summer in Milwaukee. The invitation was to explore what it would mean to become a servant led community in LaCrosse. Festival Foods is a servant led company with fourteen stores across the state of Wisconsin. Viterbo University has the only Master of Arts degree program in Servant Leadership in the country. Dick was interested in how we might collaborate to extend our influence beyond the Festival Foods Company and the Viterbo University campus in the greater community. Remember, the theme of the 2009 Milwaukee Greenleaf Servant Leadership Conference was “The Institution as Servant Leader.”

That year, at the conference, Dave Skogen told the Festival Story; Jim Hunter gave a plenary talk; and Dick Pieper gathered the Wisconsin attendees to talk about the next steps. There was an energy in the room with good representation from La Crosse, Fond du Lac and Milwaukee. The conversation on Wisconsin servant led communities was born. Of the approximately one hundred that attended that meeting, thirty were students enrolled in Viterbo’s MA in Servant Leadership program.

Festival Foods sponsored Jim Hunter in December, 2009, at Viterbo University. Jim spoke on servant leadership for two and a half hours to eleven hundred community members. Individuals and organizations were offered an hour long presentation on servant leadership as follow-up; twenty-nine companies and institutions signed up.

In February of 2010 Dick again sent me an invitation to join him, this time on a three city tour of conversations on “Becoming a Servant Led Community”. Dick organized meetings in Milwaukee, Fond du Lac and La Crosse.

Our first meeting was at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Thirty people signed up, forty-five people attended. There were twenty people in Fond du Lac, one hundred and twenty in La Crosse. The format was hospitable and simple. We gathered people for a continental breakfast, asked for expectations, had presentations from a panel of people on the Servant Leadership Journey (novice, experienced and mentor practitioners). Attendees were invited to share their stories in small groups and give reports for next steps. Dick and I then made connections between expectations and next steps. Post meeting evaluations were done at each site.

In September of 2010 Dick again initiated the organization of a second three city tour on “Becoming a Servant Led Community” for two days in December, 2010. In each of the three cities the second conversation deepened, there was a maturity in our understandings and an authentic desire to form partnerships to further develop servant leadership in their institutions, businesses and organizations. In Milwaukee a group committed themselves to early morning breakfast meetings to further the collaboration and support of non-profit organizations. A number of the Milwaukee colleges and universities are looking for common good in servant leadership to help their students and colleagues on the journey. Finally, one group organized a local online learning community in order to create understanding and support for the practice of servant leadership.

In Fond du Lac, the Sophia Foundation is committed to fostering a servant led community through public conversations and institutional partnerships. The police department, Festival Foods and local universities are giving witness to the practical applications of servant leadership in the Fond du Lac community. They also have people involved in virtual communities.

In La Crosse, Dr. Richard Kyte, director of the D. B. Reinhart for Ethics in Leadership, reminded the audience that Greenleaf’s vision for servant leadership is ethical leadership. The two La Crosse medical centers gave presentations on how their institutions are teaching, developing and practicing servant leadership. Don Weber, founder of Logistics Health, challenged us to acknowledge and embrace the sacrifice that servant leadership requires and the selfless service to a Greater Good. Dick Pieper, the senior member on the journey, reminded us that all this is possible; servant led institutions helping create servant led communities, a servant led nation, a servant led world.

Our learnings are incomplete, the feedback is still coming in, next steps are just being taken but here are some preliminary observations. First, we form our institutions, organizations, churches, neighborhoods, families, workplaces, and communities by the conversations we have. Virtual, face to face, organized and informal conversations matter. Robert Greenleaf believed in the power of language, so should we. Second, healthy institutions contribute to the health of individuals and communities. Healthy institutions need healthy servants and leaders. These healthy servants and leaders need communal support and accountability that comes from public conversations about their work and their lives. Third, there is a synergy that is developing in institutions and communities who are aware of and challenged by the ideals of servant leadership. The challenges we face transcend self interest and competition. People are interested in and committed to conversations about things that matter in the hope of serving a greater good.

Next steps: broaden the circle and develop relationships with other communities who are interested in becoming servant led; continue to provide resources for institutions, businesses and organizations who are interested in becoming servant led but do not always know where to start; continue the work which has begun. This is a marathon not a sprint. It is the right thing to do and the right time to do it.

