Servant Leadership

Oct 8, 2005

In Herman Hesse's Journey to the East, a band of men are on a mythical journey. Leo, the central figure of the story, accompanies the party as a servant who does menial chores and also sustains them with his spirit and song.

He is a person of extraordinary presence. When Leo disappears one fine day, the group falls into disarray and the journey is abandoned. The group cannot make it without the servant. The narrator, one of the party, after some years of wandering, finds Leo and is taken into the Order that had sponsored the journey. There he discovers that Leo, who he had known first as servant, was in fact the titular head of the Order, its guiding spirit, a great and noble leader.

Inspired by Hesse's writing, Robert Greenleaf wrote an essay in 1969 titled 'Servant Leadership' which later turned into a non-fiction best-seller.

In Journey to the East, Herman Hesse writes:

I perceived that my image was in the process of adding to and flowing into Leo's, nourishing and strengthening it. It seemed that, in time ... only one would remain: Leo. He must grow, I must disappear.

As I stood there and looked and tried to understand what I saw, I recalled a short conversation that I had once had with Leo during the festive days of Bremgarten. We had talked about the creations of poetry being more vivid and real than the poets themselves.

When the work becomes more important than the worker, the leader naturally turns into a servant.

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"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

"Real privilege lies in knowing that you have enough."