Servant Leaders Cast Aside Their Egos, Put Others First Without Losing Sight of Goals
The world could use more pavers.
Carving paths, removing obstacles, clearing the way, and smoothing over bumps, road pavers enable drivers to get to their destination.
Cardinal Stritch University serves as a training ground for “pavers,” people who provide direction and support, then get out of the way to allow others to move forward, meet their goals and find fulfillment.
“We pave the road; we don’t drive the car,” said Dr. Darnell Bradley, Associate Professor in Stritch’s Doctorate in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service. “Everybody wants to be a driver and few want to build the roads. But if you know how to build the roads, you have figured out a way to improve your community.”
Pavers, or servant leaders, gauge their work not based on the miles and measurements of their own success, but on the capacity they build in the drivers, or their colleagues. While fulfilling the duties of their job, they also hold higher ideals of how to nurture relationships and provide opportunities for people in their sphere of influence.
The concept of servant leadership is not new and, in fact, has been at the heart of Stritch’s doctoral curriculum for more than two decades. The term, however, is often misunderstood to simply indicate a leader’s willingness to be of service to others and the community. The adoption of a servant leadership philosophy requires a much deeper commitment to others and exists at the core of everything leaders do and, more importantly, who they truly are at their core.
Some fear too great a focus on servant leadership principles can hurt the bottom line, undermine authority and disrupt business structures. Others contend that servant leaders who authentically subscribe to the philosophy and practice it through reflective conversations, listening intently, generative action and responsiveness often achieve the same desired profits and outcomes, but with a much more fulfilled workforce that becomes deeply invested in the work of the organization and more validated in their roles.
Servant leadership fits naturally with the Franciscan values espoused by Stritch – creating a caring community, showing compassion, reverencing all of creation and making peace – so program founders integrated the concept into the foundation of the University’s first doctoral program in the 1990s.
The doctoral program focuses on three major components – leadership, learning and service. The curriculum challenges students to deeply examine their core beliefs and their personal perspectives of the world and then to step outside themselves to examine a complex societal issue through various lenses, scholarly research, on-location interviews and real-world interactions.
“The first thing I say to students in my class is ‘Get over yourself,’” Bradley said of his introductory remarks at the beginning of the doctoral program courses that focus on serving. “And they get a kick out of that. But that’s really what we’re going to be asking them to do. Forget having to be right and forget about how you have thought about the world before. Be open for transformative experiences. We’re not asking anyone to change their beliefs, but we do ask you to experience the dissonance of questioning them and then calibrate them accordingly.”
The process, centered on the concept of “open heart, open mind, open will,” encompasses the entire third year of the three-year program and exposes students to issues and perspectives of social justice in raw and personal ways that lead gradually to their transformation.
“The idea of transformation is not only that you’re finishing this degree, but you’ve been somehow made different by examining your perspective on these issues,” Bradley said. “It’s a differentiator in our program. We offer them a different way of looking at the world that’s going to separate them from other leaders.”