Servant leadership and rugged altruism

Just when I thought servant leaders had gone the way of the dodo bird, three such extraordinary individuals showed up in a David Brooks New York Times column. In this gorgeous piece of writing, he differentiates the “many Americans who go to the developing world to serve others” from “the smaller percentage who actually end up being useful.” Folks who “start out with certain virtues but then develop more tenacious ones.”

Topping Brooks’ list of virtues are

  • courage, the willingness to go off to a strange place.
  • deference, the willingness to listen and learn from the moral and intellectual storehouses of the people you are trying to help.
  • thanklessness, the ability to keep serving even when there are no evident rewards — no fame, no admiration, no gratitude. (Brooks names this “greatest and most essential virtue.”)
  • a non-contingent commitment to a specific place and purpose.

I can’t help thinking what a better place the world would be if we expected these virtues not just in volunteers and other social do-gooders, but foremost in our leaders. What if search committees and executive head hunters (and yes, voters) looked first for men and women who exhibit the take-your-breath-away, shake-in-your-boots characteristics that Brooks describes? Maybe, just maybe,  servant leaders would one day be removed from the endangered species list.

If you found yourself nodding as you read this post, you may want to (re)read “Bagging a different kind of CEO.”


  1. Dr. McClay says:

    “Altruism is an exalted human feeling, and its source is love. Whoever has the greatest share in this love is the greatest hero of humanity; these people have been able to uproot any feelings of hatred and rancor in themselves.” (Fethullah Gulen)
    Fethullah Gulen
    Fethullah Gulen News

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