~Tom Thibodeau

This is our first attempt at creating Viterbo Servant Leadership Blog.  This is an inclusive blog.  Matthew Bersagel Braley and Tom Thibodeau will develop content on a rotating basis and are inviting all participants to contribute to our ongoing conversations about Servant Leadership.  Let us begin.

The agenda is always in the room.  This is a statement of Ronald Heifetz that is helpful and directive.  It is imperative that we are fully engaged in the present moment with the people we are sharing time and space with.

Thursday, November 11, is Veteran’s Day.  Are the soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kuwait recognized as being in the room?  Service people, serving abroad in our name, are largely outside of our consciousness and awareness.  November 11 will come and go and how many of us will stop, remember, and reflect on the service and sacrifice of our brothers and sisters?

One place where reflection and remembrance does happen regularly is in the VA Health Care System.  At the Tomah, Wisconsin VA servant leadership has been practiced for the past eleven years.  In their servant leadership development program, each participant is part of a project that contributes to the care given our veterans.

One of the nurses had the experience of dropping out of her profession and the workforce in order to become a full-time caregiver for her father who was suffering from dementia.  She faithfully cared for her father and bore the burdens of exhaustion and loneliness which comes with full-time, home care-giving.  Her father died and after grieving, she returned to her career as a nurse at the Tomah VA.  As a nurse she paid attention to the people she served in the room.  In the room there are the veterans and their full time caregivers.  She recognized the signs of exhaustion and felt their loneliness.  “A servant leader is committed to serving other people’s priority needs.”

This nurse reflected on her own experience as a full-time caregiver and understood the need for appreciation and support to combat the exhaustion and loneliness.  Her project group decided to interview as many family caregivers as they could.  They built relationships with those who are caring for our soldiers at home.  They published a book recognizing their service and love.  They published photos and poems honoring their loved ones and their care.  Each caregiver was given a book for a keepsake and as a reminder that they are not alone and that their service in love is valued and appreciated.  The book “The Many Faces of the Caregiver” is placed in each waiting room at the VA, reaching out to the caregivers with compassionate service.

November 11 is Veterans Day.  May we all stop, remember, reflect, and pray for our nation, our veterans, and our caregivers whose service and leadership are humble reminders that we are all called to be “Care Givers.”

P.S.  This local project at the Tomah VA is being considered at the national level for VA Care.  We never know where paying attention to the agenda in the room—to the “other’s highest priority needs”—will take us.

~ Tom Thibodeau

“A Prayer for the Caregiver”

By Bruce McIntyre

Unknown and often unnoticed, you are a hero nonetheless.

For your love, sacrificial, is God at his best.

You walk by faith in the darkness of the great unknown,

And your courage, even in weakness, gives life to your beloved.

You hold shaking hands and provide the ultimate care:

Your presence, the knowing, that you are simply there.

You rise to face the giant of disease and despair,

It is your finest hour, though you may be unaware.

You are resilient, amazing, and beauty unexcelled,

You are the caregiver and you have done well!

The Spring 2011 Semester begins with SVLD 601 Servant Leadership Theory and Practice, a required course, which meets for the first time on January 21, 2011. SVLD 657 Prophetic Leadership begins on March 18, 2011. Both of these courses are held on the La Crosse Viterbo University campus and are taught by Tom Thibodeau. Held at the Marywood Retreat Center in Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin is SVLD 651 Peacemaking & Conflict Resolution. This course, taught by Sr. Georgia Christensen, begins February 18, 2011.

We are pleased to announce the first on-line course for the Viterbo University, Master of Arts in Servant Leadership program! SVLD786: Servant Leadership and Global Change will be available for the 2011 Spring Semester, beginning January 17, 2011. This course is a 3 credit elective taught by Matthew Bersagel Braley.

SVLD786: Servant Leadership and Global Change
Course description: The challenges communities and organizations face often reflect, refract, and interact with a range of global forces at work in the world today. In order to evaluate the prospects and ambiguities of servant-led social change in the twenty-first century, this course will analyze how the very real and often contentious political, economic, and cultural processes of globalization affect the diverse local contexts in which participants currently serve.


April 2014
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